The Cider Trail

This fall, embark on your own country quest for the season's homegrown, homemade comestibles that can lead to wonderful a fall cider.

  • A hand-cranked cider press is the source of the absolute freshest cider you can find.
    Photo by Andrew Weidman
  • Use the web to find farmers' markets and produce stands near you.
    Photo by Andrew Weidman
  • From edibles to seasonal decorations, homegrown produce just can't be beat.
    Photo by Andrew Weidman
  • Keep an eye out for signs along country roads advertising fresh produce for sale.
    Photo by Andrew Weidman

In today's fast-paced, disconnected world, one does not need to look hard to find the truth of this statement by Aldo Leopold. Most people apparently give little if any thought to where their food comes from or who provides it. Striking out on the Cider Trail provides a chance to reconnect your table to the land, and your family with the people who feed them.

Where is the Cider Trail, you ask? Officially, it does not exist. No travel guide lists it, nor will you find it on a map. That does not mean it can’t be found. Any road that gets you out of the city and into the country, discovering hometown adventure and locally grown and prepared food becomes the Cider Trail. Maybe it will lead you to an orchard, farm stand, farmers’ market, or harvest festival. It will certainly reward you with wonderful treasures of the harvest.

The name “Cider Trail” implies that finding cider is the ultimate goal of the trip. Well, maybe cider isn’t the ultimate goal, but it is a worthwhile goal. We’re not talking about that pale, filtered apple juice masquerading as cider in supermarkets. Oh, no. What we want is that mysterious, deliciously murky blend of autumn’s finest apples—the good stuff—available only once a year. Served straight and cold or hot and spiced, hard or sweet, cider tastes like autumn.

There is no recipe for fall cider, not really. There may be 10 or more apple varieties in a really good blend, and you can bet that at least one is a crabapple lending its tart kick to the mix. If you prefer something a bit more discriminating, a varietal cider just may fit the bill. More and more orchards and wineries have been exploring distinctive single-variety ciders, both hard and sweet.

Visit your local orchard and ask if they have a cider press. Chances are good they will, but even if they don’t they will likely carry fresh-pressed cider. Take some time to discover the rest of their offerings: Browse through the bins and baskets of fruit . . . apples, pears, and maybe even quince or persimmons wait to delight your taste buds this season.

Select a spread of apple varieties to sample, familiar standbys like Yellow Delicious, Winesap and Ginger Gold, and if you can find them, a few new-to-you antiques like Keepsake, Pomme Grieve and Sops-in-Wine. Sweet, tart, spicy, aromatic, crunchy, sandy, big, small, crisp, crunchy or sandy; there’s an apple for every taste. If you’re really fortunate, the orchard will offer mix-and-match apples, allowing you to customize your own personal blend. Imagine the apple pie you can make with a dozen-apple mix.

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