A Mysterious Man & Intoxicating Cider

 

This article's aim is to share a general recipe for hardcore apple cider and a bit of backstory on the history of the main ingredient used. The apple is just about as iconic has anything we can imagine. It's culinary uses have been extravagantly flaunted by renowned chefs and picked fresh from the tree for many generations. It's appealing to our senses in a myriad of ways.

I'll eat an apple straight up every now and again but more often than not, I prefer to turn it into some sort of dessert. Far greater than that, I fancy to drink them in their fermented form, cider. Even before apple pie became an American household classic, the early capitalistic squatters of this new world continent would rather consume this fruit as a crisp and refreshing alcoholic beverage. The expedient proliferation of this domesticated species is historically attributed to Johnny Appleseed (1774 - 1845). I think a lot of people don't realize that he was an actual man who lived in those good old days and walked on the once fertile land. Barefooted.

But, before the cider recipe ...

There's a book written about his legacy. I've read it, found it to be quite fascinating and highly recommend it to any curious dreamers. It's entitled "Johnny Appleseed: Man & Myth". His birth name wasJohn Chapman, before he acquired his superhero sobriquet from his vocation. His passionate calling in life was pretty much to plant seeds for apple trees. He was a guerrilla gardener and "he never grafted no trees". He began practicing his horticultural craft in 1797 at the age of 23 and the region of his original enterprise was the still pristine northeast, before heading westerly.

As suggested by the books title and the author illustrates throughout, there are facts and there are tales. As the yarns are teased out and certain realities clarified, we see an enchanting portrait emerge of a peaceful warrior, an intrepid visionary. His reasons of life devotion were simple enough; he loved traveling the country and planting fruit trees that would add a touch of sweetness to the lives of others. What's more though, he saw a practical, if not economical, need in the surging socio-economic infrastructure.

When new coming farmer families would settle on land, it was in their survival and financial interest to quickly establish orchards to supplement their crops. This amiable young chap would then be one step ahead of them (as he always was for the westbound whites, and, is what really set him apart from other businessmen in the field: his footloose flexibility and anticipation of the market trends), bearing already started saplings for them to get on with it. He was well received into their homes in every community and they all delighted in his storytelling around the evening fire. And after he receded into the forest and their memories, footprints fading with the smouldering embers, each one of those homes were then blessed with annual stores of apple blossoms.

It was the age of barter then and when cash was scarce, apples and vinegar could be traded as a currency to purchase animals and eggs, for example. In fact, some territories, such as in Kentucky and Ohio, amended prerequisites to claiming land and building establishments.

Drawing on wisdom from the old world, naturally the best way to extend the apples shelf life, more than drying, was to preserve them through the process of fermentation. This yields plenty of refreshing liquid that's rich in vitamins, minerals, enzymes, probiotics and invaluable calories. Plus, the strong presence of alcohol has a tendency to buoy ones spirits.

The technique is easy enough and the technology used requires only a juice press. Back then, they employed wooden and stone grinding mills. Today, we usually rely on electric powered steel blades. Anyway, the first step is, gather enough apples to end up with 4 1/2 gallons of juice. Depending on the water content of the chosen variety, that's going to be about 2 or 3 big boxes. My suggested method is to fill a 5 gallon glass "carboy" just under its capacity. There must be some empty space near the top to avoid overflow because the level will rise and bubble during fermentation. You could use smaller glass containers if that better suits your circumstances. However, you'll probably wish to have large quantities of this stuff because it's going to taste so good and make you so drunk.

recipe 

Run the apples through the juicer and pour all that into the glass container(s). Remember, be careful to leave some space around the brim. If the temperature of the juice is approximately that of your body, you can now add 1 or 2 packages of brewers yeast in order to activate fermentation. I've also skipped the store bought yeast and just put the open container outside in the air for a couple of days to become inoculated with wild yeast that's naturally present in the atmosphere. Either way, in a couple of days, if the fermentation gods have favoured your efforts, the batch will begin to come alive with bubbling activity. You will know this by sight and sound; the airlock in the mouth will be decompressing gases with regularity, much like a metronome.

This internal dance like behaviour will taper off and finally subside after 2 or 3 weeks. This signals the time to siphon the cider into smaller dark bottles and cork them, same as wine. Label and date them and store in a chill and dimly lit environment. The longer they age, the more refined and pleasing the flavour profile will be. Remember this too, when the brewing stage has begun, the magic happens best if it takes place in a space of calm quietude, low light and temperate moderation that is to say, reasonably warm. Cover the containers in clothes, if you have to.

Lastly, here follows some examples of extra ingredients I've added into batches for a little more kick, zing, or personality. I encourage you to experiment with verve to find the well balanced notes that harmonize on your palate ...

Ginger, turmeric, goji berries, chile, cinnamon, schizandra berries, nutmeg, allspice, black pepper, vanilla, salt, etc. I like to add some raw honey to the batches that I make. I find it to be more medicinal and higher in alcohol. Another variation on this cider is to use part pear. Or skip the apples altogether and just use pears. Who cares?

Well, I hope you've found this article to be interesting and useful. Check out that book. You're invited to take part in this ancient craft and drink deeply, the inspiration. Oh, and don't forget to spin your drinks in a vortex motion for enhanced molecular symmetry.

Epilogue: Ohio became host to Johnny Appleseeds apotheosis, a phenomenon which arose through fate and circumstances, or simply the synchronicity of one being at the right place in the right time. A memorial at the Ashland Ohio public library describes him as an "eccentric pauper-philanthropist." His legend continues to confound the domesticated senses of common citizens, for he, was a feral man, with an allegiance to the preservation of genetic wildness and spiritual morality.

Excerpts from the aforementioned book "Johnny Appleseed: Man & Myth" ...

During this one winter, Johnny wanted to go down the river short distance, and as the ice was running, he had concluded to take a small canoe he had procured and started on his journey. But finding it rather troublesome to keep his canoe right side up, he concluded to drag the canoe to the center of a large strong cake of ice. Having succeeded, he laid down in the canoe, made himself as comfortable as he could, went to sleep, and when he awoke, found himself about 100 miles below where he intended to go

He seemed to be as much at home with the red men in the forest as with his own race

They're starting one [orchard] up the river on the Virginia side and talking about grafting (referring to the oppositional apple planters) they can improve the apple in that way but that is only a device of man, and it is wicked to cut up trees that way. The correct method is to select good seeds and plant them in good ground and only God can improve upon the apples

After talking about his nurseries and relating some of his wild wood scenes; encounters with rattlesnakes bears and wolves, he changed the conversation to the subject of spirituality. At the same time he began to rummage through his bosom and brought forth three or four old half worn-out books. As we were fond of reading, we soon grabbed them, which pleased Johnny. I could see his eyes twinkle with delight. He was much rejoiced to see us eager to read them. When bedtime arrived, Johnny was invited to turn in, a bed being prepared for his accommodation, but Johnny declined the proffered kindness, saying he chose to lay on the hearth by the fire, as he did not expect to sleep on a bed in the next world, so he would not in this

His personal appearance was as singular as his character. He lived the roughest life and often lived out in the woods. His clothing was mostly old, generally being given to him in exchange for apple trees. He went barefooted and often traveled miles through the snow in that way.

For further research and entertainment about this subject and more, look into Michael Pollen and his book "Botany of Desire". Here's a nice video documentary based on his work.

 
David WhippleComment