On Saturday, October 7th at 1 pm I’m presenting an original talk, “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?” at the Sigal Museum in Easton, PA in connection with their new exhibition, The Cat’s Meow: Lehigh Valley in the Age of Art Deco & the Roaring Twenties.
Tag Archives: Research
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.
The candidate, himself a wealthy man, convinced the country that his opponent was a snob who could never understand real Americans. As proof the candidate said his opponent didn’t like hard cider.
It was the election of 1840, and William Henry Harrison was running his
“Log Cabin & Hard Cider” campaign against incumbent Martin Van Buren. As you might imagine, Harrison’s campaign created a plethora of log house- and hard cider-related art.
A favorite among them is this not-so-subtle mechanical card
His campaign worked and Harrison became our 9th president.
The Cider in the United States Wikipedia page includes sections on the history and regionalism of American cider, all supported by 55 footnotes. Footnotes are fantastically helpful. They give almost anything an air of being well-researched.
But if you do more than glance at the page’s footnotes something interesting emerges. As you can see below (click image to enlarge), almost every footnote references a modern cidermaker’s website, press release, or newspaper article.
There isn’t a lot of real history supporting this history. You might ask why this matters?
First, quoting cidermakers about the history of cider is like quoting the Ford Motor Company about the history of American automobiles, or Exxon about responsible energy use, or Dick Cheney about the art of diplomacy. It’s going to be incomplete and biased from the start.
And secondly, for all the claims about how important history is to their work, the modern cidermaking community doesn’t really understand or know that history. They do, however, know how to share a “good story” when they hear one.
This might seem like a snobbish rant. Maybe it is, but it’s also an interesting (to me, at least) case study in how some people interact with and use history.
For now it seems the popular understanding of American cider history is being written through marketing copy and by “whisper-down-the-lane” tales. It’s a shame really, because there are lots of real “good stories” about cider history out there. For instance, have you heard the one about cider as a gateway drink…
You may have noticed I prefer to use one kind of bottle.
They’re known by several names – swing-top, flip-top, bail, and brace. The company that makes them calls them E-Z Cap. They’re popularly known as Grolsch bottles because the Grolsch brewery (located in Holland) continued to use them long after most everyone else started using crown caps.
Despite the association, Grolsch did not invent these bottles. American Charles De Quillfeldt did. He patented them in 1875.
At the time he called it simply an “improved bottle-stopper.” Not long after the patent was granted this stopper-type gained the fantastic name “lightning stopper” because it could be quickly sealed. Quillfeldt doesn’t include this name in his 1875 application, but he does in his 1898 patent application (for improvements to his original design).
The earliest use of “lightning stopper” found so far is this advert in The Medical Register for New England from 1876.
It’s unclear if Quillfeldt coined the term, but it was quickly and commonly adopted. Since then all swing-top/flip-top/bail/brace/Grolsch bottles have been formally classified as “lightning” stoppers or closures.
Almost 150 years later lightning-stoppered bottles remain as they were in 1875, “very convenient, quick, and secure.” Provided you have the thumb strength to close them.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
In celebration of the day check out this overview of Irish cider culture then & now:
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.”
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.