Fall is officially here, as evidenced by our recent spate of cooler weather. A historic staple beverage of autumn is hot mulled cider, but technically it is hot mulled apple juice. Only in America is apple juice referred to as cider. In other parts of the world, “cider” refers to a fermented, usually low-alcohol apple libation.
My first experiences with hard cider occurred many years ago in Bath, England, and subsequently a number of years after that in the French village of Dol de Bretagne in Brittany.
In both instances, I was served a slightly fizzy, golden-hued beverage that looked totally unlike the brown pulpy substance I had known all my life as apple cider.
In Brittany, we actually had hard cider for breakfast along with a giant buckwheat galette filled with apples from the region.
Both Bath and Dol de Bretagne are situated in the heart of apple-growing regions of their respective countries. It is too cool in these regions to grow grapes, but apples thrive, as they do in other parts of the world, including regions in North America.
Apples, like grapes, have been around since man first walked the earth. Like grapes, apple seed residue has been found in ancient excavations. It is thought the apple first appeared in an area of what is now the northwest border of China and the Soviet Union. These apples were native apples, possibly akin to our indigenous crab apples.
Benjamin Watson, editor and expert on food culture and traditions, provides an in-depth study of the origin and how-to of cider-making in his book “Cider Hard & Sweet” — beginning, of course, with the necessary apple.
Approximately 8,000 years ago, apples began to appear as a traded commodity in the ancient world.
Although America has indigenous (and generally inedible) crab apples, America’s first domestic apple orchard was planted in 1625 in Boston by William Blackstone, a dissident of the Church of England.
Subsequent settlers brought apple tree cuttings and apple seeds to plant in the New World. A cursory review of apple botany proves that the apple diversity we enjoy today is due to apples developed from planted seeds.
In the case of planting apple seeds, it is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. If you plant Granny Smith apple seeds, the resulting seedlings will not necessarily produce Granny Smith children. If apples are propagated by grafting cuttings to rootstocks, then resulting apple children look like the parent graft.
American colonists largely propagated from seeds because they were easily transported and acquired. As apple tree progeny emerged from trees sprouted from seeds, colonists selected trees that produced the best fruit and then propagated them by grafting.
In America, long before independence was declared, hard cider was the national drink — even for children. Colonists feared drinking contaminated water, and importing ale from England was too costly.
By 1775, one out of every 10 farms in New England owned and operated a cider mill.
By 1850, farmstead cider-making began to decline due to increasing urbanization. Farmstead unfiltered and unpasteurized cider did not travel well.
Subsequent immigrants from Germany and northern Europe preferred brewing and drinking beer.
Prohibition effectively ended commercial hard cider making in America.
With craft beers now sweeping the country, hard ciders are making a comeback, some made by craft beer breweries.
Likely you have seen TV commercials for Angry Cider, a New York-based operation.
Many of these pop ciders have fruit flavors added. I prefer apple cider to taste like apples.
Ciderboys First Press Traditional Hard Cider, made in Wisconsin, lives up to its name. It is available at Tyson Fine Wine and Things in Anniston for $1.58 per bottle.
Unfortunately, artisanal ciders are not readily available in our area. Online wine purveyor K & L Wine Merchants (klwines.com) stocks an array of French ciders, including celebrated cidermaker Eric Bordelet’s Brut Tendre.
Also check out Shacksbury Crafte Cider Lost and Found 2015, made in Vermont from heirloom apples, offered by WineX.com. These ciders are in the $12 to $20 range for a standard 750 ml bottle.
Pat Kettles writes about wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at email@example.com.