If you are serious about drinking cider, then you almost certainly know that US President John Adams also drank cider enthusiastically, and professed to consume a gill a day, before breakfast. Cider was John Adams’ orange juice, and in his day, it was understood that a good quantity of cider, and the Vitamin C that it contained, would save you from scurvy the same as a lemon would.
Making cider is very simple. All you really need do is press the apples and allow that juice to ferment. The natural yeast on the skins is enough to start the fermentation and the rest is just a matter of biology. The real mastery in making good cider, is the choice of apples and in Adams’ day, the premier apple was the Baldwin.
For many years, the Baldwin apple was the most popular fruit in New England and New York. A small hard apple remarkably free of blight and blemishes, people prized it for making hard cider and pie. Commercial growers loved it because it produced huge crops every other year and shipped easily.
The Baldwin apple originated as a wild seedling on the farm of John Ball in Wilmington, Mass., around 1740. William Butters bought the farm and transplanted the tree near his house. He called the apple ‘Woodpecker’ because the tree attracted so many of the birds. Others called it the Butters apple.
In the late 18th century, Deacon Samuel Thompson stumbled across that apple tree while surveying for the Middlesex Canal. He told the canal’s engineer, Loammi Baldwin, about the fine red apple. Baldwin quickly recognized its appeal. While less famous than his second cousin, “Johnny Appleseed,” Baldwin was instrumental in spreading this hearty apple across New England. While building the canal, Baldwin visited the Butters farm and cut scions (cuttings used to graft from a tree that produces the fruit variety you want to another established tree) from the Woodpecker apple tree. He then planted a row of trees near his house in Woburn and gave away scions to his friends.
Baldwin was a veteran who crossed the Delaware with George Washington. He commanded the Woburn Regiment during the Battle of Concord and Lexington. He conducted experiments with electricity and served in the Massachusetts General Assembly and as high sheriff of Middlesex County. Baldwin’s most significant achievement was the construction of the Middlesex Canal, a pioneering waterway that connected the Merrimack River to Boston Harbor. He earned the moniker ‘Father of Civil Engineering’ because of his innovations – and perhaps because his five sons became well-known civil engineers.
Unfortunately, Baldwin apple trees are especially vulnerable to winter injury. The cold weakens them from harvest time until recovery during the next off season. The severe winter of 1933-34 wiped out millions of apple trees in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. In Maine, two-thirds of the apple trees died. Throughout New England, the cold hit the Baldwin apple the hardest. Then in the spring of 1934, the State of Maine organized a tree pool for apple growers, offering two varieties: Red Delicious and MacIntosh. Today, the hearty Baldwin apple is an heirloom variety considered not economically viable for commercial farmers. These farmers just don’t understand cider and its critical place on the breakfast table!