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Environment

Outside/In: The immigrant apple and the hard cider comeback

wanted poster for an heirloom apple at the Common Ground in Maine
Justine Paradis
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A "wanted" poster for an heirloom apple at the Common Ground in Maine.

Forget about beer, or even water; it was hard apple cider that was the drink of choice in colonial America. Even kids drank it! And since it’s made from apples — the “all-American” fruit — what could be more American than cider?

But apples aren’t native to America. They’re originally from Kazakhstan.

In this episode we look at the immigration story of Malus domestica, the domesticated apple, from its roots in the wild forests of Central Asia, to its current status as an American icon. And we look at how apples and cider were used in some of America’s biggest migrations – from Indigenous tribes who first brought apples west across the continent, to the new immigrants who are using hard cider to bridge cultures and find belonging.

Featuring Soham Bhatt and Susan Sleeper Smith.

Special thanks to everyone Felix spoke to at the Cider Days Festival, including Ben Watson, Charlie Olchowski, and Bob Sabolefski.

Wild apple trees in Kazakhstan.
Daset S.
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flickr.com/photos/daset
Apple trees outside Almaty, Kazakhstan

THE ERASURE OF ENSLAVED BLACK CIDERMAKERS

Isaac_Jefferson_c1845.jpg
Wikimedia public domain
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Isaac Granger Jefferson ca. 1845, blacksmith at Monticello and son of George and Ursula Granger. There are no images of his enslaved parents, who were both involved with cidermaking there.

George Granger, or Great George as Thomas Jefferson called him, was an enslaved Black cidermaker on Jefferson’s Monticello plantation. The November 1st, 1799 entry in Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book (Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library) reads: “70 bushels of the Robinson & red Hughes…have made 120 gallons of cyder. George says that when in a proper state (there was much rot among these) they ought to make 3 galls. to the bushel, as he knows from having often measured both.”

To learn more, check out Darlene Hayes’ article, George and Ursula Granger: The Erasure of Enslaved Black Cidermakers.

HOW MANY APPLE VARIETIES ARE OUT THERE?

There are over 7,500 apple varieties in active cultivation around the world, but in North America alone, apple historian Dan Bussey has documented over 16,000 apples in his The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada. Many of these apples have gone wild, or “missing," but there are some who are dedicated to finding them again.

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Posters of “missing” apples on display at the Common Ground Country Fair in Maine (photos by Justine Paradis).

ADDITIONAL READING

How to Make Hard Cider

George and Ursula Granger: The Erasure of Enslaved Black Cidermakers, by Darlene hayes.

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