Cider Craze

Cider apples on display at Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts, during 2011 CiderDays

Cider apples on display at Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts, during 2011 CiderDays

AT TIMES, CiderDays had the look and feel of a religious revival, with impromptu tastings on lawns and sidewalk vendors like Sue Chadwick of Second Chance Farm in Greenfield, Massachusetts, who displayed several dozen heirloom varieties on tables with obscure pedigrees like Deacon Jones, a late 19th-century chance seedling, and Pennock, an even older variety, both from Pennsylvania. There were local apples named for Bethel, Vermont, and Northfield Beauty from nearby Northfield, Massachusetts, as well as Mother, discovered in Bolton, Massachusetts, in the early 1800s.

 A high point of CiderDays was the sold-out Saturday night Locavore Harvest Supper at Old Deerfield, a feast of dishes featuring locally grown food prepared by chef Paul Correnty. Hard ciders from around the country were served throughout the meal, and a dazzling assortment of mostly brown quart and liter bottles of varying shapes stretched along two tables against the kitchen wall, reserved for the occasion by the dozens of producers in the crowd.

When the eating was done and after welcoming remarks, the energy in the room began to rise as the emcee announced casually that all of the bottles on the table were available for purchase for $20 apiece on a first-come, first-served basis, starting “NOW!”

Like a Macy’s sale, there was a mad scramble to the table from every corner of the room. The first to arrive at the tables clutched at whatever they could get their hands on — there was no time to stop and read labels. A second wave pushed its way to the tables, and in less than a minute, every last bottle had been snatched up, leaving many disappointed people empty-handed. Such is the growing enthusiasm for hard cider.

***

FROM COLONIAL TIMES until the mid-1800s, fresh cider that eventually turned hard was America’s main drink. For the early European settlers, hard cider was a main reason for growing apples, and nearly every landowner had a small orchard. Hard cider was inexpensive to make, and it stored well. It satisfied a desire for sweetness, and was mildly intoxicating. In some places, it was considered a safer drink than water.

Everyone drank cider fresh and hard, even children. But two things killed hard cider consumption: the rising popularity of beer around the mid-1800s, and the temperance movement in the late 19th century. As America’s rural population began migrating to cities, and new immigrant populations, especially Germans, brought a talent for brewing good, cheap beer, hard cider was unable to compete. Yet hard cider endured as a symbol of America’s widespread use (and abuse) of alcohol, becoming a target of the temperance movement and in the late 19thcentury.

The market for hard cider has never fully recovered. Since so many of its apples had been used to make juice and hard cider, the apple industry had to reinvent itself by promoting apples for fresh eating. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” an updated, Americanized version of a Welsh proverb from the mid-1800s, became the United States apple industry’s slogan after horticulturalist J. T. Stinson used the phrase in an address at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The term “cider” was redefined as the sweet, fresh, unfermented apple juice. “Hard cider” became the new term for the alcoholic drink. 

 From America’s Apple, Chapter 5, “A Multitude of Juices”

Counting tote bags in the apple packinghouse (photo by Bar Lois Weeks)

Counting tote bags in the apple packinghouse (photo by Bar Lois Weeks)

TODAY IS THE FINAL DAY for the special, one-time e-book sale of America’s Apple. Featuring nearly 50 full-color photographs by Bar Lois Weeks and a photographic index of 120 varieties grown in the United States, America’s Apple takes a detailed look at how apples are grown, and the people who grow them. America’s Apple can be downloaded through today for the discounted price of $2.99 (regularly $9.99). The e-book can be purchased through Amazon for Kindle or as a Barnes & Noble’s Nook Book. The hardcover is available through these sites, numerous bookstores and orchard stores, and Silver Street Media.

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