Apple Preserves

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Wild Malus sieversii apple.
Source.

Some cider-related preservation news.

The millennia-old wild ancestor of most modern apples is still with us, in the apple’s home country of Kazakhstan. Although it’s survived this long, it is currently in danger of becoming extinct.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has recently recognized Blue Bee Cider for their adaptive reuse of the Richmond city stables, built in 1940, as their new cidery.

 

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2nd Annual PA Cider Fest – A Reflection

I am something of an agnostic on festivals, of any kind. Even cider festivals. They tend to be more effort than fun, more crowds than compatriots, and more “meh” than “hey!” Such was my thinking as last year’s (the first annual) and this year’s (the second annual) PA Cider Festival approached.

Mark at 2d PA Cider Fest

In case you missed my talk, it boils down to this: cidermakers have been doing that same thing since at least 1690.

Despite that, I was excited both years because, along with tasting ciders from across the state, I was fortunate to present on cider history. Last year I spoke about recreating historical ciders. This year it was on the continuity of cider culture over the last 300-plus years. While that sounds like the typical historian-being-a-buzzkill sort of talk, I was hoping it was more a love letter to ciderists everywhere.

I didn’t know what to expect of this year’s fest. Last year was fun, partly because it had the energy of being the first one ever. It was easy to stand in the heat (and it sweltered) waiting to try ciders from across the state. Many I had only heard of and probably would have little chance to try again. My memory is that, while the creativity was high (jalepeno and peanut butter ciders were available), the range was limited to sweet (even what was called “dry” was pretty sweet) or syrupy ciders. It was disappointing that raw and natural ciders weren’t represented.

In part this could be because cideries making that kind of cider are perhaps not producing a volume that allows for large-scale tastings. My Blackledge ciders are small-batch and probably wouldn’t last the day with what we produce in a year. Perhaps the difference in production suggests a difference in scale and, thus, fest presence.

I was concerned that the cider represented at this year’s festival was going to be the same as last year’s. Happily, it wasn’t. While there was still plenty of sweet and syrupy, there were also some truly dry and still ciders. A few were even wild yeast fermented.*

It’s encouraging that a more diverse range of ciders were present this year, ones that were complex, interesting, and natural. Here’s hoping next fest has even more. And that I can be part of that evolution, in some way, again next year.

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* Maybe I missed wild yeast ciders last year, but I truly don’t remember any.

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Upcoming Presentation at the 2nd Annual PA Cider Fest

On June 24th at 1 pm I’ll be presenting a new talk, “Never Far From the Tree, or Recent Cider Trends That Aren’t So Recent” at the 2nd Annual Pennsylvania Cider Fest.
PA-Cider-Fest-Home
For more information and tickets check out http://www.paciderfest.com/

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Upcoming Presentation at Newlin Grist Mill

Newlin Grist MillOn June 10th, at 3 pm as part of the Newlin Series I will be presenting my talk “Cider: Pennsylvania’ Once (and Future?) Favorite” followed by a tasting of select Blackledge Winery ciders at Newlin Grist Mill in Glen Mills, PA.

Advance registration is requested. For questions, or to register, please call 610.459.2359 or email info@newlingristmill.org.

Cost: $5/members, $7/non-members

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Pressing Memories

In the last few months I’ve given my cider presentation, “Cider: Pennsylvania’s Once (& Future?) Favorite” to several civic and museum groups. I enjoy these talks. I get to share a little cider history with folks, I get ideas for new areas to explore or add to the talk, and I even do a little advertising for the Blackledge ciders. Most importantly though, I learn from the audience.

These public presentations are not the place for intense, academic study. Instead, I try to share a survey of cider history and the current growth of cider. Originally this talk was 45 minutes, with a few minutes left over for questions. Over time, I have added information and shortened the program. This leaves time for the Q&A session to be more conversational. This has been interesting to me since it turns out domestic cider production is not as historic as my early-American focus has led me to think.

Many of my audiences are what demographers call “seniors.” Almost all are from Pennsylvania. It wasn’t that long ago that much of the state was heavily agricultural. Making cider on the farm and at home is still within living memory for many. And boy, do they share their memories.

These stories (oral histories, really) are replete with family and neighbors making cider in their basements, barns, and garages. Sometimes they traded their cider locally, sometimes it was for their own use. The memories of picking and pressing apples as children return and with them a surprise that what they did as kids has been done by kids for centuries. As you might expect, there are occasional misconceptions over what their adult memories of their childhood selves think they saw or heard.

