July 17th, 2014
Apples trees were grown in England even before the Romans arrived, and the Romans brought organized cultivation. As apples grew better than grapes in the cool northern climate of England, cider became the drink of choice rather than wine. The same was true in Northern France. In some regions, cider is actually known as “apple wine”. The U.K. remains the country with the most production of cider, as well as the highest consumption per capita in the world.
The first English settlers in America brought cider with them. As apples were easier to cultivate on the East Coast than barley and the other grains necessary to make beer, cider’s popularity grew. Know the story of Johnny Appleseed? The story I was told as a child was that Johnny Appleseed just planted apple seeds everywhere he walked, growing apples you could eat all over the Midwest. This, as it turns out, is just a storybook tale, though based in reality. Johnny Chapman was a missionary of the Swedenborgian Church and he traveled ahead of settlers planting nurseries rather than orchards and left them in the care of a neighbor who sold trees. Apple trees grown from seed very rarely produce sweet apples for eating – that requires grafting. Johnny Appleseed, by planting sour apples from seed, was really promoting the production of hard cider! Johnny Appleseed’s work was very popular with the settlers as well because in some areas of the Midwest, the planting of fruit trees was a part of the requirements to gain rights to land through the Homestead Act.
Hard cider lost much of its market share after prohibition, because orchards were harder to re-convert to cider apple production, whereas land for barley and other beer-making grains were easy to convert.
Hard cider today, however, is beginning to regain its market share. It is a popular beverage not only in England, but also right here in our home state of Michigan. Many craft cider companies have been growing in our great state, using many traditional heirloom apples to craft both sweet and tart ciders. When apples are picked and how they are processed both contribute to the resulting sweetness (or lack thereof) in cider. The craft cider selection in our cooler has been growing too. Check out these great Michigan cider companies:
Tandem Ciders – from Leelenau County, Michigan, Tandem Ciders uses local Michigan apples to create (mostly) tart ciders. We carry Smackintosch, Early Day, and Pomona (a dessert wine made with apples).
Virtue Cider – from Fennville, MI, Virtue uses modern cider making techniques to produce old world, farmhouse style ciders.
Vander Mill – from Spring Lake, Michigan, Vander Mill uses high quality Michigan apples, never pasturized, and no sugar or preservatives added. They make great flavored ciders, like Totally Roasted (with roasted pecans) and Ginger Peach, as well as their Chapman’s Blend of heirloom apples and their Puff the Magic Cyser (a blend of honey and apples)
Black Star Farms – from Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, Black Star Farms is most well known for their wine, but their hard cider is a delightful treat as well!
sources: http://cideruk.com/cider_making/origins_of_cider, http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/02/the-cider-press-the-lost-american-beverage.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cider, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Appleseed