Day 1 – Thomas Jefferson, A Primer
Day 2 – The First Wine of Record, Claret
Day 3 – Jefferson and Madeira
Day 4 – Jefferson’s Favorite Wines Available Today
Day 5 – Monticello Pictorial
Day 6 – Monticello Vineyards
Day 7 – The Monticello Cellar
Day 8 – Thomas Jefferson—orchardist and cidermaker (Part 1)
Though this series is titled ’30 Days of Thomas Jefferson on Wine,’ perhaps I should have named the series ’30 Days of Jefferson on Drinks’ given his fondness of for other drinks like beer and in particular cider. I’m embarrassed to admit how little I knew about cider prior to undertaking this Jefferson series.
Rather than attempt to learn about cider and try to compose an article that makes any sense, I decided to go directly to the expert – Diane Flynt, Cidermaker at Foggy Ridge Cider in southwestern, Virginia. Today’s post is part 1 of 2 articles written by Diane Flynt as a guest post for this series:
While Thomas Jefferson did not achieve winemaking success at Monticello, like most landowners in early America, he excelled in growing apples and making hard cider. Apples are not native to America and were one of the first crops planted by colonists who brought scion wood from English and European apple varieties to graft onto native apple trees. The first record of a cultivated orchard was William Blackstone’s property near Boston in 1623, 120 years before Jefferson’s birth.
By the late 1700s, cider was the most common drink in America. In 1767 the citizens of Massachusetts consumed more than 35 gallons of cider per person. (Watson, 1999) John Adams is said to have attributed his health and long life to a tankard of cider before breakfast.
Although the North Atlantic states were known as the best cider-producing region (Newark, NJ was considered the Napa Valley of cider), virtually all landowners planted orchards for home use, which invariably included cidermaking. U.P. Hendrick writes in A History of Horticulture in America to 1860, “From the founding of Jamestown to the time of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, on down to that of Robert E. Lee, every plantation owner made cider, drank cider, and bragged about his cider.”
And our forefathers grew far more apple varieties than we know today. Gary Paul Nabhan notes in the Forgotten Fruits Manual & Manifesto (2010) that “Of some 15,000 to 16,000 apple varieties that have been named, grown and eaten on the North American continent, only about 3,000 remain accessible to American orchard keepers, gardeners, chefs and home cooks.”
However, while Jefferson grew over 250 varieties of fruit, he focused his apple growing on a limited number of varieties. Peter Hatch, Director of Monticello Gardens and Grounds, writes:
“The apple was a standard, every-day fruit at Monticello. Cider was an integral part of the Jefferson dining tradition. He drank it with the main course of his meals and, from some reports, relished apple and mince pies for dessert. Jefferson’s cultivation of the apple was exceptionally discriminating as he concentrated on only four varieties that were either unrivaled for cider making — Hewes’ Crab and Taliaferro — or as a dessert fruit for the table — Newtown or Albemarle Pippin and Esopus Spitzenburg. His cultivation of only eighteen apple cultivars was surprisingly limited.”
Cider was the “table drink” at Monticello and Jefferson, ever the keen observer of nature, experimented with different blends for his cider. While the esteemed Talliaferro apple has been lost, the Hewe’s Crab, sometimes called Virginia Crab, remains a favorite cider apple in Virginia. Hewe’s Crab would have ripened in late August at Monticello—the golf ball size apples are red with green and yellow streaks. In Foggy Ridge Cider’s North Orchard, the low rows of Hewe’s trees glow in spring with clear white blooms that fade to a pale pink. In fall, the wide spreading limbs pull low to the orchard floor with heavy fruit. This beautiful tree still produces outstanding fruit for hard cider.
Jefferson’s slaves likely cursed this apple at picking time—it’s tiny and not a favorite with the picking crew. But juice from Hewe’s Crab is richly flavored, with persistent fresh apple aroma and flavor that carries through fermentation. At Foggy Ridge Cider in the southwest Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains, Hewe’s has been harvested at 17 Brix, a relatively high sugar level for apples. Jefferson likely achieved even higher sugars in Monticello’s warmer climate.
Foggy Ridge uses Hewe’s Crab in First Fruit Cider—the name is a nod to Jefferson and also to the harvest date of this and other early apples in this best-selling cider blend. Albemarle Ciderworks also grows Hewe’s Crab near Charlottesville and makes a delicious hard cider blend called Jupiter’s Legacy.
While we can’t experience the exact flavors of Thomas Jefferson’s “table drink”, Virginians today can enjoy hard cider from cidermakers who cultivate this valuable cider apple and nurture Jefferson’s tradition.
Foggy Ridge Cider grows over 30 varieties of heirloom cider apples and crafts award winning hard cider in the southwest Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains. Foggy Ridge Cider’s tasting room is open weekends, and the cider is sold throughout VA, NC and Washington, DC. Hard cider blends include Serious Cider, a dry crisp cider similar to a sparkling wine, First Fruit and Sweet Stayman, and off dry sparkling cider that pairs well with spicy dishes. Foggy Ridge also makes a dessert cider called Pippin Gold, a blend of hard cider made from another Jefferson favorite, the Newtown Pippin apple, blended with Virginia apple brandy. Foggy Ridge Ciders have won gold medals in numerous national wine competitions.
Cider Hard and Sweet—History, Traditions and Making Your Own, Ben Watson
Forgotten Fruits Manual & Manifesto, Compiled and edited by Gary Paul Nabhan
The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello, Peter J. Hatch, Director Monticello Gardens and Grounds
NPR Interview with Peter Hatch, January 1995
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