TAYLOR COUNTY—Yesterday was more than just Friday, it was a little-known holiday that has deep roots here in Appalachia.
November 18 is hailed as U.S. Apple Cider Day. To some it may seem like a silly, off-the-wall observance, but apple cider played a crucial role in the lives of the earliest settlers of West Virginia.
Because clean drinking water was not always abundantly found, early 18th Century pioneers would use West Virginia apples to distill cider for a safer drinking source.
And, according to West Virginia University Extension’s Kennady Armstrong, more cider was consumed by Americans per capita in the 1700-1800s than soda is today.
Apple cultivation is nothing new in the Mountain State, as it is a practice that extends through the generations. In fact, residents have been utilizing the rich land and ripe growing conditions for centuries, helping to make great contributions to apple horticulture as a whole.
One of the Mountain Momma’s claims to fame is the Golden Delicious apple, the state fruit. The apple is believed to perhaps been the result of cultivation efforts of Thomas Grimes.
In 1830, the first variation of Grimes golden apple was grown on a farm in Wellsburg. It is believed that variety of fruit was the beginnings of the Golden Delicious variety, which was first developed on the farm of Andrew H. Mullins in 1912.
Throughout your childhood, you probably heard the tale of Johnny Appleseed, a real man named John Chapman who started up orchards for cider distilling across West Virginia.
There are only a reported 12 apple orchards left in the state, and many of them are located in the Eastern Panhandle.
And while there are over 900 active commercial cideries, establishments used for the creation of distilling apple cider, only two are found within the state’s boundaries: Hawk Knob Distillery operating in Lewisburg and Swilled Dog Distillery in Upper Tract.
“These businesses are at the forefront of reestablishing the Mountain State as the heart of American apple cider,” Armstrong voiced. “Their cider is made through a process that honors tradition and gives back to the people of the state.”
Making apple cider is a two or three-step process, depending on the type of cider you want to produce, that includes crushing the apples, pressing out the juice and undergoing an optional fermentation period.
The whole process begins with the handpicking of the fruit in the fall. Once the apples are plucked from the trees, they are stored outside for approximately one week, to allow for the softening of the fruit.
After being separated from leaves and twigs, and cleaned thoroughly, the apples are placed into a mill and ground. Once a little pressure is applied, the crushed apples give up their juice.
After undergoing fermentation, the filtered liquid is bottled, packaged and sold, ready for consumers to enjoy.
But making apple cider is more than just expelling the juice from the fruit. It is a process that follows tradition here in the Mountain State.
Supporting local attributes such as farmers, manufacturers and distributors, the cideries strive to utilize as many West Virginia resources as possible in the making of their products.
“From using apples for local farms, to partnering with local packagers and distributors, to using local tradespeople to maintain facilities, these businesses represent the traditions of Mountain State cidery making,” Armstrong commented.
Even though National Cider Day has passed, you can still celebrate this time-honored Mountain State tradition.
Whether you pick up one of the varieties produced by local cideries, you plan a visit to their location or try your hand at making your own cider, get immersed in local traditions with your friends and loved ones.