Apple twist: Cider may have been the choice of Pilgrims

Sunday, November 19, 2017
With a filling made from the Pilgrims' favorite libation, Cider Cream Tart is a sweet way to remember the very first Thanksgiving.

By Tom Harte

Contrary to conventional wisdom, putting together a Thanksgiving Day menu is not particularly challenging.

After all, the fundamentals of the holiday meal are hardly open to debate.

Sure, you may have a choice in how you're going to prepare the turkey, but you're probably going to have turkey as your main course. Similarly, you may have to choose a recipe for cranberry sauce, but cranberries will unquestionably be on the table. And when it comes to dessert, you might contemplate doctoring the pumpkin pie or foregoing it in favor of pumpkin cheesecake (my personal recommendation), but you'll likely offer something pumpkin to end the meal. No, picking the menu for Thanksgiving is not the hard part. The hard part is deciding what to drink.

Thus, advice abounds in magazines this time of year, underscoring the difficulty of finding the right wine for the holiday meal. Some even call Thanksgiving the ultimate challenge for a sommelier, even though, when you get right down to it, a turkey is really just a big chicken, so you're basically stuck with only two choices: full-bodied whites or light-bodied reds.

A slice of Cider Cream Tart, a dessert whose main ingredient was most likely the drink of choice at the very first Thanksgiving feast.

But the rest of the meal, admittedly, does pose something of a conundrum. It ranges in flavor all over the place: from candied yams to tart cranberries to herb-infused stuffing to green beans, not to mention all that gravy. And when you realize it's not uncommon for all these foods to be served simultaneously on one plate, you see what the sommelier is up against.

So what's the answer? Well, you could forgo the wine for the most authentic of Thanksgiving drinks -- cider. It's most likely what the Pilgrims were drinking on that first Thanksgiving Day. They apparently didn't bring lots of wine with them as it did not travel well across the Atlantic in those days. It was not easy to cultivate barley and hops in the Cape Cod climate, so brewing beer, unless out of pumpkins and parsnips, was a challenge. But they had plenty of apples growing in their new location, and they knew how to turn them into a drink popular in England since Norman times. So if you want the most traditional of Thanksgiving beverages, select cider.

Now, I'm not talking about the sweet cider you get each fall at the farm stand, not that there's anything wrong with that, especially if there are doughnuts on hand. I'm talking about hard cider, fermented apple juice like the Pilgrims imbibed. Nowadays craft breweries offer dry ciders reminiscent of that libation which behave more like wine. Some even imitate Champagne. Cider, after all, has the same building blocks as wine. Thirst quenching like beer but with the complexity of wine, they can offer both the acidity of a white and the tannins of a red and go well with just about everything, bringing out sweetness in certain dishes and serving as a counterpoint to others.

It's becoming increasingly easy to find such Thanksgiving-appropriate ciders at area stores. For example, Primo Vino and Cask in Cape Girardeau carries several, including at least one from France. Like me, store general manager Travis Tyson advises you to give cider a chance to rule at your house on Thanksgiving.

Cider Cream Tart

A far cry from that jug of apple cider available at the Farmer's Market, dry, hard cider, like these brands available at Primo Vino and Cask in Cape Girardeau, would go just as well with your Thanksgiving dinner as it did at the Pilgrims' table.

Not sure you want to drink cider throughout your Thanksgiving meal? Then salute the Pilgrims by putting it into something, like this dessert adapted from Food & Wine.

* 1 package (16.5 ounces) oatmeal raisin cookie dough

* 2 cups apple cider

* 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

* 1/2 cup sour cream

Travis Tyson, general manager of Primo Vino and Cask in Cape Girardeau, shows off a bottle of dry, hard cider not unlike what the Pilgrims probably drank at the very first Thanksgiving.

* 1/4 teaspoon salt

* 4 eggs

* 1 cup heavy cream

Press cookie dough into lightly greased 9-inch fluted tart pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes or until set. Remove from oven, and using a spoon press down dough where it has puffed up while baking. Cool completely. Boil cider until reduced to 1/2 cup and let cool. Whisk in 3/4 cup sugar, sour cream and salt. Whisk in eggs. Pour into tart shell and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, until filling is set around the edges but center jiggles slightly. Cool completely. Whip cream with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until firm and spread on top of tart.

A glass of dry cider, a beverage with Champagne pretensions, is probably what the Pilgrims drank at the very first Thanksgiving.
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