Not long ago, many Vermont farms made fresh cider in late fall, storing it in large wooden kegs with an air lock to allow the cider to ferment into hard cider - and eventually, into vinegar.
During haying season, farmers in the fields drank Haymaker's switchel, an electrolyte-type drink that was made from apple cider, vinegar, water and honey or maple syrup. Dr. DeForest Clinton Jarvis of Barre wrote a book in 1958 entitled Vermont Folk Medicine in which he extolled the wonders and virtues of apple cider vinegar. Some folks still make a daily drink of vinegar and water as a tonic for their health.
In his book, The Seasons of America's Past, Eric Slone wrote that in the 1800s, hard cider was America's most popular alcoholic drink. And today, it's making a strong comeback with U.S. retail sales up 84 percent over the previous year.
In the early 1970s, I worked at Hill & Dale Farm in Putney, and every fall we made real sweet apple cider. We used organic apples like Northern Spy, MacIntosh, Cortland, Baldwin, and Delicious as well as wild apples - but never more than 25 percent so the cider wouldn't be too tangy.
In Shoreham, Shackbury Cider's old-fashioned flavors range from a clear, pale dry taste to a tart and funky one. Shackbury is one of the newest of 15 commercial Vermont cideries. Of their four different ciders, only one is made with Vermont-grown apples, since they're waiting for their Sunrise apple orchard to bear fruit. The orchard is planted with 2,500 dwarf trees trellised about 5 feet apart - with more than 12,000 trees still to come. One of their favorite apples is Wickson, a very tart, small, apple with a high acid content.
Stefan Wilder of Stowe Cider just celebrated its one-year anniversary. Their "Farmhouse" cider is unfiltered and very dry - especially compared to large commercial brands of hard cider, that New Hampshire cider expert, Ben Watson says "are most often sweet and fizzy like appley wine cooler stuff." Other Vermont hard cider makers include Whetstone Ciderworks in Brattleboro and Citizen Cider of Burlington.
This holiday season, I can't wait to celebrate with a glass of hard cider or "sidah," as the old timers say it. Perhaps with all the new interest in this value-added beverage, it won't be long before Vermont cider-makers begin bringing home blue ribbons or better still, make the Green Mountains the "Napa Valley" of hard cider.