Tag Archives: 18th-Century

Remarks on the Cyder Remarks in Franklin’s Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America

What you have told us, says he, is all very good. It is indeed bad to eat Apples. It is better to make them all into Cyder.

Cider folks love this quote. It’s simple. It’s direct. It’s commonly quoted in cider books, article, and websites. This blog even includes it in the masthead above.

It helps that it’s from Benjamin Franklin, the Founder who has a reputation for having a good time, all the time. The quote is from his c. 1784 essay, “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America.” Franklin was in Paris, waiting to be recalled home now that the American Revolution was over. With time on his hands and in light of recent events, he was pondering the nature of civilized and savage societies.

Drawing on his experience in American politics and with various Indian nations, he chose to frame his thoughts as a comparison between those two cultures. To make his point sharper (and perhaps more palatable) he chose to make it a satire.

In “Remarks” Franklin compares the savage Americans with the civilized Indians. At one point, he uses a Swedish minister preaching to Indians to make underscore this point:

The Politeness of these Savages in Conversation is indeed carried to excess, since it does not permit them to contradict, or deny the Truth of what is asserted in their Presence. By this means they indeed avoid Disputes, but then it becomes difficult to know their Minds, or what Impression you make upon them. The Missionaries who have attempted to convert them to Christianity, all complain of this as one of the great Difficulties of their Mission. The Indians hear with Patience the Truths of the Gospel explained to them, and give their usual Tokens of Assent and Approbation: you would think they were convinced. No such Matter. It is mere Civility.

A Suedish Minister having assembled the Chiefs of the Sasquehanah Indians, made a Sermon to them, acquainting them with the principal historical Facts on which our Religion is founded, such as the Fall of our first Parents by Eating an Apple, the Coming of Christ to repair the Mischief, his Miracles and Suffering, &c. When he had finished, an Indian Orator stood up to thank him. What you have told us, says he, is all very good. It is indeed bad to eat Apples. It is better to make them all into Cyder. We are much obliged by your Kindness in coming so far to tell us those things which you have heard from your Mothers. In return I will tell you some of those we have heard from ours.

After the Indians finished sharing their stories,

The good Missionary, disgusted with this idle Tale, said, what I delivered to you were sacred Truths; but what you tell me is mere Fable, Fiction & Falsehood. The Indian offended, reply’d, my Brother, it seems your Friends have not done you Justice in your Education; they have not well instructed you in the Rules of common Civility. You saw that we who understand and practise those Rules, believed all your Stories; why do you refuse to believe ours?

The cyder line remains a great quote, but as you can see, it’s part of a satirical comment on American society said by Franklin’s fictional Indian.

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Hard Facts on the Origins of “Hard” Cider

In the last two posts we looked at the etymology of the word cider and the various spellings of cider in English. This post will look at the meaning of the “hard” in hard cider.

In 1840 presidential candidate William Henry Harrison ran his “Log Cabin & Hard Cider” Campaign. Essentially he claimed he was raised in a humble a log cabin drinking common cider.

While his campaign claims weren’t accurate, the campaign was a success on several levels. Harrison became the 9th president and the term “hard cider” became more common in American English. It’s now so firmly embedded in our language that today it’s what we call almost all fermented apple juice. Americans are the only ones in the English-speaking world to use that term. Everywhere else it’s just called cider. Early Americans left off the hard too. From the earliest settlement through the nineteenth century it was simply called cider. So when did it get to be “hard”?

As it turns out, “hard cider” isn’t originally American. It appears to be British. The earliest reference to “hard cider” found so far is in the 1690 A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew dictionary, printed in London. It’s in the definition for Freeze, which is

1690 1
1690 2

Freeze is cheap cider used to adulterate good wine. This definition is repeated verbatim in British dictionaries throughout the eighteenth century, including

A New Canting Dictionary, 1725

The New Universal English Dictionary, 1761

The New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, 1775

A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785

Blackguardiana; or, a Dictionary of Rogues, Bawds, &c., 1795

The definition for freeze, being “thin, small, hard” is curious. Since cider at that time always meant alcoholic apple juice, those words seem to be describing the character of cider. In looking up other early definitions for “hard” one finds the usual definition of firmness. Some dictionaries, though, defined it as rough. A few even defined it as a rough characteristic of drinks.

A New English Dictionary, John Kersey’s 1739 dictionary, defines hard as

1739 A New English Dictionary

 

Samuel Johnson’s 1755 A Dictionary of the English Language has several definitions for hard, including

1755 1
1755 2

 

In 1789 Thomas Sheridan in his A Complete Dictionary of the English Language defined hard as

1789 sheridan

 

Noah Webster’s 1828 An American Dictionary of the English Language not only defines hard as a character of liquors, he uses cider in his example sentence:

1828 Webster

 

According to these definitions the “hard” in hard cider has nothing to do with alcohol content, but with taste.

Hard cider doesn’t appear in American records until 1786, when The New-York Packet included it in a cure for dropsy (an archaic term for edema).(1)

New-York Packet, published as Loudon's New-York Packet (New York, New York) • 02-02-1786 • Page [2]
New-York Packet, published as Loudon’s New-York Packet (New York, New York) 02-02-1786 Page [2]

After the Packet published it in 1786, “hard cider” only occasionally appeared in print over the next forty years. When it did, the story suggests the cider is low-quality.(2) For example, in 1790, when a resident of Charleston, South Carolina realized the state capital would remain in Columbia, he worried that Charlestonians would be reduced to a less civilized lifestyle, including having only hard cider to drink.

1790 Hard Cyder
Daily Advertiser, published as The Daily Advertiser (New York, New York) 06-11-1790 Page [2]

The overall tone of John Woodger’s 1804 obituary suggests he preferred an exceedingly unrefined lifestyle, appropriately choosing hard cider over everything else.

