When it comes to creating full-spectrum recipes, it’s important to be open to inspiration at all times, during the random events of life. For example: you are in a nice grocery store and see a bag of dried Montmorency cherries. Perhaps you’ve never heard of them, and have no idea what to do with them. Grab a bag anyway, buy them and put them away for later.
Then, say you are driving through spring orchard country just before sunset. Rolling hills, air fragrant with blossoms, and the words “cherry apple sky” pop into your head. What does that mean? You have no idea. Don’t dismiss it; put it away for later.
When later comes, and you’re casting about for something creative to do, perhaps some leisurely Sunday, you look about for what’s on hand: some Winter Banana apples you bought because you were intrigued by their name; some farm-stand apple juice you bought for later; the bag of Montmorency cherries; a jug of honey.
Suddenly you remember “cherry apple sky” and you know what it means.
Cyser is a hard apple cider that is made with honey. It is among the many different varients in the mead family. Apples originated in Central Asia, from where the spread to Mesopotamia, Persia, Greece and the Roman Empire.
Now, apples may taste sweet but they are comparatively low in sugar, making the juice by itself capable of producing a fermented beverage of about five percent alcohol. While sugar was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, it was exotic and scarce. Fortifying apple juice with it would have been prohibitively expensive. Adding honey then, to the natural juice of apples to boost the alcoholic strength of a fermented beverage, must have been an inevitable choice.
The term “cyser” is derived from cicera, which was used as a way of spelling in Latin the Hebrew word for “strong drink,” shēkār, in the Old Testament. It was only after the early 12th Century that sugar replaced honey in Europe, which up until then had been the only available sweetener. Thus, if you had plenty of apples, and you wanted a strong drink in Classical times, you made a cyser.
The Montmorency is a sour cherry (Prunus cerasus L), most often used in making cherry pies, but also available as a healthy snack in dried form. Though they are called “sour” they are actually quite sweet, but with a serious tang to them that balances the sweetness. In this respect they are similar to the varieties of crab apples that are grown for eating.
They have strong anti-oxidant properties, containing flavonoids which inhibit cancers by scavanging reactive oxygen ions from the body. Their red pigment adds to the color of the cyser, giving it hints of a rosé wine.
This cyser certainly lives up to that expectation, with a starting gravity like a good wine. It has a beautiful rosy orange color like a mountain sunset, and a nice aroma that suggests pineapple and a flavor just hinting of the mildest mint. Because the tartness of the cherries comes from their considerable acid content, it can be sweetened to taste before bottling. It will continue to improve for many years.