The chill in the air, new since last week at this time, strikes me as a little sad. And yet growth is still going strong out in farm fields, as you can tell when you go to the market. Plenty of produce is piled up on the tables there.

Still, it won’t be long before we’re talking about hot stews and winter holidays. So for this week’s leftover, I’ve picked a question that’s seasonally appropriate.

But first, a bit of business: Don’t forget today’s Free Range chat, which begins at noon and runs for a fun, free-wheeling hour. It’s your chance to ask the Food section experts whatever’s on your mind, and maybe even win a cool new cookbook. So tune in and be there. Because without the chats, there are no Chat Leftovers. Like this one:

I love hard cider in the fall, especially next to a bowl of warm soup. Is hard cider something I could make at home, and if so, do you have any tips?

Ah, the perfect question for apple season. It takes me back to college days, when the hot rumor was that if you sat a jug of cider on your dorm-room radiator, it would become alcoholic in no time.

Turns out it’s not quite that easy. I consulted one of my favorite sources, the department of horticulture at Cornell University, which has a helpful Web page explaining exactly how to go about it.

Here’s their brief overview of the process: “Making alcohol from the juice or fruit is done simply by letting the yeast in the juice change sugar to alcohol. This reaction must take place without air. If air comes in contact with the juice, the sugar will change quickly from alcohol to vinegar. When sugar goes to alcohol, a gas (CO2) is produced.”


●You must start out with preservative-free sweet cider.

●You add sugar (or honey) to the cider. Some people also add yeast, but you don’t need it; there is natural yeast right in the juice.
●You have to store the cider in a container with some kind of air lock to keep air out but let gas escape as it’s produced. That’s about all the special equipment you’ll need.

And now the bad news: Even if you run to the farmers market right this second for a few jugs of the sweet stuff, the soonest your DIY hard cider would be fit to drink would be maybe eight months, the Web site says. So as you can see, if you were having fond dreams of drinking hard cider with your warm soup this year, I’m afraid a trip to the grocery store’s beverage department is your only hope.

Start brewing now, though, and by next fall, your cider will be awesome. So I think you should read up, buy up and hop to it. Then let us know how it goes!