Many years ago a friend gave me some fermented apple cider from Normandy, saying that I might like it. That, and the manner in which he narrated stories of apples and the local culture became a reason why I wanted to visit Normandy. A few years later, when I arrived there, my first meal - dinner at a small countryside bed and breakfast – much to my excitement, started with a bottle of local cidre, fermented cider made from the pressed juice of local apples. This remained the drink of choice instead of wine.
During conversations with the hostess of the bed and breakfast, it became clear very quickly that cidre was more than a beverage, it formed an integral part of many traditional Norman dishes.
Here’s a method to make chicken with cider or poulet au cidre:
Chicken: cut into medium-sized pieces
Cider: dry fermented apple cider
Bacon: cut into small longitudinal pieces
Calvados: or any other brandy
In a heavy bottom pot, sauté bacon pieces to a light crisp and retain some of the rendered fat. Transfer bacon to a plate for later use. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and then using the rendered fat from the bacon and some butter if needed, sauté to a golden brown color. Remove chicken pieces from the pot, sauté some onions, return chicken to the pot and carefully flambé or light aflame with some calvados. Once the flames die down, cover chicken with cider, bring to a boil and then cook covered at a light simmer for about an hour or so. In the meantime, sauté mushrooms and boil potatoes, seasoning both with salt. Once the chicken is done, add some cream, adjust seasoning, bring to a boil and then take the pot off the heat. Serve chicken with sauce along with the mushrooms and potatoes.
Driving home from work, I pass by a small cidery that is easier to miss than to notice. After spotting it recently, and thinking about it, I decided to visit and learned that it made fermented cider in the Normandy style using local apples, both the culinary kind and those grown specifically for hard cider-making. It also had a small bar where people gathered to taste, to drink, and even to refill brown glass jars with the cider on tap to take home.
Hard cider has been a part of American history since the time the country was discovered1 and it was popular enough to be featured in William Henry Harrison's 1840 presidential campaign: "log cabins and hard cider"1. However, it seems to have lost popularity for a long period of time until recently.
My friend and I still drink hard cider, especially during Fall; we still talk about apples, Normandy, and America; and along the way, I begin to wonder what enables cider to become a part of a region's cooking culture?
1. Cider, hard and sweet: history, traditions and making your own by Ben Watson