Our family has a couple of steadfast Thanksgiving traditions. The first is the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving kids’ lunch I always throw the day before Thanksgiving (read about that one here!), and the second is our annual Thanksgiving cider party. Traditionally thrown on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the party signals the perfect start of Thanksgiving week for our family. We might skip out on a few holidays throughout the year (New Year’s Eve, for instance, but my kids are all young!), but we never skip our family-friendly cider party!
The whole thing was born several years ago because my husband brews his own beer in his spare time. I like beer alright, but really I’m a hard cider girl. One year as summer was wrapping up, my husband bottled up his latest brewsky and suddenly asked, “Would you like me to try brewing a hard cider for you? I think I could do it!” It took me two nanoseconds to exclaim, “Yes!”
Initially, I began savoring the idea of 50 some-odd hard apple ciders all to myself, but then I realized I should probably be a little generous. Such was my confidence in my husband’s brewing skills (he really IS a good home-brewer) that I decided his resulting batch should be shared with a large crowd of friends and family. Thus we began planning our cider party.
The timing for the weekend before Thanksgiving seemed perfect; people are starting to get eager for the holidays, the mood and atmosphere of Thanksgiving have begun settling in, and some school districts (including ours) dismiss for the entire week of Thanksgiving. We have a longstanding tradition of running the Chill Your Cheeks 5K through the grand opening of the holiday lights in Yukon on Saturday evening before Thanksgiving, so that day was out. Sunday it was!
We decided a come-and-go gathering was best, so that people could decide their own starting and closing times depending on their family’s needs. We usually open our doors at 1:00 p.m. and have guests milling until about 8:00 that night!
Our Thanksgiving cider party attempts to highlight the colors and flavors of the fall season. We always set the table with fresh flowers, small pumpkins, pine cones, and some fabric leaves that I bought for cheap in a big bag at a craft store. Bowls of different apple varieties serve as both display and snacks, including some kid-sized apples that I buy in those mesh bags from Target. (I even label them “Apples for Kids!” just so the kids feel special). Usually I put out clementines too, which are always a hit with the kids.
We also like to decorate the table with homemade chocolate acorns, which you can easily make by melting the bottom of a Hershey kiss ever-so-slightly and then adhering it to a Nutter Butter bite. (If you’re super fancy, you can even put a semi-sweet morsel on the other side to look perfectly acorn-y!)
We splurge big-time on our cheeses, but don’t cheeses seem like the perfect thing to pair with apples and apple cider? We seriously probably spend a hundred bucks on cheeses, but you don’t have to go that crazy. Go for a variety though, and make sure to tell your guests a bit about each cheese (or at least the name of it) on a little sign for each one using toothpicks and stickers, perhaps.
For good measure, throw in a few types of crackers (we have gluten-free guests so we choose some of those too). Other foods we like to serve include homemade Chex Mix (Pioneer Woman makes the best!), popcorn, local honey, homemade chocolate-peanut clusters, and a cranberry compote of some kind. My husband enjoys naming and labeling his brews. Two years ago he even named his cider “Lionheart” in honor of the baby we miscarried three weeks before the cider party.
I totally get that you might not be into brewing. If an apple cider party interests you and you want some hard options, my favorites are Austin Eastciders Honey, Strongbow, Wood Chuck, and Angry Orchard. If you’re totally not into alcohol at all, I also dig you; you can just serve regular apple cider, which we always have some of for the kids and non-drinkers anyway. I highly recommend Martinelli’s 100% Pure Cider, but honestly any apple cider will do–and if your guests complain, you can show them the door! (They won’t complain).
As with any good tradition, we have tried a few new things over the years, some of which have lasted and some of which haven’t. One particularly ambitious year I organized a craft for the kids, but quickly realized the error of my ways because that was a whole lot of work. My appreciation for kindergarten teachers rose exponentially that year.
All in all, we probably see 40-50 of our closest family and friends mingling through our house on Thanksgiving Cider party day, and my husband and I relish the throng. We always say that the week of Thanksgiving is best begun by spending time with the people for which we are the most thankful.
Do you have ideas to share? Comment here! I love new ideas!