Thursday, July 26, 2007

Taking Cider to Lisbon.

Today, July 26th

Henry Fielding, the author of the novel Tom Jones, travelled to Portugal in 1754, on the advice of his physicians. The start of the voyage was delayed for weeks due to days of insufficient wind or too much wind, and when they finally did set sail the too much wind recurred and they were blown almost immediately back to the Devon coast. Fielding took advantage of the return to land to do some further provisioning, as he tells in his journal.

Sunday, July 26. Things now began to put on an aspect very different from what they had lately worn; the news that the ship had almost lost its mizzen, and that we had procured very fine clouted cream and fresh bread and butter from the shore, restored health and spirits to our women, and we all sat down to a very cheerful breakfast. But, however pleasant our stay promised to be here, we were all desirous it should be short: I resolved immediately to despatch my man into the country to purchase a present of cider, for my friends of that which is called Southam, as well as to take with me a hogshead of it to Lisbon; for it is, in my opinion, much more delicious than that which is the growth of Herefordshire. I purchased three hogsheads for five pounds ten shillings, all which I should have scarce thought worth mentioning, had I not believed it might be of equal service to the honest farmer who sold it me, and who is by the neighboring gentlemen reputed to deal in the very best; and to the reader, who, from ignorance of the means of providing better for himself, swallows at a dearer rate the juice of Middlesex turnip, instead of that Vinum Pomonae which Mr. Giles Leverance of Cheeshurst, near Dartmouth in Devon, will, at the price of forty shillings per hogshead, send in double casks to any part of the world.

Henry was in the right place for cider – the South West of England is famous for its apples and apple products, although ‘cider’ did not always mean alcohol from apples – it seems that the word has very ancient roots, and may originally have referred to any strong drink. Other fruits can be fermented of course. We are quite fond of fermented grape juice in this house - we call it wine - and indeed, most fermented plant material is referred to as ‘wine’ - as in cherry wine or plum wine or apricot wine or turnip wine. The only other fruit wine I can think of that has its own particular name is perry, from pears. Perhaps these specific old names indicate just how long these beverages have been made? Surely humans have been drinking cider almost as long as they have been eating apples? Maybe even longer, if you consider that the earliest apples were small and hard and sour and probably not very delicious to bite into.

If you have too much cider, you can do one of three things with it (a more inventive mind than mine may come up with more, but I have discovered three). You can invite a lot of friends over to help you drink it. You can distill it into apple brandy or applejack or whatever else you want to call the rather more seriously alcoholic preparations (you may be breaking the law by doing this however). Or you can cook with it.

Apple Butter (or ‘Black Butter’) can be made if you have too many apples as well as too much cider, and although this is said to be a speciality of the Jersey Islands, the recipe we enjoyed some time ago was called, by the eminently English Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, ‘American Apple Butter’. The remembrance of this set me looking at other American ways of using cider, as it seems Devonians and Cornwallians never have much left for cooking, if their cookbooks are anything to go by. Americans and Canadians have, in the past, made something called Mock Mince Pies, which we have previously enjoyed on this blog, and which we cannot therefore repeat. I was beginning to think I was going to have to encourage you to take option two, when I came across these ideas.

Cider Cake.
Six cups flour, three of sugar, one of butter, one of sour cider, tea-spoon soda, four eggs; beat the eggs, butter and sugar to a cream, stir in the flour, and then add the cider in which the soda has been dissolved.--Miss Mary A. Dugan. [Buckeye Cookery; America; 1877]

Cider Vinegar.
Take six quarts of rye meal; stir and mix it well into a barrel of strong hard cider of the best kind; and then add a gallon of whiskey. Cover the cask, (leaving the bung loosely in it,) set it in the part of your yard that is most exposed to the sun and air; and in the course of four weeks (if the weather is warm and dry) you will have good vinegar fit for use. When you draw off a gallon or more, replenish the cask with the same quantity of cider, and add about a pint of whiskey. You may thus have vinegar constantly at hand for common purposes.
The cask should have iron hoops.
A very strong vinegar may be made by mixing cider and strained honey, (allowing a pound of honey to a gallon of cider,) and letting it stand five or six months. This vinegar is so powerful that for common purposes it should be diluted with a little water.
[Directions For Cookery, In Its Various Branches.; Miss Leslie; 1840]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Spanish Potatoes.

Quotation for the Day …

Cider was, next to water, the most abundant and the cheapest fluid to be had in New Hampshire, while I lived there, - often selling for a dollar per barrel. In many a family of six or eight persons, a barrel tapped on Saturday barely lasted a full week. … The transition from cider to warmer and more potent stimulants was easy and natural; so that whole families died drunkards and vagabond paupers from the impetus first given by cider-swilling in their rural homes. Horace Greeley (1811-1872)


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Henry Fielding knew how to stock provisions for a long journey! That cider vinegar looks like a stout drink. There are various apple spice cakes that we make in the U.S. that in some ways resemble the cider cake.

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