If you have ever visited Cold Hollow or our online store, you probably know that we have a variety of our own Cold Hollow branded products. However, we feel that one of our products is unique enough to have a whole blog dedicated to it: Cold Hollow Cider Jelly.
If you aren’t familiar with cider jelly, it is a truly unique product with strong historical roots in New England. This tradition can be traced backed to the first European settlors who learned this trade from local Native Americans. Unfortunately, this old-time tradition has waned dramatically since colonial America; it is truly becoming a lost art in modern times with very few places producing it in the traditional way. While Cold Hollow has modernized the process with the help of boilers and propane, we are proud to say we follow the same principals for cider jelly making used in the 1600’s without using any other ingredients besides freshly pressed apple cider.
The basic gist of the process is to take freshly pressed cider and boil it down to a concentrated form. Sounds easy, right? Well, there is a little more to this process than meets the eye. First, let’s examine the equipment we use.
The process of boiling down cider for jelly is much like boiling down maple sap to make maple syrup. And actually, we use the same equipment used in the maple sugaring industry. We have a maple syrup boiler that contains two large pans: an upper pan and a lower or finishing pan. The first pan is hooked up to a hose connected to a cider tank. The pan fills up with cider until a float inside the pan reaches a certain level and cuts off the flow of cider. The cider is then heated up and travels to the lower/finishing pan, which also contains a float that cuts off flow of cider from the upper pan once it is full. As the cider reaches the right temperature, it is then pulled off from the finishing pan to be jarred. As it pulled off and the cider level drops, new cider is automatically added through the use of our float systems. This creates a continual flow of cider in and continual flow of jelly out. In an 8 hour day of using this system, we typically go through about 350 gallons of cider.
For the initial cycle of cider added to the pans to become jelly takes about 2 ½ hours to get the cider up to temperature and reduce enough for us to have our first “pull off” of jelly. The optimal temperature of the cider needs to be as close to 226 degrees as possible for it to congeal; anything below that creates more of a liquid syrup. After we have our initial pull off and new cider is continually being added to the pans, we pull off cider jelly about every 30 minutes and eventually every 10 minutes once the cycle is primed and up to temperature.
While it is still hot, we pour the jelly into jars, which actually is still very much a liquid at that point. As the jelly cools to room temperature, the natural pectin in the apple cider causes the concentrate to congeal into a semi-solid jelly. It is extremely worth emphasizing that we only use the natural pectin in the apples to make our jelly. There are many cider jellies on the market that boil cider and add pectin because the process is much easier and less burdensome. At Cold Hollow, we don’t take short cuts and only utilize the natural ingredients in the apples.
The type and ripeness of the apples we press to make the cider used for jelly making are extremely important. First, we only use MacIntosh apples because of the natural level of pectin in the apples. Second, we have to make sure the fruit is naturally aged to the peak of its ripeness before we press it. The aging and ripeness help release more of the natural pectin in the Macs. Without enough pectin, the cider will not congeal to jelly and be more of a liquid. There have been times where the apples we had were not quite ripe; following the same principle for a green tomato or banana that you place in the window sill, we placed bins of apple on tarps outside in the sun to naturally soften and ripen.
So while there is a basic guideline of how to make cider jelly, the process is always different with each batch depending on a variety of factors including humidity, temperature, and timing to get the apples at their peak of their ripeness to name a few. It is more about the look of the cider and its consistency as it is boiling to really know where you are in the process. Sometimes it is all about trial and error before you create that great batch of cider jelly.
Check out our YouTube channel for videos of our jelly making!