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Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007 01:21 am

Cider memories

In its day, the Spaulding Orchard was a big operation — and local landmark

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This undated picture, believed to have been taken in the 1950s, was in the Spaulding collection when they sold the family farmhouse.
Untitled Document Every fall I remember what it was like to come as a child to this place that has been my home for almost 25 years. I live in the old Spaulding Orchard farmhouse. It’s the first home my husband and I bought, and likely will be our last. It wasn’t our first choice, but after being entwined in this place for so long, it’s hard to think of living anywhere else. Since the earliest days of our engagement, my husband and I dreamed of building a log cabin in the woods. By the time Peter was in his junior year of dental school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, we’d started sending for brochures. We compared various companies and sketched floor plans. Our dream log home was a carrot at the end of a long stick: a reason for Peter to study hard, and for us to live frugally. It’d be a while after Peter graduated until we could realize our dream, though. First there’d be several years of paying off student loans and starting a practice. So when we found out the Spaulding family wanted to lease a bungalow on their farm, we grabbed the opportunity — even though it’d be months before we’d move in. We’d mostly enjoyed living in Chicago, but the previous winter had been horrific. For more than three months, the streets and alleys were so clogged with snow that I, pregnant, had to park blocks away in a hospital lot, trudging down the middle of the street with bags of groceries and a toddler in tow. People wore buttons that spring boasting “I survived the winter of 1979.” As graduation and dental boards loomed, Peter’s class became frenzied: faculty, students, and patients had missed so many days and appointments because of the weather, there was a real danger they wouldn’t finish their clinical requirements on time. Since my Chicago Symphony commitments were in afternoons and evenings, I began spending mornings chauffeuring retirees and children to the dental school for Peter and a couple friends. A frightening experience with a late-night car breakdown in a very scary neighborhood made moving to the country seem even more desirable. It was heaven. The house was actually a bit smaller than our old apartment, but had a huge tree-filled yard. There were beautiful woods and a creek across the road to explore, everything so peaceful and quiet that often the only sounds were birdcalls and wind rustling through the trees. Sitting on the porch that fall with our newborn son, watching the surrounding woods begin to flame with the brilliant changing leaves, we knew we’d come home.  One of the biggest reasons it felt like coming home was that it was so familiar — and not just familiar, but special. For as long as I could remember, I’d been coming there in spring for asparagus and summer for peaches. But fall trips to the Spaulding Orchard were what I really anticipated: a yearly ritual as closely linked to autumn as cooler weather and starting school. As mom drove past the farmhouse, heading to the sheds and barns behind, I could hardly contain my excitement. There were piles of pumpkins, and apples everywhere: in bushels and boxes, piled on wagons, and heaped in the mysterious contraption inside the huge shed. If no one was around, mom would tap the horn, and Geraldine Spaulding would walk over from the farmhouse. “Would you like some cider?” she’d ask, smiling down at me. That was it: the moment I’d waited for. She’d pull a cone-shaped paper cup from the nearby dispenser, filling it from a jug of cider just pressed in that giant contraption. To this day I’m not sure why it was so wonderful. Was it just because it was a free sample? I only know I wasn’t alone in loving it: I’ve lost count of the number of people who, learning where I live, mention those cups of cider.
By the time we moved into the bungalow, however, the cider and produce were gone. Mercer, Geraldine’s husband, had passed on, and their children had moved away. The orchard was cut down, the land leased to a neighboring farmer, and eventually sold to become Panther Creek. Geraldine lived alone in the farmhouse. We saw her every day and visited her frequently. Three years later, her children persuaded her to live with her daughter in Florida.  Several months later, our accountant said we needed to buy a house, telling us how much to spend. Peter and I looked at each other. The old farmhouse and its two-and-one-half acres listed for almost the exact amount he’d mentioned. A log cabin was still appealing, but the Spaulding Orchard was home. Two phone calls and 48 hours later, the farmhouse was ours. The Spaulding Orchard was a big operation in its day, a local landmark. Even though it’d been out of business for almost 15 years when we bought it, another decade would pass before people stopped showing up for apples and cider. Over the years, we’ve heard dozens of stories — one just last week — from folks who’d worked there. The family had left some things behind when we moved in: old furniture, pictures, a roll of cider labels — and that old metal paper cup dispenser. Even though it doesn’t serve a purpose anymore, I just can’t throw it away. It belongs here — and so do we.

Send questions and comments to Julianne Glatz at realcuisine@insightbb.com.
CIDER SAUCE
1/2 cup minced shallots, preferred, or onion 1 tablespoon bacon fat or unsalted butter or the fat    and browned bits left in a pan from sautОing or    roasting the meat 1/2 cup applejack or calvados, or an    additional 1/2 cider 2 cups unpasteurized apple cider 4 cups unsalted or low sodium chicken stock salt, pepper, and cider vinegar to taste
If using the skillet/pan in which the meat or poultry has cooked, pour off any excess fat so that only a thin film remains. Otherwise, melt the bacon fat or butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, stirring until softened. Pour in the applejack and increase the heat to high, scraping up all the bits and browning on the bottom. Add the cider and chicken stock and boil, stirring frequently, until the mixture is reduced to a syrupy glaze, 15-20 minutes. Season with the salt, pepper, and vinegar. Serve over grilled, roasted, or sautОed poultry, pork, or smoked pork. Variations include whisking in 1/2 cup heavy (not ultra-pasteurized) cream and/or removing the finished sauce from the heat and whisking in 4 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter cut into bits and whisked in a few at a time. 1-2 tablespoons cracked black peppercorns can also be added. Makes about 1–1 1/2 cups.
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