The Roots of an American Drink
Ciders once ruled all other drinks in taverns and farmsteads in early colonial America. Apple seeds were brought over on ships from Europe along with centuries of cidermaking traditions that quickly spread through the New World. With the westward expansion of pioneers and the help of "Johnny Appleseed", orchards were planted on most farms with the dual purpose of establishing proof of cultivation and homesteading and providing a source of cider. Fermented ciders were consumed in this region more than any other drink bar none. In 1726, the per capita average consumption of cider was 35 gallons per person! Farms, families and towns would work together to put up thousands of barrels of cider each year. Barrel fermented cider could either be mild or strong, depending on the recipe or treatment and no doubt fine ciders were made. These ciders were relatively low in alcohol, so children and adults drank cider regularly. In some cases it was considered safer to drink than the local water. President John Adams was known to drink a tankard of cider each morning to promote his good health.
The Whig party in 1840 used the symbols of a "Log cabin and barrel of cider" to represent the self reliance of traditional American values in their bid for the Presidency (they won). Cider was also used in the place of currency in rural areas, being used to pay for services from the doctor, minister, etc.
Alas, a series of events brought about the decline in cidermaking and drinking in America. The advent of the Temperance movement and Prohibition brought about the chopping down of many orchards and declaration of cider as an evil drink. The migration of a largely rural population to more urban centers and an influx of German immigrants to these areas paved the way for large scale beer production which was easier and cheaper to produce in these urban centers. By the time Prohibition was lifted, cidermaking had virtually disappeared and was being replaced by farmers marketing apple juice or "sweet" cider.
There is a renewed passion for modern American cidermaking and we are proud to be part of it. Below are some resources to explore to further enhance your knowledge and enjoyment of this forgotten American tradition. Cheers!
Cider: Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions, and Making Your Own - Ben Watson 1999 The Countryman Press
The American Cider Book: The Story of America's Natural Beverage - Vrest Orton 1973 Farrar, Straus and Giroux
The Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World - Michael Pollan