The essence of apples in a glass, the sweet, tangy liquid known as apple cider has to be savored in its moment.
"Apple cider" is available on shelves through the spring, but it'll never taste better than it does now.
Fresh apples are ground and pressed to release their juice, which by law must be pasteurized unless it's bought at the source.
When not being consumed in huge gulps straight from the bottle, cider is often served mulled, warmed with cinnamon, cloves and other spices. It goes particularly well with cider doughnuts, distinguished by cider beaten into the batter.
Cider is hard cider, that is, a fermented alcoholic beverage, everywhere besides the United States and Canada. In France, hard cider is refined to produce Calvados, a sort of apple brandy.
*Colonial cocktail: After the Revolutionary War, one of the most common alcoholic beverages in the fledgling United States was applejack. A barrel of fermented apple cider was left outside during the winter, with the ice removed periodically. The concentrated liquid left behind could reach 40 percent alcohol, similar to today's vodkas.
We're going to concentrate the cider flavor in a similar, albeit non-alcoholic way, by boiling. Joined with bacon, roasted garlic and a touch of cream, it makes a luxurious quilt for sauteed pork chops.
Pork chops in apple cider cream
4 center-cut pork chops, at least 1 inch thick
4 cups water
a cup sugar
a cup salt
1 quart apple cider
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons cream
2 tablespoons chopped bacon
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon
1 head garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil
Dissolve sugar and salt in water and submerge pork chops, or seal them in a zip-top bag. Brine them for up to two hours.
Slice off the top half-inch of the garlic head to expose the top of the cloves. Pour in oil, and seal in a square of foil. Roast at 400 degrees in toaster oven until soft and aromatic, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool, then gently slip the tender cloves from their skin.
Boil apple cider, skimmming foam, until it's reduced by 75 percent and begins to get syrupy, about an hour. It will yield about 1 cup.
Set oven to 250 degrees. In a large skillet, render the bacon over medium heat until crispy and remove. Turn up heat to medium-high and add butter to pan. When bubbles fade, add pork chops. Brown on both sides, cooking to medium-rare.
Put them on a heat-proof plate and slide them into the oven, where they will continue cooking more slowly.
Add the roasted garlic to the pan, then carefully add the brandy or bourbon. (Light the fumes with a long match, if desired, letting the flames burn out.) Add the cider syrup, cream and bacon, and stir until combined.
Remove the chops from the oven and return them to the pan. Cook for three or four minutes, allowing flavors to mingle, spooning the pan sauce over the chops. Nick one to confirm they're done as you like, and serve with sauce.