1804 Hard Cyder
Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, published as Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 12-27-1804 Page [3]

Why use good cider for vinegar making when hard “cyder” would be less expensive, as Jona Rogers advertised in 1826.

Baltimore Patriot, published as BALTIMORE PATRIOT & MERCANTILE ADVERTISER. (Baltimore, Maryland) • 06-09-1826 • Page [3]
Baltimore Patriot, published as BALTIMORE PATRIOT & MERCANTILE ADVERTISER. (Baltimore, Maryland) 06-09-1826 Page [3]

This fictional 1830 humorous piece calls hard cider “dreadful.”

Haverhill Gazette, published as Essex Gazette (Haverhill, Massachusetts) • 04-10-1830 • Page [3]
Haverhill Gazette, published as Essex Gazette (Haverhill, Massachusetts) 04-10-1830 Page [3]

One ne’er-do-well trader included hard cider among his limited and poor stock.

North American, published as The North American (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) • 04-17-1839 • Page [1]
North American, published as The North American (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 04-17-1839 Page [1]

 

This understanding of “hard” as rough, sour, or acidic adds a new layer to understanding Harrison’s campaign. He didn’t simply claim to drink cider. He claimed to drink the cheapest, harshest cider, just like the people did who he appealed to.(3)

New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord, New Hampshire) • 02-10-1840 • Page [2]

New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord, New Hampshire) 02-10-1840 Page [2]

None of this is to say that Americans only called it hard cider after 1840. Cider continued to be used well into the nineteenth century as the name of fermented apple juice. What remains unclear is when the word cider came to mean fresh juice and when hard cider exclusively meant fermented juice. That search continues.

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  1. As the image shows, they reprinted this from the Albany Gazette. A copy of that has yet to be located. However, it began publication in 1784, not long before the Packet reprinted the cure.
  2. Following their original publication, the dropsy cure and the Mr. Longswallow piece were repeatedly reprinted in various American papers over several years. I chose not to include each reference to them here.
  3. Like hard, the word cabin had a specific meaning too. It meant a one-room structure.

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The Art of Racking

The 2017-18 cyders are racked off.

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I’m always curious to see the patterns the lees make after racking. Generally everything drops right to the bottom, leaving clean sides and a watery, cratered surface.

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Pretty standard stuff.

But the honey wheat left more of a vortex.

IMG_20171210_135615169.jpg

Pretty stuff.

Now that they’re racked, they’ll spend the winter conditioning and be bottled sometime in the spring.

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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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Getting Cyder Liquored Up

img_3406Next to straight cider, cider royal was the most common cider-based beverage in early America.

Cider royal is a fortified drink, made by blending cider with a distilled spirit, like French brandy or apple brandy. To make it cider royal one also has to add what was called sweets (a boiled syrup of sugar, water, and egg whites) and letting it condition for several months to several years.

Last fall I fermented a batch of cyder intended for royalling and fortifying. Once the cyder was finished in the spring I made a batch of sweets according to one of William Salmon’s 1710 receipts.

boiling-sweets

I boiled white sugar, eggs whites, and water into a syrup. It was basically a meringue. I had to keep skimming it.

Boiled Sweets

It took a couple of hours before it cleared up.

After the sweets had cleared and cooled I added French brandy (I used French brandy for the simple reason that it was on sale) and then blended the the fortified sweets with the cyder. I let them condition for five months before bottling.

As part of the experiment, I also made a one-gallon batch of fortified cyder, just adding a quantity of French brandy to straight cyder.

To figure out the final alcohol content for both the cider royal and the fortified I used a Pearson’s Square. Based on the proportions they both went from being a straight cyder at 7% ABV to fortified cyders at 10%.

large_pearsonsquare-300x225

The formula can be found here. Or you can use an online calculator.

Last week I bottled everything and sampled both.

IMG_3411.JPG

L: Fortified – R: Royal

As you can see the fortified cyder is clearer. It also has a noticeable alcohol burn on the tongue.

The cyder royal is cloudy, sweeter, and smoother. In some ways the cider royal is definitely closer in profile to modern industrial ciders (but without carbonation).

I wonder if one of the reasons cider royal was popular was because the sweets helped overcome any harsh sharpness or other extremes in the cider. Having a higher alcohol content probably didn’t hurt either.

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Irish Apples & Cider

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

In celebration of the day check out this overview of Irish cider culture then & now:

A Brief History of Apples and Cidermaking in Ireland

https://i0.wp.com/newsdron.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Picture-Of-St-Patrick6.jpg

He’ll have one more.

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More On the Adams Cider Story

Historians, like everyone else, enjoy when people read what they write. But historians are even happier when someone challenges and/or expands their argument. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that my post “Did John Adams Really Drink Cider at Breakfast?,” where I suggested that the reality of Adams daily morning cider drink was blown out of proportion in both volume and time, got such a reaction.

J.H. Bell over at Boston 1775 found a few new bits to add to it. Check out his post “Breakfast With John Adams.”

tumblr_inline_n0yh0p2Ybb1rf7leb - Copy

From a site that claims Adams started each day with a beer, as this historical image clearly shows. How did he get anything done?
Source.

He’s right that I am a skeptic about the usually-unqualified “Adams was a lifelong morning cider drinker” story. Especially when it comes from marketers, cidermakers, and lazy historians.

 

Bell’s source certainly adds to Adams tale, though it’s third-hand. I’d love to find a primary source that corroborates it. But like the sources I referenced already, the comments of Adams’s great-grandson suggest that this was still a later-life habit. In fact so far everything points to it having started in the mid-1790s.

Thanks to J.H. Bell for sharing his find.

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