Previously on Saucyman…
I addressed what my favorite eating apple was. Secretly, it is the Honeycrisp, but I almost always answer Pink Lady, in part because it is a good apple but mostly because it is fun to say. But why just have one favorite apple there are lots of good ones? Why just use the apples for eating? Orchards haven't been cared for just solely so we could eat something out of hand nor give Neruda an object to ode upon, apples have been called upon for many different functions.
Different varieties are have been propagated to for canning, drying, tempting Adam, for baking, cooking & saucing and for the making of cider. By cider, I mean the hard, fermented drink - not unpasteurized apple juice. Although the latter will ferment all by itself, but this natural process adds more of an effervescent bite than high alcohol content. It is the secondary fermentation, coaxed along by human hands, that makes hard cider.
In the 18th Century US, apple orchards were kept for making cider. 'Orchard' and 'kept' imply some sense of order that didn't really exist. In early US history, apples came from near wild strands of trees, 1000s to 10,000s of trees left in a semi-feral state. Since each apple seed is a new potential variety - these largely untended trees would have produced countless varieties. All the apples were gathered up and pressed together as a way to preserve apples and have something to drink. And in an economy that didn't always see, trust or use cash currency, cider was a popular bartering item.
While throwing everything in the press together seems chaotic, especially to brewers and vintners, cider requires a balance of apples to produce superior results. Cider apples fall in 4 different categories: bittersweet - tannic but low in acid; sweet - low tannin, low acid; Bittersharp - high tannin, high acid; and Sharp low tannin, high acid. All are used in combination to produce quality cider.
Cider suffered greatly in the 20th century. First a wave of German immigration, along with refrigeration, rail based distribution turned beer in the national, low-alcohol drink. Prohibition took its toll - making sales illegal for years and with the loss of industry came the loss of the institutional knowledge it takes to produce quality cider. After its repeal, a generation of children who were raised on soft drinks rather than cider, preferred to stick with what they grew up with. And later in the century farm subsidizes would encourage farmers to rip out garden patches and orchards and indulge in monoculture.
Well all of that and the emergence of the banana. As the apple declined in importance, a highly perishable fruit, grown in the tropics, transported thousands of miles became the preferred, portable healthy snack food. Amazingly displacing a fruit that can be grown in almost every part of the US and enjoys an incredibly long shelf life.
21st century is seeing a bit of an apple renaissance. The micro/craft brew movement has helped train a new generation of cider makers. The Red Delicious is having its supremacy challenged from new varieties and old faves being revived - As consumers try new apples it is hard to go back to the Red Delicious - whose name is half true anyway, it is red.