Pennsylvania Cider Consumption 1740-1790 – Maybe?

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my research interests is finding out how much cider early American farm families produced and consumed. Pennsylvania is of particular interest because I live there.

If you have any interest in Pennsylvania agricultural history you’ve probably come across James T. Lemon’s The Best Poor Man’s Country: A Geographical Study of Early Southeastern Pennsylvania. It covers everything from demographics and soil studies to crop preferences and home production. I won’t say it’s the most riveting reading, but it does touch on many of my interests, including cidering.

As part of his production discussion[1], Lemon turned to farmers’ wills from 1740 through 1790 to see what they left for their widows annual support. Among those goods listed was cider. Based on the widows’ totals Lemon extrapolated what he thought a family of five’s annual needs were, which he expressed as follows (underscoring added):

Lemon Home Production 001

This seems pretty straightforward: 2.4 barrel of cider per year for a widow and 10 barrels for a family of five per annum. However, how many gallons did one of Lemon’s barrels hold? Nowhere in the book does he indicate whether he’s using modern measurements or period measurements, such as these.

Let’s assume he’s using 31.5 gallons per barrel, which is the modern volume. In that case the totals look like this:

Widow’s Share: 2.4 barrels at 31.5 gallons per = 75.6 gallons. That comes to 26.5 ounces or 1.66 pints consumed per day.

Family of Five: 10 barrels at 31.5 = 315 gallons. That comes to 110.08 ounces or 6.9 pints consumed per day, or 1.38 pints per person per day for each of the five.

You could replace the modern 31.5 gallons with the eighteenth-century hogshead of 63 gallons which simply doubles everything. At that rate, a widow would have 3.32 pints of cider per day and each of the family of five could have 2.76 pints per day.

While there is a wide range between them, both sets of numbers are within the realm of possibility. Even though Lemon’s amounts may be variable, one thing seemingly wasn’t: widows got a little more cider every day than everybody else.


1. Chapter Six, “General Mixed Farming and Extensive Use of the Land,” 150-183.

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