Apples. They are a sweet treat in the fall, and a mainstay of our winter fruit supply. We crunch them, bake them, preserve them, sauce them, and press them. But do you know where apples and apple cider came from?
Malus sieversii (the wild ancestor of modern apples) in Zhongar-Alatau National Park -- photo by Yakov Fedorov
The wild ancestor of the modern apple tree can still be found growing in the mountains of Central Asia. Malus sieversii is a small, highly coloured, sweet apple with extreme variability which has given rise to the cultivation of today's diverse apple types. The ancient woodlands of Kyrgyzstan—and of neighboring republics—are home to more than 300 wild fruit and nut trees. The local residents still make jams and preserves from these original wild apples.
According to archaeologists, apple trees even existed along the Nile river in Egypt as early as 1300 B.C., imported for the gardens and orchards of the ancient Egyptians and irrigated by hand.
Scientists and agricultural experts believe the cultivation of apples occurred over a long period of time. The first generations of domesticated apples were not meant for eating out of hand. Often they were bitter, suitable for juicing and fermenting into hard apple cider. According to Greek records circa 55 B.C. the first observation of apple cider being enjoyed was among the local people of Kent in what is now England.
Back then, apple cider was not the sweet, non-alcoholic drink we now recognize, but a much boozier version. The first settlers of New England found growing apples much easier then growing grain for beer, so cider became the popular beverage and in fact was safer to drink than much of the available water, full of nutrition needed to get them through the harsh winters. They even brewed a lower alcoholic cider for children.
Nowadays, fresh local apple cider is a treat we can enjoy all winter long. Our Bennett's Sweet Apple Cider is made from Ontario apples, pressed in their cider mill and flash pasteurized. You can drink it fresh and cold from the fridge, or mull it into a warm winter beverage.
Mulled Cider: Heat 2 litres Bennett's apple cider to just below boiling with 3 Cha's Organics real cinnamon sticks, half an orange sliced, 10 to 15 whole cloves, and 1 tsp allspice. Cover and simmer for 2 hours, strain to remove spices and serve in mugs. You can also heat cider in your slow cooker, on low for 4 - 6 hours.
Variations on spices: 2 - 4 cardamom pods or star anise.
Or just heat some plain apple cider and drink straight up! It's delicious!
You'll find Bennett's Apple Cider available in our produce department, and hot apple cider where we sell fresh coffee!
-- Sources: Wikipedia, Smithsonianmag, Bennettsapples, Urbanbohemian, National Geographic