The Return of Hard Cider


David White of Whitewood Cider Co.

David White of Whitewood Cider Co.

If you haven’t noticed the explosion of artisan hard ciders across the United States over the last few years, you haven’t been paying attention. Hard cider was a staple beverage in most rural households until the 1830s, when almost all of it was produced by what would today be called nano-cideries or micro-cideries. Those farmers who did not own a cider press did not have to tote their surplus apples very far to find a neighbor who had one. There are a number of factors which contributed to the decline in hard cider production in the United States beginning in the 1830s. The temperance movement’s campaign against the cider apple was one factor. But perhaps more importantly, German immigration in the middle decades of the 19th century saw a dramatic expansion in the number of beer breweries, and these German brewers quickly established regional, and eventually national markets for their beverage, while cider-making often remained focused on home production or local markets.

Andy Sietsema of Sietsema Orchards in Ada, Michigan.

Andy Sietsema of Sietsema Orchards in Ada, Michigan.

A nice post by Christopher Lehault on Serious Eats highlights “four up-and-coming cider makers to watch in 2013,” and it is well worth a read.  The four featured cider makers also represent the diverse backgrounds and approaches of today’s new cideries.  Andy Sietsema  of Sietsema Orchards is a fourth generation apple farmer from Ada, Michigan, who has recently expanded into cider production. David White and Heather Ringwood of Olympia, Washington launched Whitewood Cider Co. Last year. David has been involved in the cider movement for many years, and keeps and excellent blog, old-timecider.com. Ellen Cavalli and Scott Heath began exploring cider making after

Scott Heath and Ellen Cavalli of Tilted Shed Ciderworks in Forestville, California

Scott Heath and Ellen Cavalli of Tilted Shed Ciderworks in Forestville, California

taking charge of a neglected apple orchard in Northern New Mexico.  They have since relocated to Forestville, California and launched Tilted Shed Ciderworks. And Courtney Mailley, a graduate of the cider school at Cornell University’s Food Science Lab, has launched perhaps the nation’s first “urban cider,” called Blue Bee Cider, in Richmond Virginia. Learn more about each of these up-and-coming cider makers by reading Christopher Lehault’s excellent post on Serious Eats.

Courtney Mailey of Blue Bee Cider in Richmond, Virginia

Courtney Mailey of Blue Bee Cider in Richmond, Virginia

Advertisements

Apples in Porcelain


 

Drap d’or gueneme, Jessica Rath, high-fire glazed porcelain, 2012.

Drap d’or gueneme, Jessica Rath, high-fire glazed porcelain, 2012.

In 2009 and again in 2011, artist Jessica Rath visited the Cornell/USDA Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva New York, one of the most important centers of apple cultivation in North America. The result is a startling exhibition of porcelain pieces inspired by what she saw there.  Over at Edible Geography, you will find this wonderful interview Nicola Twilley conducted with Rath about the idea for her exhibition, the process, and the results.  As Twilley explains:

“Rath’s original goal was to create slip cast porcelain sculptures that embodied the incredible — and now endangered — range of the apple’s aesthetic potential; revealing the charms and qualities it has developed through co-evolution with humans as a reflection of our own desires and will. During her visit, however, Rath also became fascinated by the conjoined twin of Forsline’s apple archive: Brown’s speculative sisters and successful, selected clones, which she photographed as bare-branched trees against a white backdrop.”

Entitled take me to the apple breeder, the show is closing at the Pasadena Museum of California Art this weekend. Let’s hope it tours to other locations.  Twilley’s edited interview is available on Edible Geography and cross-posted on Venue, and is well worth reading.  I have included of few of Rath’s Geneva station photographs, and the porcelain pieces inspired by them below.

PI 588933.12 (unnamed cluster); photographed on the tree by Jessica Rath during her 2009 visit.

PI 588933.12 (unnamed cluster); photographed on the tree by Jessica Rath during her 2009 visit.

PI 588933.12 (Unnamed cluster), Jessica Rath, high-fire glazed porcelain and bronze, 2012.

PI 588933.12 (Unnamed cluster), Jessica Rath, high-fire glazed porcelain and bronze, 2012.

PI 594107.j5 (unnnamed—whiteness), photographed on the tree by Jessica Rath during her 2009 visit.

PI 594107.j5 (unnnamed—whiteness), photographed on the tree by Jessica Rath during her 2009 visit.

Whiteness, Jessica Rath, high-fire glazed porcelain, 2012.

Whiteness, Jessica Rath, high-fire glazed porcelain, 2012.

