In terms of food, this time of the year is all about celebrating the bounty of harvest. In America, we celebrate with a cornucopia of foods, including turkey, squash, pumpkins, cranberries and other seasonal fare. We also tend to celebrate with a seasonal drink: apple cider.
Apple cider has a long history in America, one that dates back to an era of drinking water of questionable safety. During this time, there was a general preference for (naturally sanitized) hard apple cider over (potentially dangerous) water. Folk hero Johnny Appleseed played a pivotal role in the production of hard apple cider and in the Westward movement of Americans in the 1800s.
Also known as Jonathan Chapman, Johnny Appleseed wasn't just a character in a kids' story -- he was a real person who planted apple seeds across the country in order to prepare the land for settlers (who would need a source for relatively safe beverages once they arrived). He was said to have planted over 1,200 acres of apple nurseries across the American frontier and to this day, many towns founded near his apple nurseries hold annual Johnny Appleseed festivals.
During Appleseed's time, 'cider' referred to alcoholic drinks (particularly those made from fermented apples). After the Prohibition era, the word 'cider' shifted to mean unfiltered, unfermented apple juice. Today, the word 'cider' is used for fresh-pressed juice and fermented products, although fermented apple drinks are often called hard cider. (Apple juice is different -- it refers to a clear, filtered, pasteurized apple drink.)
Around Thanksgiving (and during the fall apple harvest in general), many people pay homage to Johnny Appleseed (either intentionally or unintentionally) by savoring more contemporary apple ciders of the alcoholic or non-alcoholic varieties. Particularly popular in autumn are mulled apple ciders, which are flavored with spices such as allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. You can learn to make alcoholic and non-alcoholic apple cider at home with this collection of apple cider recipes.
Photo (c) Marko Goodwin
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