Why Hard Cider?
By Barbara Stark-Nemon
Several lifetimes ago, at the beginning of a career and the end of a marriage, I spent a year living in England. I worked at my first job as a speech and language therapist, and teacher of English as a Second Language at the American Community School in London. At 27 I had taught English for two years in America, then gone to graduate school. I had traveled to Europe several times, and even studied in Austria for a summer, but I’d never lived and worked outside the 50 mile radius of where I’d been born, grew up, attended university.
I worked hard all week, but on weekends I explored London and then traveled farther afield. I loved the culture of pub life in big cities and small hamlets. Nothing ever seemed to taste as good as a ploughman’s lunch after a morning’s country walk. Thick slabs of local cheese slathered with chutney or mustard, piled with butter lettuce and tomato and sweet pickle on a crusty roll. I never tired of trying each pub’s variations. My only problem was that I was raised on German and American beer, and just couldn’t get used to English ale. Casting about for another local drink, I started to notice hard apple ciders on menus. All I knew about apple cider was that I had enjoyed the sweet fruity juices accompanied by donuts from the local cider mill in the autumns of my childhood in Michigan. But here was a sparkling drink made from apples and fermented somehow to produce a variety of sweet to dry drinks capable of packing a serious alcoholic punch.
I had become a gardener by then, and I can’t imagine a better country to learn about gardens and landscapes than England. Many of my weekend and vacation sojourns included places with formal gardens and orchards. Among the most memorable were times spent in Somerset and Devon. There the apple growing industry is both longstanding and historically interesting, not to mention filled with the beauty of orderly orchards, quaint villages, and a pub on every corner. It’s where I cut my hard cider chops, and began my fascination with the drink and its production.
Fast forward 30 years- a long satisfying career, a different marriage and a family and a cementing of that interest in growing things. I became a Master Gardener through a university extension service in cooperation with our local county. As a family, we’d begun to explore the northern lake country in the northwest corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula as a regular vacation destination. Lo and behold, in addition to having the most drop dead beautiful forest and lakeshore, the area is known for its orchards, and vineyards. Add the last ingredient. I was given a copy of Michael Pollans’ The Botany of Desire, The alchemy of tracing the history of certain plants and their impact on the humans whose destinies the plants determined worked its magic on me and my developing novel, and provided the inspiration for Hard Cider’s major subplot.
Then came the research. I reviewed the sections of my master gardener training having to do with fruit tree growing and maintenance. I’d begun to hear about the burgeoning hard cider industry in the U.S. I knew that Prohibition and later the commercial beer industry had usurped the prominent place of home brewed cider that dated back to colonial times in this country. But hard cider was experiencing a renaissance and I read the new bible, Cider Hard and Sweet, by Ben Watson. I then explored local orchards and cider makers in Michigan, and leading apple growers and cider makers in New Hampshire and Vermont. The people who know it best were kind enough to let me interview them and tag along on a tour and a cider pressing. Needless to say, I tasted a lot of excellent cider! (See below for a list of a few of my favorites and where I found them..)
My main character in Hard Cider, Abbie Rose, embarks on her dream of producing hard apple cider along the shores of the dunes and lake that she loves in northern Michigan. She learns as I did, and writing Abbie’s scenes in the orchards and cider making facilities were some of the most enjoyable writing I did in the book. And yes, I may have once wanted to get into the cider business myself. But writing Abbie through the achievement of her dream is a close second!
From Tandem Ciders in Suttons Bay, MI, I love Farmhouse, Smackin-tosh and Pretty Penny
From Taproot Cider House, Traverse City, MI - Northern Natural Lavender or Elderberry
From Farnum Hill Ciders in Lebanon, NH, try Farnum Hill Semi-Dry (Sparkling)
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Barbara!
You can find Barbara here:
Barbara Stark-Nemon is the author of the novel Hard Cider, just released by She Writes Press, as well as the award-winning first novel, Even in Darkness. She lives, writes, cycles, swims, does fiber art, and gardens in Ann Arbor and Northport, Michigan. After earning her undergraduate degree in English Literature and Art History and a Masters in Speech-language Pathology from the University of Michigan, Barbara enjoyed a teaching and clinical career working with deaf children. Barbara writes novels, short stories, and essays.