A Yellow Bellflower photographed on the tree by Jessica Rath during her 2009 visit. The Yellow Bellflower is thought to have originated in Burlington, New Jersey, and is still grown as an heirloom variety today. It is described as a “large, handsome, winter apple” that is equally delicious when used for cidering, baking, or eating out of hand.

A Yellow Bellflower photographed on the tree by Jessica Rath during her 2009 visit. The Yellow Bellflower is thought to have originated in Burlington, New Jersey, and is still grown as an heirloom variety today. It is described as a “large, handsome, winter apple” that is equally delicious when used for cidering, baking, or eating out of hand.

 

Yellow Bellflower, Jessica Rath, high-fire glazed porcelain, 2012. Rath explained that she focused on the Bellflower’s “fantastic curves and lilts. It was very muscular — even beefy — to the point where it felt almost as though it shouldn’t be called an apple, but rather some other fruit instead.”

Yellow Bellflower, Jessica Rath, high-fire glazed porcelain, 2012. Rath explained that she focused on the Bellflower’s “fantastic curves and lilts. It was very muscular — even beefy — to the point where it felt almost as though it shouldn’t be called an apple, but rather some other fruit instead.”

 

 

 

The History of Peanut Butter


creamy and crunchyNow many of you out there are probably assuming that my diet consists almost entirely of apples.  While it is true, in fact, that my diet might make me a suitable resident of many an early 19th century radical utopian community, the truth is that if there is one food I consume more than any other, it is certainly peanut butter.  So I was absolutely delighted to discover this new history of my favorite spreadable legume, Cream and Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food.  Among the fascinating things I learned in this book is that southerners tend to prefer their peanut butter a bit sweeter, while midwesterners lean toward the saltier varieties, and New Englanders appear to be somewhere in between.  Being midwestern born and raised, at least in my formative peanut-butter years, this helps to explain my undying loyalty to Skippy and my utter disdain for the sickly sweet Jif.  At one time Skippy dominated the American peanut butter market, but slowly and steadily Jif gained and then surpassed my old standby, until Skippy relented and sweetened their formula to stay in the game.   It appears that sweet peanut butter is just another manifestation of the rising cultural hegemony of the South, along with sweet tea, Nashville Country, and NASCAR.

These days I prefer my peanut butter less processed and more local, and my favorite

No salt, no sugar, no hydrogenated oils. all spanish peanuts!

No salt, no sugar, no hydrogenated oils. all spanish peanuts!

brand is made by the Krema Nut Company of Columbus, Ohio.  But it wasn’t until I read Creamy and Crunchy that I understood why the Krema Nut Company‘s peanut butter tastes so much better than all the rest: it is one of just a few nut butters in the country made from Spanish peanuts. Most brands use a peanut with the unappetizing name “runner,” prized by Big Peanut Butter for its uniform-sized nuts which roast evenly, its rather bland flavor, and it high percentage of shelf-life-extending oleic oils (at the expense of slightly healthier linoleic oils), making it “the very essence of a corporate peanut.”

So if you love peanut butter, and you love history, I recommend you go out and pick up a copy of Creamy and Crunchy.  But remember to wash your hands before reading, as peanut oil will stain the pages.

Create a Fruit Map of Your Neighborhood


One of the many neighborhood fruit maps created by Fallen Fruit

One of the many neighborhood fruit maps created by Fallen Fruit

KPCC in Southern California has a great piece this week on the activities of the Los Angeles-based group Fallen Fruit.  Co-Founded by artists David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young, and operating on the old common law idea that taking fruit from the branches of trees overhanging public spaces (sidewalks, alleys, roadways) is not theft, Fallen Fruit has been producing Fruit Maps of Los Angeles neighborhoods.  Rather than using precise google maps, Fallen Fruit prefers to offer the public hand drawn ones which encourage exploration, and they have removed trees from these maps on the few occasions when a specific property owner has complained.  The practice of gleaning fruit from roadside trees has a long history in the United States, and in fact well into the 19th century, most states consider it no more than petty trespass for a hungry traveler to enter a private orchard and pluck some fruit to refresh them.  As orchards were so abundant that much fruit was left to rot on the ground, most Americans understood helping themselves to someone else’s fruit a harmless act.

Fruit mapping is just one of the collective’s many projects, which include the recently planted public fruit park in Del Aire.   Check out a slide show of Anthony Young and Tess Vigeland gleaning overhanging fruit and listen to the interview.  Find more of their fruit maps here.

Fruit Map of Sherman Oaks by Fallen Fruit

Fruit Map of Sherman Oaks by Fallen Fruit

Tattooed Apples?