Even so, it’s pleasant for them to remember and for me to listen and realize that for some, the  “back then” of cidermaking wasn’t that long ago.

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What Did Historic Cider Taste Like?

Whenever I give someone a bottle of cyder, I ask them to let me know what they think, good, bad, or indifferent. I sincerely want to hear their reactions. Usually I get back the bland, overly-nice, “it was good,” or “I liked it.” If they didn’t like it I usually hear things like “it’s not my taste, but I’m sure it’s good,” or, if it was too sharp or sour for their taste they might say “something must have been wrong with the bottle.”(1)

I gave a bottle of cyder to a casual acquaintance. I expected he and his wife would try it and say something similar to the above. Instead they held an informal tasting with friends. They even made comment cards, which they shared with me when they returned the bottle.

As you can see the general consensus from their tasting is the cyder was somewhere from spicy to sour.

This is not an uncommon reaction to my cyders. Especially since I don’t arrest the fermentation to leave a residual sweetness or back sweeten.  Most modern commercially-produced ciders are heavily back sweetened, which is what most people are used to.

But the charm of historical cider is that it’s generally what nature gives us and nature can be on the tart/sour side. At least that’s what my cidermaking experiments suggest. But what do historic sources say cider tasted like in the past?

Before looking at the records, it’s important to say people back then weren’t asking the same questions we are.(2) To them, cider tasted like cider. They didn’t see the need to parse flavors and there was no flavor wheel to consult.(3) They did refer to ciders as being too acidic or sweet. Common as they were, those are relative terms. For example, today what Americans think of as dry cider is not the same as what the Spanish think of as dry cider.(4)

What I’m looking for is a more direct explanation of cider. The earliest I’ve found is from Ephraim Chamber’s Cyclopædia, or, An universal dictionary of arts and sciences (1728), which defines cider as

…a brisk, tart, cool Liquor prepar’d from Apples.

The Cider Makers’ Manual (1869) says

When cider has been properly prepared in this manner, it will possess a pleasant acid, agreeable taste…

Zell’s Popular Encyclopedia, Vol. II (1883) described cider in less glowing terms, calling it

Acid; sour; harsh; rough; austere; as, hard cider…

Later, The Cider Makers’ Hand Book (1890) said cider

…should be tart, like Rhine wine, and by no means sharp or harsh. It should have a pleasant, fruity flavor, with aromatic and vinous blending, as if the fruit had been packed in flowers and spices. It should have mild pungency, and feel warming and grateful to the stomach, the glow diffusing itself gradually and agreeably throughout the whole system, and communicating itself to the spirits. It should have a light body or substance about like milk, with the same softness and smoothness, and it should leave in the mouth an abiding agreeable flavor of some considerable duration, as of rare fruits and flowers.(5)

It seems our pre-Prohibition ancestors enjoyed ciders which were significantly sharper, tarter, or sourer than most modern ciders.

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  1. Occasionally comments are much more direct and contradictory. Recently, on social media, within moments of each other, one person said my cider was “undrinkable” and another said, “I love your cider!”
  2. For our purposes today “then” is anytime before Prohibition (1920).
  3. Some general flavor preferences are known but they’re usually extreme examples.For instance, one cider history stated that, “…Herefordshire labourers preferred cider so sour that it tasted like vinegar to strangers.” R.K. French, The History and Virtues of Cyder (New York: St.Martin’s Press, 1982), 17.
  4. There are many seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century sources which compare cider to other alcoholic drinks, most commonly to Rhenish wine (think dry Riesling).
  5. Oh,to make cider like this!

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post was updated on 25 February 2017.

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The Lazy Man’s Cyder is Perfect for Now

I realized recently that I haven’t said much about this season’s cidering. Only because there isn’t much to talk about.

You may remember that in August 2015 we moved. We had to move again in August of 2016. Not long afterwards, and before much else was settled, I changed day jobs. Not only did this increase my hours at work, it now includes an hour-and-half commute each way. Figuring there would not be a lot of time for cider while adjusting to all of these changes, I decided to focus on a couple of simple single-variety cyders.

2016-gr-ns

Left: 3 gallons of Golden Russet ~ Right: one gallon of Northern Spy.

Single-variety cyders, with nothing added (or the lazy man’s cyder), are perfect for these busy times.

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