Tag Archives: Consuming

Cider as a Study Aid

The following was gleaned from “The Life of the Mind: Oliver Sacks’s 121 Formative and Favorite Books from a Lifetime of Reading“post on Brain Pickings.Premiere Party for "Awakenings"

Cider turns up in the most interesting places. For instance, you don’t expect to find it as an effective test preparation. However, Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author (and the real doctor behind Awakenings) consoled and then inspired himself with cider during his college exams:

My mother, a surgeon and anatomist, while accepting that I was too clumsy to follow in her footsteps as a surgeon, expected me at least to excel in anatomy at Oxford. We dissected bodies and attended lectures and, a couple of years later, had to sit for a final anatomy exam. When the results were posted, I saw that I was ranked one from bottom in the class. I dreaded my mother’s reaction and decided that, in the circumstances, a few drinks were called for. I made my way to a favorite pub, the White Horse in Broad Street, where I drank four or five pints of hard cider—stronger than most beer and cheaper, too.

Rolling out of the White Horse, liquored up, I was seized by a mad and impudent idea. I would try to compensate for my abysmal performance in the anatomy finals by having a go at a very prestigious university prize — the Theodore Williams Scholarship in Human Anatomy. The exam had already started, but I lurched in, drunkenly bold, sat down at a vacant desk, and looked at the exam paper.

There were seven questions to be answered; I pounced on one (“Does structural differentiation imply functional differentiation?”) and wrote nonstop for two hours on the subject, bringing in whatever zoological and botanical knowledge I could muster to flesh out the discussion. Then I left, an hour before the exam ended, ignoring the other six questions.

The results were in The Times that weekend; I, Oliver Wolf Sacks, had won the prize. Everyone was dumbfounded — how could someone who had come one but last in the anatomy finals walk off with the Theodore Williams prize?

Sacks won £50 in prize money, the most he’d ever had at once. With his windfall he says he “…went not to the White Horse but to Blackwell’s bookshop (next door to the pub) and bought, for £44, the twelve volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary…”[1]

You have to wonder how much of the remaining £6 was spent on cider. Certainly he had more exams.[2]


1. Cheap cider and books in one location? Sounds like nirvana.

2. We don’t recommend the above as an appropriate test-taking tactic.


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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?

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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Cider Was a Gateway Drink In 1838

How does one get to the land of Inebriation? According to C. Wilterberger, Jr’s 1838 Temperance Map it all starts with cider.

The map is an allegory of one’s descent into drunkenness and the (one and only?) route to salvation. As you’re floating on the Ocean of Animal Appetites, you enter Cider Inlet, which leads you into Inebriation. Inebriation consists of the territories of Indulgence, False Security, False Pleasure, False Comfort, False Hope, Total Indifference, and Ruin. However, from Ruin you can sail up the Ocean of Eternity to the land of Self Denial, and it’s territories of Plenty, Enjoyment, Prosperity, Improvement, and Industry, where Adam’s Ale seems to be the most common drink.

Temperance Map

Here there be ciders….
Click image to enlarge. For a larger image click here.
Library of Congress

It’s clear from the lake names that as you travel from west to east in Inebriation, the drinks, and presumably your life, get harder. Cider, mead, and perry are all on the west coast, at the very beginning of your trip, seemingly harmless but leading you to danger.

As mentioned above, there is Cider Inlet, which entices you in from the Ocean of Animal Appetites.

Cider Inlet

Perryville is the capital of Hospitality Island.


Meadville is on Indulgence Island.


And finally Cider River leads into Wine Lake.

Cider River

Having now seen the implication of our work, we apologize for leading you to Inebriation. It’s really not all bad though. At least we have Quoit Town.

Quoit Town


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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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Did John Adams Drink Cider At Breakfast?

It’s almost Pavlovian: American cider writers are incapable of publishing a cider history or how-to without stating that John Adams, Doer and Patriot, drank cider for breakfast. They might even include how much he drank (a tankard full being the most popular) or why he did so (everything from cider being a cure-all to it being the key to long life). If you search the phrase “John Adams drank cider every morning” (there we did it for you) you’ll get over 73,ooo hits. You’ll find Adams’ cider habit in everything from the Woodchuck Hard Cider Company’s Five Tidbits of Presidential Hard Cider History post to the traveling exhibition American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, who included it on this text panel:

Adams’ breakfast cider is mentioned so often and in so many variations that it made me wonder if there was more to the story.

As it turns out, there’s less to the story. At least according to Adams’ own diary. He mentions his morning cider on only two occasions:

July 26, 1796
In conformity to the fashion I drank this Morning and Yesterday Morning, about a Jill of Cyder. It seems to do me good, by diluting and dissolving the Phlegm or the Bile in the Stomach.
July 28, 1796
I continue my practice of drinking a Jill of Cyder in the Morning and find no ill but some good Effect. [1]

Besides indicating this was something new for him (as of 1796), he also notes that these “medicinal” drams weren’t all that large. Adams clearly states he has a jill (or gill) of cider. According to the 1799 edition of Johnson’s Dictionary (see quartern), a gill equals one quarter of a pint.

So yes, for what seems to be a short time he drank a small amount of cider each morning for medicinal purposes. By his own account it certainly wasn’t a tankard and he didn’t think it would cure all his ails or help him live longer, though drinking a small amount of cider on a nearly-empty stomach every morning would certainly have a “good Effect.”


1. Both quotations are from the John Adams diary 46, 6 August 1787 – 10 September 1796, 2 July – 21 August 1804 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/. There are no other mentions of his morning cider habits before or after these two.


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