Trust Issues

There is a grand contradiction in some corners of the cider (and alcohol) world. It goes like this:

Back Then – whenever then was:
People drank cider (or alcohol of preference) because the water couldn’t be trusted.

Today:
Wild yeast (what most cider was historically fermented with) should be avoided because it can’t be trusted.

Neither one of these is true. So why are they repeatedly said?

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I ask because my experiments in cidermaking have produced hundreds of gallons of wild yeast-fermented cider with no problems and recognizable consistency and my adventures in cider research show they drank the water back then.

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Cider on the Rocks in 1787

Some people are hot for drinking cider on ice. We tend to think of that as a relatively recent preference created by British and Irish cider marketing campaigns.

Centuries before those campaigns, there was at least one early American who enjoyed his cider on ice. In 1787 Manasseh Cutler, a minister, Revolutionary War veteran, and (at that moment) lobbyist, was at dinner with colleagues in New York City when he tasted something new and novel. He said he

…was never more deceived in any thing (sic) I ever drank than in a tumbler of bottled cider, occasioned by the ice which I put into it – for I had no conception what it was, and supposed it to be a species of liquor I had never before tasted. It was exceedingly fine.(1)

For Cutler, anyway, this was a new and novel experience. His quote is intriguing. It begs several questions about ice and cider. Was it a regionalism? Was it a show of wealth or simply of availability? Was it ever popular and, if it was, when did it become so?

Now I’m interesting in finding ice in my cider research. But maybe not in my cider glass.

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1. Cutler, William Parker and Julia Perkins Cutler, Life, Journals and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler, LL. D., Volume I (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Company, 1888), 240.

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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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