By Kristie Snyder,
John Chapman would be pleased. You might know him by another name -— Johnny Appleseed. The eccentric frontiersman had much to do with making cider a household staple in Expansionist America — author Michael Pollan called him the "American Dionysus."
The apple has deep roots in our region -— the Native Americans were growing apples, obtained through trade with Europeans, on the rich soils of the Finger Lakes before Chapman was even born. When General John Sullivan's "campaign" of destruction visited Haudenosaunee villages in the Finger Lakes in 1779, his soldiers were impressed by the large orchards of apples and other fruits -— which they proceeded to chop down and burn.
Two hundred years after Chapman's time, cider is making a reappearance on American tables. When I say cider, I mean hard cider, not the sweet, fresh-pressed stuff beloved by children. America's favorite beverage pre-Prohibition, hard cider in its modern incarnation is better compared to wine. It's fermented from the juice of apples grown specifically for cider — apples grown for their sugar, acid and tannin content — and can result in a product that ranges from sweet to dry, sparkling to still, from barely alcoholic to around ten percent alcohol. As with wine, the best way to find out what you like is to taste.
You'll have plenty of opportunity to do so early this month, during the Finger Lakes Cider Week. With several local cideries up and running, and more in their infancy stages (think orchards full of baby trees), it's high time to draw attention to this local product. The newly formed Finger Lakes Cider Alliance organized Cider Week, timed to coincide with the Downtown Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival, to educate consumers about the beverage and give them an opportunity to sample, and to celebrate the bounty of ciders being produced in the area.
"It's a good time for cider to make its way back to American tables," says Autumn Stoscheck of Eve's Cidery in Van Etten. According to Stoscheck, the Finger Lakes is an ideal spot for a cider resurgence — it's a great place to grow apples, and there's an enthusiastic market for local, sustainable products and a supportive network of young farmers. She adds that cider apples, which are grown for properties completely unrelated to size or cosmetics, can be grown more easily using organic methods. Cider gives orchardists a year-round product to sell, and allows apple growers access to a different market than that for fresh fruit sales. This year, the additional diversity afforded by growing cider apples allowed some orchards to better weather the spring's killing frosts — cider apples tend to bloom later than their bound-for-fresh-eating counterparts.
Other local and regional cideries include Bellwether Hard Cider in Trumansburg, Redbyrd Cider in Burdett, Harvest Moon Cidery in Cazenovia, and SteamPunk Cider in Lyndonville. Most of these cannot be found on GreenStar's shelves, as New York law prohibits beverages containing over six percent alcohol from being sold in grocery stores (higher-test ciders can be found in local wine markets such as Red Feet). GreenStar does carry Bellwether ciders, along with Original Sin ciders, made in New York City from upstate-grown apples, and Sam Smith organic cider from the UK. According to Grocery Department Buyer Adam Morris, "more and more customers are getting interested in cider because of the great taste and use of upstate apples. Also, for those on a gluten-free diet, it's a good alternative to beer."
While many local events and tastings are planned, GreenStar shoppers can sample Bellwether's ciders right in the store on Thursday, Oct. 4. From 3 to 7 pm, Bellwether will be at the West-End store sampling ciders and answering questions.
If you miss Cider Week, the website, www.ciderweekflx.com, is still a good resource for information on cider and local producers. Bellwether Hard Cider and Eve's Cidery can both be found at the Ithaca Farmer's Market, and most local wine stores stock local and regional hard ciders.
"Cider is part of America's food culture," says Stoscheck. For local food enthusiasts, learning about cider can be an exciting new area of taste exploration.
Visit www.ciderweekflx.com for a complete listing of Cider Week events and participating venues, along with general information about cider and a directory of local producers.
New in Produce
|Thanks, Life is Good|
Giving thanks doesn't end in November. The local bounty continues with root veggies, apples, cider, and trees.
This month I intended loquacious prose built upon the ever-busy world, intertwined with our local experience of cold, winter, snow, and beauty, but it just didn't sit. It seems like every month in this space I ask that we enjoy and respect our liberties and freedoms, spiritual, emotional, physical, or otherwise. It doesn't change from month to month or even day to day — every minute, every second is important to look upon and be thankful for and reflect and exist in. During the holiday months, it's especially important to realize how we act and who we are, because the consumption of product can be blinding and unrelenting. I'm thankful for this region, its people, its farms, and our Co-op: this month that means Remembrance Farm's rainbow carrots, Stick and Stone's mixed root vegetables, The Good Life Farm's bagged mixed winter greens, Black Diamond's brilliant heirloom apples, and Littletree's delicious cider. And, holiday trees! I am thankful.