For the most American of holidays, it would make sense to have the most historically American of beverages. Hard cider, otherwise known simply as cider in early America and the rest of the world, is fermented apple juice, and it was once America’s most popular drink. Safer than water and cheaper to produce than beer or wine, cider was often the first drink of the day and it certainly wasn’t the last.
|Apple orchard in bloom, England|
Apples came over to America with the English colonists in the 1630s and by 1850 there were abundant orchards. Just like the colonists themselves, apples became distinctly American as they adapted to the their new world. Apples spread west from the original colonies with the help of none other than Johnny Appleseed. Contrary to his sanitized story, John Chapman was bringing alcohol not fruit to the frontiers. To produce eating apples, trees need to be grafted; seeds, like those that John Chapman supplied, will more likely produce spitters, apples so unpleasantly bitter that they are suited only for cider production. To understand the different types of apples--eating/dessert vs. cider--it’s helpful to make a comparison with grapes: Just as you won’t find wine made with Thompson grapes, you won’t be able to find pinot noir grapes in the produce aisle of the supermarket. Same goes for apples.
|Roger Wilkins & his cider|
source: Stony Grunow
Despite this history lesson, you still might not be convinced that cider is right for the Fourth of July. You argue that apples are for the autumn, not the height of summer. You are right that we have almost a Pavlovian response in the fall to crave all things apple. But I respond that summer is the perfect time for cider. Lower in alcohol than wine (usually 6 percent), it is less likely to knock you out on a hot, sticky day. On top of that, cider is deliciously refreshing, and coming in a wide variety of styles, it pairs wonderfully with an equally wide variety of food.
Next, you might cry that cider is sickly sweet. True, many corporate, widely distributed brands are more like apple wine coolers, but if you can find some artisanal brands (e.g., Farnum Hill, Crispin, Original Sin, Eve’s Cidery) or ones from other cider producing countries (England, France, Spain), you are in for a real treat and surprise. These producers don’t typically add sweeteners, and they predominately ferment cider (i.e., not dessert) apples,
|Variety of domestic & international ciders|
As we toast our independence over the weekend, why not do so with the classic American drink, cider.
Diana Pittet, the cider-swilling cheesemonger
P.S. Look out for my article about cider in the September/October issue of Organic Gardening, which will be available at Sickles Market.