Sweet apple cider, a most delicious fall traditionBy Sally G. Miller (sallyg)
October 17, 2013
The story of cider in America begins in Europe. Apple orchards were valued in England, France, and Spain hundreds of years before colonists came to America. Fruit-based fermented beverages, including cider, may even date to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Medieval monasteries used cider making as a profitable industry. Cider remains a popular drink in Europe, where the term cider refers to the fermented, aged, sometimes effervescent drink made from apple juice. In America the unfermented, freshly pressed juice of apples is called cider. "Hard cider" means the fermented version, but fermented "ciders" are now booming in popularity as an alternative to beer or wine.
"New Cider" by Thomas Waterman Wood (1868)Colonists in New England found a climate well suited to apple growing. Cider making is not a complex process, and cider was a popular drink for any time of day. Cider was regarded as a safer drink than water in 18th century America. Remember, the water then came from the old oaken bucket in the dug well, or was subject to contamination in unsanitary urban areas. Farms might have their own hand cranked press, or take their apples to a larger community cider mill. Cider was stored in barrels, and would ferment in storage. Children could be treated to a milder drink. "ciderkin," made by adding water to pressed pulp to bring out a dilute juice. But when the ciderkin ran out, children drank hard cider along with the grownups. It's hard for us to imagine a time when beverages were limited to what could easily be made from farm produce, and there was no grocery with an entire aisle of exoticly flavored, conveniently bottled drinks.
It takes about 32 apples to make a gallon of cider.
Hundreds of cider mills gushed with uncounted gallons of cider in the early years of the United States. But cider's popularity nose-dived after the middle of the 1800s, seemingly for a muddled variety of socio-economic reasons. Modern sanitation made clean water easier to come by. Beer took over as America's mildly alcoholic drink of choice. Many large cider mills closed.
Still, dozens of cider mills hung on or have been restored. "Agri-tourism" has upped the profitability of maintaining traditional farm practices like cider making. And the approach of autumn reminds us all of celebrating harvest, homecoming and our agricultural heritage.
Fly Creek Cider Mill, photo by Doug Kerr. This size would be used on an individual farm. Fruit is dumped into the hopper, where it is chopped. Then it falls into the bucket, is pressed, and juice flows from the bottom.
Cider is inherently artisanal. Long-established mills with orchards of heirloom trees make a true reproduction of the sweet treat our grandparents enjoyed each fall. The flavor of cider at a mill can change as different apples ripen from late summer through fall. Cider makers generally leave the Granny Smiths and Honeycrisps to the pie bakers and school lunch eaters. Delicious cider is made by blending several kinds of apples. Fruit varieties are chosen to balance flavor components like sweetness and acidity.
Cider is aromatic and golden, and can look slightly cloudy due to natural compounds. These cloudy compounds, (pectin and polyphenols) contribute to the body and unique flavor of apple cider. More importantly, they may provide digestive and coronary health benefits.
Most cider (and all wholesale cider) is now pasteurized by either heat or ultraviolet methods. Cider may be unpasteurized at some cider mills and farm stands. Unpasteurized cider may have its devoted drinkers. Responsible cider makers use scrupulous sanitation and quality control to produce a safe drink. But it's important that people who may be especially prone to foodborne illness understand that unpasteurized cider has been linked to lillness. Fresh cider must be refrigerated and will stay sweet for about two weeks. Cider can be frozen for six months.
A cold glass of sweet cider is delicious on its own. On chilly days, you might like to take this tip from a local coffee shop: They steam the cider, as they do milk for latté, and then sprinkle with cinnamon.
Dr. Willia, George Mason University, http://mason.gmu.edu/~drwillia/cider.html , accessed 10-3-13
By Doug Kerr (Flickr: Fly Creek Cider Mill - Fly Creek, New York) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons