Posts Tagged ‘Franklin County CiderDays’

An atmospheric fire adds to the view at March Farm, Bethlehem, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

An atmospheric fire adds to the view at March Farm, Bethlehem, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

A RENEWED INTEREST IN APPLE CIDER, fresh and hard, is evident wherever it is sold. Visitors to the New England Apples booth in the Massachusetts Building at the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”) bought more than 300 gallons of Carlson Orchards fresh cider in seven-ounce cups over 17 days in September — and fresh cider was sold at a dozen other places at the fair.

Beginning this Friday, October 31, cider aficionados from not just New England, but across the country and around the globe, will gather in western Massachusetts, to celebrate the 20th Annual Franklin County CiderDays. The event continues through Sunday, November 2, with a wide range of tastings, panels, orchard tours, and more at orchards across the county (click on the link above for a full schedule of events).

Next month comes Vermont Cider Week, actually a 10-day affair beginning Friday, November 14, through Sunday, November 23, with tastings at a number of venues.

Why this renewed interest in what was once America’s favorite drink?

Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, Massachusetts, will have several blends of fresh cider on hand during CiderDays. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, Massachusetts, will have several blends of fresh cider on hand during CiderDays. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

IT STARTS with the incomparable flavors produced by squeezing the juice out of apples. Even the most sour or bitter apple is transformed into something special when pressed into juice, and the blends made by expert cider makers add richness and body to the experience.

Slightly fizzy, lightly alcoholic hard cider, once consumed year-round by young and old alike, expands the range of flavors even further, from sweet to dry.

New England cider typically is made from locally grown fruit. Drinking it connects us to the land, and to our past. To press, ferment, and drink cider is to partake in a tradition that dates back to the 1620s, less than a decade after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.

For more than two centuries, nearly all New Englanders drank cider, and lots of it. Middlesex County, Massachusetts, to cite just one example, produced 33,436 barrels of cider in 1764, “or seven per family, well over a barrel for every man, woman, and child.”

Cider’s dominance ended in the mid-1800s, squeezed by temperance movements that targeted hard cider at the beginning and end of the 19th century. Rural New Englanders flocked to its cities during the Industrial Revolution, where immigrant populations, especially from Germany, demonstrated a talent for brewing beer, an inexpensive alternative to hard cider.

Passage of the Volstead Act in 1919 led to Prohibition, further reducing demand for hard cider, and the market never recovered even after Prohibition was lifted in 1933.

People still thirsted for fresh cider, though, and almost every orchard, large or small, pressed its own until 1996, when an isolated tragedy in the Pacific Northwest permanently changed the landscape for producers.

The incident involved Escherichia coli (E. coli) contamination traced to a single source, the Odwalla Juice Company in Washington state. One child died and more than 60 people became ill after drinking Odwalla fresh apple juice.

Odwalla immediately recalled all its products containing apple or carrot juice, and in 1998 pleaded guilty to 16 misdemeanor charges of selling adulterated food products, paying a $1.5 million fine. Odwalla made improvements to its production line in an effort to avoid future outbreaks, and began to flash pasteurize its juices.

Alyson's Orchard in Walpole, New Hampshire, one of the many small New England orchards that sell unpasteurized cider at the farm. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, New Hampshire, one of the many small New England orchards that sell unpasteurized cider at the farm. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

AS ITS LONG AND ILLUSTRIOUS history suggests, New England cider has always been safe to drink. In all of my research for Apples of New England, I did not encounter a single report of illness traced to New England cider, and I am not aware of any in my lifetime — including nearly 20 years working with the New England apple industry. Yet the Odwalla incident resulted in new regulations for how apples and other crops are harvested and processed.

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) eventually required that all fresh cider be pasteurized, with the exception of small producers who sell at their orchard or farm stand (they must attach a warning label). Many small orchards chose not to invest in the expensive equipment needed to pasteurize and simply stopped pressing cider.

Common sense, tradition, and its irresistible flavor appear to be overcoming this latest taint on cider, judging by the demand for fresh ciders like Carlson’s, the popularity of festivals like CiderDays, and the proliferation of artisanal hard ciders and commercial brands like Angry Orchard, Harpoon, and Woodchuck.

It is not just fresh and hard cider, either, that appeals to the apple-loving palate. A new generation of vintners is coming up with distinctive dry and semi-dry apple wines in addition to the traditional sweet dessert ones, and niche products like ice cider are capturing the apple’s essence and showing its remarkable versatility in new and exciting ways.

Here are a few things to know about cider as you prepare to visit CiderDays, an orchard, or grocery store, or as you simply sit back to sip your favorite apple drink:

The term “apple juice” applies to the clear, amber liquid sold in bottles in grocery stores.

“Fresh cider” is the name for the brown, unfiltered apple drink sold at farm stands, farmers’ markets, and orchards, and in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores, usually in the produce aisles.

“Hard cider” is the alcoholic drink fermented from fresh cider, roughly as strong as beer.

Bottled apple juice is fresh cider that has been heated above 175°F for 15 minutes to 30 minutes, then filtered to a clear liquid. Commercial apple juice is also made from concentrate and water. With the help of stabilizers and preservatives, bottled apple juice stores indefinitely.

Fresh cider, the sweet, thick drink found at most orchards, contains nothing but apples. If sugar or any other ingredients have been added, it is not the same drink.

Unpasteurized fresh cider will keep approximately 10 days to two weeks, several weeks if pasteurized, and up to several months with preservatives like potassium sorbate, added by some of the largest producers and grocery stores. Fresh cider may be frozen for up to six months.

Any apple can be used in fresh or hard cider, even an unnamed chance seedling, and each variety contributes distinct sweet, acid, or astringent properties. All-purpose heirlooms like Ashmead’s Kernel, Golden Russet, and Roxbury Russet are particularly prized for cider, while varieties like Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey, Tremlett’s Bitter, and Yarlington Mill are cultivated exclusively for fresh and hard cider.

Large-scale makers of fresh cider necessarily rely on varieties planted in sufficient quantities to meet their high demand, which rules out most heirlooms. Varieties like Cortland, Gala, McIntosh, Idared, PaulaRed, and other New England staples are used according to season. An early season batch may differ slightly in taste from one made later in the year.

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'Apples of New England' by Russell Steven PowellAUTHOR RUSSELL STEVEN POWELL, senior writer for the New England Apple Association, and Executive Director Bar Lois Weeks will discuss apples, answer questions, and sign their new book, Apples of New England, at at three western Massachusetts orchards during CiderDays weekend.

As part of CiderDays, Powell and Weeks will appear at Pine Hill Orchards, 248 Greenfield Rd., Colrain, Saturday, November 1, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, and at Clarkdale Fruit Farms, 303 Upper Rd., Deerfield, Sunday, November 2, also from 10 a.m. to noon.

Powell and Weeks will also appear at Atkins Farm, 1150 West St., Amherst, Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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TO LEARN MORE about how commercial fresh cider is made, view this short video:

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Special fresh cider blends on display at Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts, during 2011 CiderDays. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Special fresh cider blends on display at Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts, during 2011 CiderDays. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

CROWDS AS DIVERSE and far-flung as the apples they came to admire swarmed on Franklin County in western Massachusetts last weekend like honeybees to nectar. The event was the weekend-long extravaganza known as CiderDays, now in its 19th year.

As always, there were a host of orchard tours, workshops on cider-making, apple growing, and baking with apples, at places like Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield, and Pine Hill Orchards and West County Cider, both in Colrain. There were tastings of cider, fresh and hard, produced by mainstream companies, counterculture entrepreneurs, and backyard enthusiasts. There was plenty of food, including an apple pancake breakfast in Greenfield and a harvest supper in Shelburne.

Cider-makers large and small debated the merits of Cortlands, Winter Bananas, and Tremlett’s Bitters as they sampled unfiltered, fresh and fermented apple juice at the orchards, in the Shelburne Buckland Community Center, or on the sidewalks where they met. They came from around the country, these localvores and gourmets, the apple militia; an agricultural army celebrating the harvest, but ready to do battle to preserve, protect, and promote the apple, bottling, sipping, and trading its juice like liquid gold.

Franklin County is wide and CiderDays inclusive. Getting to all of the events is challenging and provides a logistical challenge, as it takes more than one hour to drive the 40-plus miles from the easternmost venue in New Salem, home of New Salem Preserves, to the town of Hawley along the county’s western edge, where Headwater Cider is located.

Two participating orchards in Ashfield, Bear Swamp and Brook Farm, are nearby Headwater Cider. Sunday I made these three orchards my destination. The foothills of the Berkshires are beautiful but remote, and these out-of-the-way farms are much smaller than orchards like Clarkdale and Pine Hill, with niche products and modest aims.

