Tuesday, October 23, 2007



Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1964), September 20 (p. 179):
The word cider has come down through Greek and Latin from an ancient Hebrew term for strong drink, an intoxicant. We have softened both the word and the substance, and without a hardening adjective the cider we know today is the tanged-sweet juice of the apple, especially in October. True, cider can be potentiated. It can even be distilled, after nature has had her way, and endowed with both fire and lightning. But when caught in its youth and treated kindly, cider is all sunlight and blue skies, spiced with the essence of early Autumn.

Any apple will make a cider, of a sort, even the apple that ripens in August. But the cider really worthy of its name needs a touch of frost and an apple that matures its sugar slowly. Its making calls for care in the choice of apples and both skill and understanding at the mill. For the best flavor, it should still be reasonably young, but beyond its childhood. And damnation to him who would stunt its growth with any additive!

Really good cider is as rural as a corn shock. It sings of the golden birch and the crimson maple as well as the bronzing orchard. It may not be the original nectar of the gods, but it makes a man glad that he is a man. And that apples are apples, with their own inclination. See that golden amber glow in the glass? See those beads of character well slowly up? Taste that distillation of Autumn's wonder? Cider!
The etymology is correct — see the Online Etymology Dictionary:
c.1280, from O.Fr. sidre, var. of sisdre, from L.L. sicera, Vulgate rendition of Heb. shekhar, word used for any strong drink (translated in O.E. as beor). Meaning gradually narrowed to mean exclusively "fermented drink made from apples," though this sense was present in O.Fr.
Greek σίκερα also appears in the Septuagint as a rendition of the Hebrew.

Alan Davidson, in The Penguin Companion to Food, says disappointingly little about cider, but does point out that in the United States cider is usually unfermented, in Britain alcoholic. It was not always so on this side of the Atlantic. Nineteenth century temperance tracts are full of lurid descriptions of the evils of hard cider. The abstemious Thoreau (Journals, Jan. 11-12, 1853) penned an unflattering portrait of one John L:
This man is continually drinking cider; thinks it corrects some mistake in him; wishes he had a barrel of it in the woods; if he had known he was to be out so long would have brought a jugful of it; will dun Captain Hutchinson for a drink on his way home. This, or rum, runs in his head, if not in his throat, all the time.
Temperance reformers not only smashed barrels of cider but on occasion cut down orchards.

Hal Borland's "golden amber" implies a thin, transparent liquid, and I won't drink an anemic cider like that. Sitting in my refrigerator now is a jug of local cider that is a dark, reddish brown. No light shines through it, and it has a thick sediment. Borland wanted no additives in his cider, but I wonder if some chemical clarifying agent produced the golden amber color he prized.

James Thacher, The American Orchardist (Plymouth: Collier, 1825), pp. 151-152, mentions the use of isinglass to clarify cider, and Thoreau wrote in his Journals, Feb. 28, 1856:
Stopped at Martial Miles's to taste his cider. Marvellously sweet and spirited without being bottled; alum and mustard put into the barrels.
Alum is a clarifying agent.

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