In Weathersfield, Woods Cider Mill Continues a Sweet-Tart Tradition | Small Pleasures | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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In Weathersfield, Woods Cider Mill Continues a Sweet-Tart Tradition


Published November 14, 2023 at 2:23 p.m.
Updated November 15, 2023 at 10:24 a.m.

Willis Wood at the cider press - COURTESY OF DOUG LEVY
  • Courtesy Of Doug Levy
  • Willis Wood at the cider press

From late September through at least mid-November, you'll find the Wood family working with a huge, old-school cider press in their Weathersfield barn. Alongside this standard fall activity, you'll also see them do something less expected: gather around a wood-fired evaporator amid clouds of sweet steam.

Tina and Willis Wood and their daughter, Marina Wood-McNaughton, are not maple sugaring out of season; they are turning fresh cider pressed from local apples into a dark mahogany, sweet-tart elixir called boiled cider. When boiled longer, it becomes spreadable, pectin-rich cider jelly.

Willis Wood and Marina Wood-McNaughton working together - COURTESY OF ZACHARY MCNAUGHTON
  • Courtesy Of Zachary McNaughton
  • Willis Wood and Marina Wood-McNaughton working together

Nothing is added, and nothing is taken away — except a lot of water. The process is essentially the same as that of boiling sap into syrup; the Woods use the same evaporator for sugaring.

The deeply concentrated apple flavor of their products is more tart than sweet, just the way I like my apples. I slather the jelly on buttered toast and swirl boiled cider into sauces for pork and chicken, drizzle it on roasted squash, and brush it over apple tarts.

Willis' family has made boiled cider in Weathersfield since 1882, when doing such a thing was unremarkable. Apple molasses, as it was called, was simply a way to preserve fresh cider before refrigerators existed. Now, it's an endangered food tradition featured in Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste, a catalog of "delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction," where the Woods are noted as the leading producers.

I made my way south to visit the Woods during cider-boiling season in 2011, and I still vividly recall being enveloped in a sauna of warm woodsmoke- and apple-scented air.

Marina Wood-McNaughton checking the boiled cider - COURTESY OF ZACHARY MCNAUGHTON
  • Courtesy Of Zachary McNaughton
  • Marina Wood-McNaughton checking the boiled cider

The rustic clapboard cider/sugarhouse evokes a bygone time, but its origins are far more recent. A 2002 fire destroyed the previous 1940s-era building, which appeared in the 1999 movie based on John Irving's novel The Cider House Rules. During my 2011 visit, Willis said, "One of the set designers told me, 'They were looking for an old, run-down sort of place, and yours was perfect.'"

When I called several weeks ago, Tina, now 75, picked up the phone although the family was in the thick of their season. "We try to be done by Thanksgiving," she said. These days, she and her 74-year-old husband rely on Wood-McNaughton's help. Their teenage granddaughter, Myra, is also "a great worker," Tina said.

Despite this year's late spring frost, the Woods managed to find enough local fruit to produce both the fresh cider they sell by the gallon and their boiled products. They offer the latter on their website and through retailers, mostly in New England.

  • Courtesy Of Zachary McNaughton
  • Woods Cider Mill products

Since Willis and Tina took over the operation in 1970, the market for boiled cider has evolved. At first, mostly "old-timers would come buy it for their mincemeat pies," Tina recalled. Soon, "we were selling 10-pound jars to hippies, and then it changed to yuppies buying little 10-ounce jars," she continued. "Now, it's gourmet cooks who want it, and bars for cocktails."

Chef Jason Tostrup is a devoted fan of the Woods and their products. Over his restaurant career, Tostrup has deployed boiled cider and cider jelly in myriad dishes, from quail glazed with boiled cider and soy to a savory cheddar-crusted version of traditional boiled cider pie. Currently food service director for Vermont Academy in Saxtons River, the chef recently made a stuffed acorn squash with apple, dried cranberries and rosemary, all brushed with cider jelly.

However Tostrup uses it, "the apple flavor just explodes," he said.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Boiling It Down | In Weathersfield, Woods Cider Mill continues a sweet-tart tradition"

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