Che-appleNicola Twilley at Edible Geography just posted this fascinating article about the almost lost art of apple tattooing and some new, slightly more disturbing “innovations” in designer apples.  Looks like I’m going to have to get to work on a few apple stencils to put on the apples on my own trees.  Who could resist a Che Guevara apple?  A stencil of Johnny Appleseed is a must, of course, and maybe one of Bronson Alcott.  Perhaps Liberty Hyde Bailey deserves his own apple stencil.  I am open to suggestions!

Twilley tells the story of Japan’s apple stencilers:

red bags apples“In 2007, Cincinnati-based artist Jane Alden Stevens spent four months in Japan, documenting the extraordinary attention its orchardists put into growing perfectly beautiful apples. In addition to culling blossoms to reduce over-crowding and ensure regular, large fruit, and then hand-pollinating them using powder-puff wands, Japanese farmers put a double-layer of wax paper bags around their baby apples for most of the growing season.”

“The bags do double duty, shielding the apples from pests and weather damage while also increasing the skin’s photosensitivity. In the autumn, a few weeks before harvest, the bags are removed — first, the outer one, revealing the fruit’s sun-deprived, pearly white skin, and then, up to ten days later, the translucent inner ones, whose different colours are chosen to filter the light spectrum in order to produce the desired hue.”

“As they are finally exposed to the elements for the final few weeks before harvest, thePeeling-off-stencil-460 most perfect of these already perfect apples are then decorated with a sticker that blocks sunlight to stencil an image onto the fruit. This “fruit mark” might be the Japanese kanji for “good health,” as Susan Brown mentioned. Others have brand logos (most notably that of Apple, the company), and some, according to Stevens, are “negatives with pictures. One Japanese pop star put his picture on apples to give his entourage for presents.”

The whole piece is well worth reading!

The Tree With the Apple Tattoo

Also check out this page of successful apple stencils the Société Régionale d’Horticulture de Montreuil. 

triswirl apple tat

Non-Fiction History and Historical Fiction


An interesting post on The American Scholar blog today by Paula Marantz Cohen, discussing the ways historical fiction can influence our understanding of the past.  “If you read Shakespeare’s histories,” Cohen contends,  “you will remember English history better than if you’d read an ostensibly objective account, but you’ll do so in a particular way.”  Of course, writers of historical fiction are free to changes the facts of the past in order to serve the narrative.  One of the challenges for the reader is the reality, as Cohen puts it, that “the vivid representation holds sway,” regardless of whether it is fully grounded in evidence.

johnny-appleseed_disney albumIn researching, writing and speaking about John Chapman, the man whose life formed the basis of the Johnny Appleseed myth, I regularly confronted the reality that a good story, well-told, had tremendous persuasive power, and could cause even a diligent historian to abandon a search for objective truth.  The vast majority of books published on Johnny Appleseed are works of fiction, but more than a few of them were started by writers intending to write non-fiction histories.  Part of this is the result of the draw of the good story, but another aspect is that most people leave incomplete traces in the historical record, and the temptation to “fill in” the blank spots can be hard to resist. Cohen notes that “The enticement of historical fiction is ultimately that it smooths out the inconsistencies in the past and fills in the unknown.”  Cohen, a distinguished professor of English at Drexel, is the author of both scholarly works and historical fiction.  In writing, What Alice Knew a work of historical fiction set in Jack the Ripper’s London, she confesses jack-the-ripper-5that in the process of writing, some facts that she was aware she had made up to serve her narrative,  became so alluring that “[she]  found [herself] drawn to believe [her] own fabrications.” The entire piece, titled “Based on a True Story,”  can be found on the American Scholar blog, and is worth a read.

So what do you think?  What are the hazards and opportunities historical fiction presents to the writer of non-fiction?

Libraries Share Books; Why Not Share Seeds?


From NPR's The Salt: "The seed library is a partnership between the Basalt Public Library and the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute. Seed packets encourage gardeners to write their names and take credit for their harvested seeds."

From NPR’s The Salt: “The seed library is a partnership between the Basalt Public Library and the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute. Seed packets encourage gardeners to write their names and take credit for their harvested seeds.”

Great story by Luke Runyon on NPR about the public library in Basalt, Colorado, which not only shares books, videos and music, but also vegetable seeds.  The pairing of libraries and locally productive vegetable and flower seeds makes so much sense, it is surprising that the practice is not universal.  From the story:

“Here’s how it works: A library card gets you a packet of seeds. You then grow the fruits and vegetables, harvest the new seeds from the biggest and best, and return those seeds so the library can lend them out to others.”

Apparently Basalt is not alone. According to the American Library Assocation, “there are at least a dozen similar programs throughout the country.”

Read the whole story, or listen to the audio on the NPR blog on food topics, The Salt.

How To Save A Public Library: Make It A Seed Bank