Fall’s Favorite Drink: The History of Apple Cider

By Nicky M. | Arcadia Staff

Sweaters, swirling leaves, and steaming mugs of hot apple cider: The arrival of autumn brings with it vivid images of some of our favorite foods and pastimes. For many, the drink of choice will be apple cider, served hot, cold, and maybe somewhere in between. But why do we love our apple cider so much? We’re exploring the history behind this fall favorite, and offering the perfect adult cider recipe for your next party!

Cider of the Ancients
 
While it’s not clear when the first apple cider was enjoyed, the practice of growing apples dates back thousands of years. The first apple trees have been traced to Ancient Egypt, where they grew on the banks of the River Nile as early as 1300 BCE.
 
It was the Greeks and Romans, however, who truly perfected the art of creating cider. When the Romans invaded what would become England in 55 BCE, the natives were already drinking an early version of alcoholic cider, and it proved popular with the Romans as well. The drink quickly spread throughout the Roman Empire, and remained popular with many throughout modern-day Europe after the dissipation of the Empire.
 
A cider press, as featured in John Worlidge’s Vinetum Brittanicum. Reprinted from Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England: From Flips & Rattle-Skulls to Switchel & Spruce Beer by Corin Hirsch (pg. 60, The History Press, 2014).
By the Age of Exploration, cider (as it’s was considered a fundamental drink. While it might seem odd that an alcoholic beverage was considered a daily necessity, cider was safe for many during early recorded history: water could not be trusted in many cases, given that it was riddled with bacteria, and other drinks could be expensive to obtain. Cider, by comparison, had a low-alcohol content that rendered it inhospitable to bacteria, and was relatively cheap to produce. As a result, it enjoyed a status as the main drink of many European cultures.

Apples in America                                             
 
Before cider could become a mainstay of American drink, the New World would need apples. When colonists arrived in what would become the United States, they found that the apples weren’t quite like the large, sweet fruits from back home. Instead, the Americas were first populated with crabapples, a small, bitter variety of apple that wasn’t very good for food or drink.
 
Luckily for the colonists, planted apple trees typically bear fruit within ten years, if not sooner. Not long after the first cuttings were planted in the colonies, sweet apples were ready for harvest. For many English colonists, these first apples were used to create their own version of cider, which had been one of the essential drinks of rural English life.
                                                                                                                                                    
Colonists wasted no time in creating versions of apple cider that reminded them of home. Reprinted from Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England: From Flips & Rattle-Skulls to Switchel & Spruce Beer by Corin Hirsch, from John Worlidge’s Vinetum Brittanicum, or A Treatise of Cider (pg. 58, The History Press, 2014).
Before long, it was considered commonplace for colonists to drink cider at breakfast, rather than water. Men and women would drink alcoholic cider before beginning their days, with children drinking a slightly less alcoholic version. Adding to its popularity was that cider was incredibly simple to make, requiring only to ferment the apples in barrels.

Today, cider remains a popular drink in both its alcoholic and non-alcoholic forms worldwide. Cider makers produce hundreds of thousands of gallons of cider each year within the US, where sweet cider remains the popular fall drink we know and love.  
 
If you’re looking for something new to mix with your cider this fall, try this drink from Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England: From Flips & Rattle-Skulls to Switchel & Spruce Beer – perfect for cozying up during sweater weather:

A cider slammer. Reprinted from from Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England: From Flips & Rattle-Skulls to Switchel & Spruce Beer by Corin Hirsch (The History Press, 2014).

Cider Slammer

Every fall, this drink comes out of its summer hibernation at the Inn at Weathersfield in Weathersfield, Vermont. Co-owner Spanjian isn’t sure who originally dreamed it up, but it’s a perennial coldweather signature.
 
To Make “Slammer Juice”:
1 cup boiled cider*
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean
a slice of fresh ginger
fresh thyme
Simmer ingredients together for
about 20 minutes and then strain
and let cool.
 
For the Drink:
1 orange wedge
1 thyme sprig
ice
1½ ounces (or one shot) bourbon
prepared slammer juice
fresh apple cider
Muddle orange slice and thyme in a
glass and then add ice. Add a shot of
bourbon and a shot of slammer juice
and then top off with fresh apple cider.
 
*A note on boiled cider: Wood’s Cider Mill in Springfield, Vermont, makes a version, but you
can make your own by boiling down fresh apple cider until it becomes syrupy.
MA
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