Apple Sex (and its Consequences)

It’s the fickle nature of the apple, as much as anything else, that makes it the perfect fruit for juicing. For you see, apple trees are heterozygous organisms, which means they reproduce sexually and their offspring are rarely (if ever) perfect reproductions of one or other of the parents. That means that whenever you plant an apple seed there’s no telling what sort of apple tree is going to come up. Sure it’ll produce apples, but as to the quality of those apples…who knows? To produce consistent fruit for eating, an orchard requires years of careful attention and grafting.

And that was precisely the sort of thing that American pioneers were in no mood for, being largely preoccupied with building homes, cultivating land, tending animals, raising children and generally staying alive. Grafting apple trees? Who has time for that? But if the mongrel trees they put down in a corner of the back 40 happened to throw off a few bushels of cider apples each year, great! They coould be pulped and pressed, and consumed as cider months after the last eating apple had turned to mush in the root cellar.

Thus when it came to be cider making time, every sort of apple (provided it was edible) went into the same pot: big apples, small small apples, tart ones, sweet ones, red ones, green ones, hard ones, mealy ones, hopefully to emerge some weeks later as an at least drinkable cider. Over time those random blends evolved into “recipes” of sorts. Serious cider makers came up with formulas that called for X number of bushels of apples from this tree, X number from that one.

That tradition endures to this day. Hobbyist hard cider makers (and there are more of them out there than you might think) jealously guard their secret blends of sweets and sharps, bittersweets and bittersharps. The weekend’s cider pressing wasn’t nearly so discriminating. People mostly brought sweet eating apples. Squeezed, they were a pleasure to drink as juice. How they’ll taste when they’re fermented, I haven’t the faintest idea.

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