Ah, it’s mid-October in the Coal Region; Pennsylvania apples and locally made cider are popping up in stores and roadside stands everywhere you go. When that “nip” in the air comes to Anthracite counrty, we “coalcrackers” turn to a “nip” of a beverage sure to warm your fingers, toes, and everything in between… boilo. In this instance, Apple Pie Boilo.
Boilo, (“The Champagne of the Coal Region”) is a potent alcoholic beverage brewed up in Coal Region kitchens for generations. It is firmly entrenched in our culture and holiday traditions.
Also known as “The Anthracite Miner’s Cure for Everything” it was used as a home remedy to treat aches, pains, colds and flu. Weary miners who toiled throughout the day in cold, damp mines would sip a small glass of boilo after their shift.
Boilo has a reputation for “exploding” or starting fires when being prepared which I attribute to cooks adding the highly flammable alcohol to the pot of simmering fruit and sweetener mixture WHILE it was still over (or near) an open flame on the stove top (NEVER add any alcohol to a recipe while the pan/pot is still over the flame!) Using common sense cooking techniques, making boilo is quite safe!
Boilo has become so popular that bars, fire departments, and the Schuylkill County Fair hold boilo competitions. There are coveted “family recipes” guarded like Fort Knox; every boilo maker has their “secret ingredient/technique” and all swear their recipe is “the best”.
This fruity/sweet drink with the kick of a mine mule more than likely owes its origins here in the Coal Region to the many Lithuanian immigrants who settled here to work in the Anthracite mines and recreated their beloved Lithuanian honey liquor known as Krupnik or Krupnikas in their new home.
The standard boilo recipe includes oranges, lemons, spices and honey. The traditional base ingredient in boilo was moonshine. Many of today’s cooks have replaced moonshine with Four Queens blended whiskey. Some use Everclear (grain alcohol), but I do not for various reasons.
Susan Herrman, Sales Administrator for Laird & Company (distiller of Four Queens), stated that Four Queens is sold more in Schuylkill County than anywhere else in the country. Herrman said, “ninety-five perfect of Four Queens Whiskey’s total US Sales are sold in Pennsylvania and twenty-five percent of all sales in Pennsylvania are from Schuylkill County Following a distant second, third, and fourth were Berks, Luzerne, and Cambria who each account of five percent.”
Four Queens v. Everclear
Although some boilo makers use Everclear, a grain alcohol, in their recipes, I do not recommend it. It’s is more than twice the proof of most standard hard liquor. The effects of intoxication begin to build faster when drinking an alcohol such as Everclear. Everclear reaches 95 percent alcohol content, which is 190 proof. It is one of the purest and most potent alcoholic beverages available. It is so dangerous that several states have outlawed its sale and consumption.
Many a “coalcracker” remembers a pot of boilo being kept warm on the back burner of the stove, ready to be offered to visiting friends and neighbors who came to call during the holiday season or of family gathered together, decorating the Christmas tree, cooking and baking for their upcoming holiday feast while sipping a small glass of boilo.
In celebration of the swing in weather here in the Coal Region from balmy days of summer to the crisp, cool days and nights of autumn and the approaching winter, I bring you this recipe for Apple Pie Boilo. Made from apple cider and juice as the base rather than the traditional citrus fruits, this Apple Pie Boilo will warm the adult in the family from head to toe. If you want or need to serve a non-alcoholic version, substitute ginger ale for the whiskey.
This version is very sweet, you can adjust the sugar to your taste is you prefer or you can skip the apples if you desire.
Coal Region Apple Pie BoiloCourse: BeveragesCuisine: Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
Please drink responsibly. Obey your locale’s set legal age for consumption of alcoholic beverages.
3 Red Delicious apples, stems removed and quartered
1 gallon fresh apple cider (made from 100% apples, no sugar added)
4 cups (1 quart) 100% apple juice
1 cup granulated sugar (may be adjusted to personal taste)
1/2 cup light brown sugar (may be adjusted to personal taste)
6 cinnamon sticks
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Dash of ground nutmeg
Optional: 3 or 4 whole allspice berries
- Place all ingredients into a large pot
- Bring to boil and boil for 15 minutes
- Strain through a fine mesh strainer or colander lined with cheesecloth. Discard the solids.
- Remove from heat and cool 15 minutes (may also be cooled completely). Add a fifth (750 ml/3 cups) of Four Queens Whiskey or cheap blended whiskey.
- Serve warm in heat-proof shot glasses or, for later use, put in clean glass containers (mason jars work nicely), cover, cool completely. Once opened, store in refrigerator.
- To reheat servings as needed, warm gently in microwave or on stove-top. DO NOT BOIL BOILO – you will cook away the alcohol — no point in that!
- Four Queens is the choice of Schuylkill County (Pa.) boilo makers. If you cannot get this where you live, use any cheap, blended whiskey,, at least 80 proof.
- If you prefer a non-alcoholic version because of needing to avoid alcohol or if serving to minors, replace the alcohol with ginger ale. Store this version in the refrigerator immediately upon cooling and placing into containers.