DRINK – A Brief History of Apples and Cider – PART TWO

05 Mar 2003

A search of the Pennsylvania Gazette for the period 1766-83 for the word ‘apple’ produced many occurrences of the word (564), including these unknown (today) varieties, and numerous listings of properties within a day’s travel of Philadelphia, the largest American city for 150 years and the center of civilization in the western hemisphere, that were for lease or sale and included orchards of from 50 to over 1,000 trees. As ours was primarily an agrarian society almost everyone had a small orchard at the back of their home from which they made their own cider. And, as it didn’t really matter what type of apple they used in making their cider, most of the orchards were from seedling stock with not much concern about specific varieties. The aforementioned search revealed only a few orchards where specific varieties of apples were mentioned. However, Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser on October 8 1813 ran an ad for the Burlington (NJ) Nursery that listed some 47 different American table apples,10 English table apples, 9 French Table apples, 17 American cider apples, and 10 English cider apples And in 1828 Bartram’s Botanic Garden Periodical Catalogue had available over 80 different apple varieties at $.25 each of $18.75 per 100.

What about beer? According to Waverly Root & Richard de Rochemont in their book Eating in America (Wm. Morrow, NY 1976), apples were also made into a beer. One old recipe went as follows, ‘Peel your apples and dry the peelings in the sun or by the stove or hearth. Put them in a crock and add enough boiling water to cover them. Cover the crock and let it sit one or two days until all the flavor comes out of the peelings. You may add some sugar if you want.’

It was only in the mid-to-late 1800s, when the temperance movement gained strength and shipping agricultural goods by rail became the norm, that apples and locally produced cider began their long decline in popularity. The inability of certain varieties to stand up to the rigors of shipment without bruising or rotting led to the demise of many familiar varieties of fruit. Truck transportation in the early twentieth century compounded this trend.

Initially even the 18th century pro temperance movement thought well of cider. In his Moral and Physical Thermometer, Dr. Benjamin Rush argued that, consumed in moderate quantities and only at meal times it brought about ‘Cheerfulnefs, Strength and Nourfifment’.

But times change and movements evolve and in the late 1800s the temperance movement had tightened its grip on drinking habits. Farmers stopped making cider, tore out their orchards and replaced them with other crops. In many cases these crops were grains that were used for making beer which to many seemed less harmful. In combination with the invention of the bottle cap in the late 1800s, cider went into decline.


Cider confusion

Cider / hard cider / scrumpy / apple wine all are the same and all are different. This confusion is courtesy of the US governmental bureaucracy and the various states and their evolving policies towards cider, the temperance movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the beer and (grape) wine industries and other forces.

Mike Tomlinson finds, propagates, preserves, sells and uses heirloom American apple trees and fruit, and produces cider commercially in Pennsylvania and California.

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