This recipe comes from a dear friend, Felix, from the South Bronx. It's home-made apple brandy. How Felix, from the environs of the Bronx, got hold of this recipe, I have no idea. My research indicates that apple brandy was quite popular in Colonial America where, of course, apples were prevalent. It was a favorite nip of Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson. It has a distinctive lineage. Oh, yes, it gained a rep as one of "patent medicines" of the 19th century. You know the scene from countless movies, where a Dr. "So and So" comes to town in a wagon with a big sign on the side advertising a "medication" that will cure everything from whooping cough to cholera. That's where the term "snake oil" comes from. I don't know about its medical benefits, but apple brandy was a most popular potion in many a frontier household.
When one thinks of apple brandy, what comes to mind is the French apple-based Calvados. A drink distilled from selected apples grown in the Normandy region in France; and which traces its history as far back as the 8th century. The other beverage that also pops up is applejack, an other concoction popular in the colonial period which was made by taking the alcoholic fruit juice from concentrated cider and leaving it outside to freeze during the winter cold. It was called "freeze distilling."
No such process is needed in Felix's apple brandy. All you need is a good batch of apples (red not green), some vodka (or gin), sugar or other sweetner (I use maple syrup) and spices of your choice. Easy as pie. In fact, it's apple-like flavor is great as an after dinner drink or with dessert. To my mind, this recipe is more akin to a fine liqueur than brandy. It's a smooth, sweet elixir with a distinctive flavor, to be enjoyed with friends and family in a relaxed setting. Thank you, Felix.
2 1/2 pound red apples
2 cups vodka or gin
2 cups brandy*
1 cup maple syrup or honey
3 cups water
3 cinnamon sticks
2 vanilla beans
1. Wash and rinse apples, and pat dry with paper towels. Cut into wedges.
2. Place apples in an airtight glass container (a mason jar is perfect for this). Pour vodka and brandy over apples. Cover tightly and store in a dark, cool place for at least a month. I find that a closet is great for this. Note that the longer you age the drink, the more concentrated its flavor.
3. Strain though a fine mesh strainer into a large pot or bowl.
4. In a medium pan, combine maple syrup (or honey) and water. Add cinnamon sticks and cook at a low boil for 1/2 hour. Put aside and let cool. Combine with strained apple mixture and pour into an airtight container. Add vanilla bean and let age for another month or more. You can start drinking the apple brandy after a month or let it age a bit longer for a more pronounced flavor. Enjoy.
*Note: With the brandy (as with the vodka or gin), you don't need top of the line stuff. You can keep the Napoleon Brandy for other occasions. The finer qualities of an expensive brandy or cognac would be subsumed by the other ingredients in the recipe. In fact, I use the cheapest brandy I can fine, and it still renders a smooth, sumptuous drink.