One of my special joys in the fall and winter is sipping cider.

 

One of my special joys in the fall and winter is sipping cider. Whether it is served cold enough to produce a brain freeze or steaming hot with spices, there is nothing as fragrant or comforting, in my opinion. And with all the orchards in the Last Green Valley, fresh cider from locally grown apples is a commodity easily enjoyed.

In most parts of the world cider is an alcoholic brew. Only in the United States does the name refer to unfiltered and unfermented juice squeezed from apples. Americans specifically refer to alcoholic cider as hard cider. We have Prohibition to thank for that.

While we generally think of cider as being pressed from apples, pear and quince may also be used. Apple cider is very popular in the United Kingdom, especially in southwest England, where there is the highest per capita consumption and the largest cider-producing companies in the world. The beverage is traditional in the Brittany region of Ireland, the Normandy region of France and the Basque country of Spain and France. Pear cider is popular in Sweden and parts of France.

Fuzzy origins

Cider is an ancient beverage, and its beginnings are not precisely known. There was an alcoholic drink made from the fermented juice of apples consumed by the Greeks and the Jews in ancient times. In the fourth century, St. Gerome is credited with the first use of the Latin word, “sicera,” or cider. Five hundred years later, Charlemagne employed brewers specifically to prepare cider.

Perhaps the most important invention for cider production came in the 1400s, when the press was invented. The beverage became so plentiful that it was consumed more than ale and competed with wine and beers. Of course, its popularity made it a natural target for taxes and levies.

An interest in apple tree cultivation brought about new varieties in the 1600s, and different cultivars of apples were combined during the pressing process to produce ciders of particular taste and color. In 1588, Julien Le Paulmier, a physician to Charles IX, published a treatise called De Vino et pomaco. It praised the beverage for its medicinal properties and promoted its use for health.

Home healing

One folk remedy was an ointment made from cider, pig’s grease and rose water. It was used to beautify the face and smooth away roughness of the skin. There is no reference to the clarification of filtering of the pig’s grease, so it could have been a rather nasty concoction. Fortunately, it is one that has fallen out of use.

In addition to a beverage, cider is an ingredient in a plethora of recipes. Seasonal suggestions include pairing cider with pork, chicken, ham, even goose — primarily as a sauce. I love warm apple cider and bacon dressing on salad in winter. And of course, there’s always apple bread-pudding with cider sauce or cider pumpkin bread.

Here in the Last Green Valley, we have an abundance of orchards, at least nine by my count all selling cider. Charlton Orchards Farm and Winery in Charlton, Mass., produces hard cider. Westford Hill Distillers in Ashford makes a wonderful apple brandy, New World Aged Apple Brandy, distilled from six different and locally-grown apples and aged eight years in French oak barrels. The owner, Margaret Chatey, recommends a special cider cocktail made with cider, syrup and Pear William, a clear pear brandy.

So raise your glass this holiday season to the orchard men of the Last Green Valley!

Charlene Perkins Cutler writes a column about the Last Green Valley that appears Sundays in the Norwich Bulletin. Reach her at cpcutler@snet.net.