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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

A Different Cider

Air Date: Week of

For commentator Jane Brox, autumn on her family farm in Dracut, Massachusetts is usually the time of year that freshly fallen apples are turned into fresh apple cider. But this year, ecoli health scares have changed all that. Commentator Jane Brox is author of, "Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and Its Family."


CURWOOD: On the farm that Jane Brox runs in Dracut, Massachusetts, this is usually the time of year that freshly fallen apples are turned into fresh apple cider. But Jane wrote to us to explain that this year is different.

BROX: It had always been a sign of the year closing down to me. The full and hollow sound of cider apples, too small or scarred or bruised to sell as fruit, dropping to a pine box at my feet. Twenty, 30, 40 boxes filled that way. Then we'd bring them to a neighbor's farm to be crushed, pressed, and returned as jugs of tawny cider.

The early fall's pressing is full of the tart, light flavor of Macintosh. Cider turns richer as
the season lengthens, and winter apples, whose flavors are deepened by the frost, Northern Spies, Baldwins, and Golden Delicious, begin to dominate the mix.

By the short gray days of November, it becomes thick as liquor, and its warm round flavor feels like a certain stay against the coming cold. And always, if cider sits long enough, it begins to ferment. Then it's reminiscent of what cider first tasted like before Prohibition decreed an end to household distillation. A fermented drink aged in barrels in the stone cellars of farm houses, stored long beyond the fall season. Something to warm the blood, to wash down a winter meal, raised as a toast in friendship. Cider, the root of which means to drink deeply, to drink to intoxication.

But things will be different this year. Last year's scattered e-coli outbreaks reportedly traced to cider in unpasteurized apple juice across Colorado, California, and Connecticut, made national news. And ever since, rumors of new regulations and liabilities have run through every gathering of apple growers in the region. "They're going to require pasteurization", some say tersely. They say it's going to be a talk show topic this fall.

It was tough news when our neighbor said he just couldn't press this year's cider crop. The insurance company won't allow it. The liability is too high. Our only choice may be to sell the apples to a large concern in the Nashoba Hills. What will be returned to us won't be recognizable after our apples have been mixed with countless others, and the cider itself pasteurized. What will it taste like, I asked my neighbor. Just juice, was all she said. She shook her head. She was bitter, I could tell, and who wouldn't be? A fuel of rumor, a scattering of cases across the nation, and here we are with the watered-down thing. Just juice. A far cry from what we've known, and even farther from what those before us had known.

CURWOOD: Commentator Jane Brox is author of Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and Its Family.



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