Booze, Glorious Booze: Apple Cider
That’s right friends, during this holiday season I will be bringing you the scoop on some of your favorite adult beverages. I have noticed since starting this blog that there seem to be many brands of liquor who boast a start date sometime in the 1880’s, which made me wonder about the favorite drinks of the steam era. I’ll start us off with that most festive of fall libations, cider.
First of all, apple cider and apple juice are NOT the same thing. Accept no substitutions! When it comes to enjoying non-fermented cider, it must be opaque in order to be really good. There is generally no added sugar and no filtration, though often it does get pasteurized. It goes really well with sweet spices such as cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.
Generally speaking, I am a beer or whiskey gal myself, but I also love hard cider. Cold and fizzy in the summer, or hot and spiced in the winter, it is a versatile and yummy companion to a variety of foods, but especially sharp cheeses and salted meats. Apples are a natural source for making an alcoholic beverage due to their high levels of sugar, and the result is something with the same approximate alcohol content as beer or wine. For centuries, people in Europe, and later in North America, would mix cider with their water in order to kill the nasty germs, and John Addams (the second US president) was known to drink a whole tankard of cider with breakfast every morning because he believed it was good for his health. Perhaps he was right, because he lived to the ripe old age of 90 during a harsh era in history!
People in the young United States were enjoying so much hard cider in fact, that it was railed against in sermons. But in an interesting twist, cider was actually one of the good guys during the 1820’s temperance movement. Some advocates believed that cider and beer were good alternatives to spirits, which were so much stronger. There was a new wave of temperance advocates following the American Civil War, and they successfully banned alcoholic beverages for a short period in 1919, but the popularity of cider began slipping long beforehand.
Any American school kid can probably tell you the story of Johnny Appleseed, but for my readers hailing from elsewhere here is the story we all learn as children. Once upon a time there was a man named Johnny Appleseed. He wandered throughout the countryside planting apples because he loved the land and the people so much he didn’t want them to starve. He was a simple man who preferred to go barefoot and was totally without pretense, and is known as one of the great American folk heroes. In truth, Mr. John Chapman’s intentions were not quite so noble, though the barefoot thing does seem to be historically accurate. During the period of America’s westward expansion, all a person had to do in order to claim land was to improve it in some way. This was usually done by building a house, but occupancy could also be proven by the planting of fruit trees. By the time Chapman died at the age of 70 in 1844, he had managed to claim over 1200 acres of frontier for himself by scattering his seeds. In an interesting side note, Chapman spread no “seeds” of his own, so there were no children to take over his vast estate upon his death.
And he wasn’t the only one using apple trees this way. Many people planted apple trees on their new farms, but they probably weren’t intending to eat those apples. Apple trees are a very interesting anomaly in the plant world because even if you plant a seed one from one type of tree you do not end up with the same variety. Unless there is intervention from humans, the apples of each individual tree will be unique. The only way to achieve an orchard of the same type is through grafting a bit of an existing tree into a sapling. So between Johnny and the other settlers who simple scattered seeds, huge swathes of the Western United States became covered in a wide variety of trees that produced different types, quantities and qualities of apples.
I grew up in apple country. I have many fond memories of going to apple orchards on weekends or on school trips. In addition to sometimes having pumpkin patches and hay rides, you can usually get raw apples, apple cider and a wide variety of apple products such as my favorite, apple butter. Apple cider donuts are also often available and if you haven’t ever tried them you haven’t really lived. Wow, I am making myself hungry. I’d better go down to the kitchen and rustle up some breakfast to wash down with some nice, cold apple cider.