The cider mill at Bear Swamp Orchard in Ashfield, Massachusetts, is solar-powered. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

The cider mill at Bear Swamp Orchard in Ashfield, Massachusetts, is solar-powered. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Bear Swamp Orchard, for example, grows apples organically on just a few acres. They make fresh and hard cider in a solar-powered mill, and an array of other apple products (including an outstanding cider donut).

They also make and sell maple syrup and firewood, grow grain and vegetables, and pasture sheep to supplement their apple income. They had sold out of fresh apples long before CiderDays. I drank a cup of fresh cider with my donut, and it was very good, but it was too early in the day for me to sample their hard cider.

Brook Farm Orchard, Ashfield, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Brook Farm Orchard, Ashfield, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Brook Farm Orchard is even smaller than Bear Swamp, with just 100 trees on a gentle hillside, including 30 varieties of apples, plus peaches, plums, Asian pears, and filberts. They sell their fruit at a local farmer’s market and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares from the farm.

Among the varieties they displayed Sunday were heirlooms like Baldwin and Winesap, and newer varieties like Keepsake and Fireside, both developed at the University of Minnesota, making them good choices for the cold winters and shorter growing season of this hill town.

Fireside (also known as Connell Red) was introduced in 1943. A pretty, round apple mostly red, it had a good, sweet flavor but a tough skin, and not much juice. Keepsake (1978), another mostly red apple, is crispy, juicy, and aromatic, with a nice tangy flavor. Its biggest claim to fame, though, is that it is a parent of Honeycrisp, the biggest apple to hit the market in the past 25 years. Like Fireside, Keepsake keeps well in storage, and its flavor is said to improve over time.

A windmill towers above the trees and barn at Headwater Cider in Hawley, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

A windmill towers above the trees and barn at Headwater Cider in Hawley, Massachusetts. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Headwater Cider Company is the largest of the three orchards, with about 20 acres of apples, all cultivated for their properties in hard cider. Owner Peter Mitchell bought the orchard in 2005 from Apex Orchards, which decided it could no longer run the satellite farm profitably, nearly 20 miles from its main orchard in Shelburne Falls. Mitchell inherited Cortland, Empire, and McIntosh trees, to which he has been slowly adding (he is now up to 34 varieties).

Like many growers, Mitchell tried another career before he settled on apples. Mitchell earned his bachelor’s degree from nearby University of Massachusetts, where he rowed crew for all four years (he remains an avid boater). He went on to earn a master’s degree in English before switching to producing hard cider made from his own apples.

All three orchards welcomed good crowds during CiderDays, and visitors to Headwater Cider were treated to samples of their “New England Dry” and Ashton Bend” hard ciders, and refreshments like the apple cake below. The ciders were nice blends — not too sweet yet retaining plenty of complex apple flavor. The cake was so good we asked for the recipe.

“This is a very apple-y cake,” says Gerda Swedowsky, who baked it. “I use a mix of Cortland and Empire apples. The Cortlands are good because they hold their shape when cooked and the Empires add a nice sweet tangy taste.”

Gerda has had the recipe for “many, many years,” she says. “It is from a cookbook put together by a friend of my mother who was a wonderful cook and had lots of friends that were wonderful cooks as well. I am so pleased to share it.”

Several weeks ago we published the award-winning recipe for Mrs. Cheney’s Nobby Apple Cake. Joan Dybvig’s version is similar, but there are differences besides the silent “k” in “knobby.” For one, Joan spreads a solid layer of walnut pieces on top of the cake rather than mixing it in the batter.

Joan’s recipe does not specify an amount of walnuts, but Gerda’s version Sunday had more than the 1/4 cup used by Mrs. Cheney, and the nuts were excellent, contrasting nicely in flavor and texture with the cooked apples.

Joan Dybvig’s Knobby Apple Cake

1/2 c brown sugar

1/4 c white sugar

¼ c butter, softened

1 egg, beaten

1/2 c whole wheat flour

1/2 c white flour

1 t vanilla extract

1/2 t each: baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg

3 c diced apples  (coarse — 3/4” pieces)


Preheat oven to 350°.

Cream the butter and sugars. Add egg and stir.

Add dry ingredients and vanilla and mix to make a stiff batter.

Add apples, and pour in a well-greased 8×8 pan.

“I cover the top with walnuts that I lightly press into the batter,” says Gerda, “and then I finish with some cinnamon and sugar.”

Bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

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Crabapple-sized Wickson apples ready for pressing at Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, New Hampshire. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Crabapple-sized Wickson apples ready for pressing at Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, New Hampshire. (Russell Steven Powell)

APPLE CIDER is as varied and versatile as the fruit from which it is pressed. It can be frozen or fermented, guzzled fresh or used in cooking, pasteurized (or not), made from almost any apple variety (usually a blend), in almost any condition (dings and dents welcome). Cider was America’s drink from Colonial days until well into mid-19th century, when it fell victim to several factors, including the migration to cities and the rise in popularity of beer.

But cider is experiencing a revival, from large commercial producers to small orchards and cider mills that make unique blends, to people who are experimenting with small batches made in their homes. There are a number of ciders, from the sweet, unfermented drink we commonly know now, to several types (and strengths) of “hard,” or alcoholic, cider, which can be as strong as wine. Distilled further, cider can be made into applejack or apple brandy.

Many orchards press their own cider, and there are a growing number of cider mills and passionate artisan cider makers that are reviving the art of finding and pressing rare apples that are virtually inedible, but lend a richness and complexity to their cider.

You could write a book about cider. In fact, several people have. Two that we recommend are Cider, Hard and Sweet, by Ben Watson, and Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider, by Lew Nichols and Annie Proulx, author of the acclaimed novel Shipping News. Both give detailed instruction on cider-making; Watson’s book includes a global history of cider, fun facts, and descriptions of varieties favored by seasoned makers.

We are often asked the difference between apple juice and cider. Both drinks are made from apples, but apple juice is clear, invariably sweet, and keeps longer than cider. The primary reason is filtration; all of the pulp found in cider is strained out of the juice, giving it a lighter color and extending its shelf life.

While making true hard cider requires some special equipment and a number of steps, fermenting cider into something fizzy and slightly alcoholic couldn’t be easier. Just take a jug of cider and leave it alone, and once past the expiration date the fermentation begins.

Be careful, though; we heard last week of a woman who carefully cleaned her refrigerator and then, against her better judgment, put back in an old jug of cider that her husband was saving. The cider had begun to ferment, and soon the resulting gases built up so much pressure on the plastic cap that there was an explosion.

We are happy to report that her husband at least cleaned up after his own mess.

About freezing cider: it is a perfectly good way to store cider for the long-term if you don’t want it to get fizzy in the fridge. Just remember to remove a little liquid first (at least one-quarter cup for a gallon jug), or it will pop the cap as it expands.

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AN EARLY, HEAVY SNOW blankets much of New England. It’s hard to think that just one month ago we were cleaning our sticky apple booth in the Massachusetts House at the Big E (Eastern States Exposition), closing it up for another year. The occasional cider spill is inevitable, but this year it was coupled with smoothie spills. More on that in a minute.

First, think back to our post, Oct. 6, 2011, on Dings and Dents. We gave that a lot of thought at the fair because the apples with small blemishes didn’t seem to sell as fast. We got to putting these slightly imperfect apples into the door of the fridge, saving them for smoothies.

With the purchase of a commercial-grade blender, a few Macs from the Ding & Dent Department, fresh Carlson cider, spices, and (optional) ice cream, Big E booth manager Bar Lois Weeks produced a recipe for our very own Apple Pie Smoothie that we’d like to share with you, just in time for Franklin County CiderDays this weekend.

It’s quick and easy, inexpensive, healthy, and delicious!

Apple Pie Smoothie (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Apple Pie Smoothie (Bar Lois Weeks)

Big E Apple Pie Smoothie

Add to your blender:

1 New England apple, like McIntosh or Cortland, unpeeled, cored and chopped

1-1/4 c fresh cider

1 scoop vanilla ice cream (optional)

1/2 t apple pie spice mix (or 1/4 t cinnamon, a pinch of ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cardamom)

Set blender on high until the apple peel is in small flecks. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Enjoy your apple-a-day the easy way!

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Don’t miss this weekend’s 17th Annual Franklin County CiderDays. Some of the events are free, others require fees and reservations, but the two-day event offers a wide range of cider-related activities and workshops in the towns of Colrain, Deerfield, Greenfield, and Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.  A schedule can be downloaded from the CiderDays website.

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Here is a video about how sweet cider is made by one of New England’s largest commercial producers, Carlson Orchards in Harvard, Massachusetts:

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