The other afternoon, while sipping tea instead of my usual coffee, I was thinking I’d write this week about New England apple picking season. Reports are out that say it’s a great year for apples. As I continued to sip, I wondered what I might add that hasn’t been said. I make apple pies occasionally, eat apples raw and make copious amounts of applesauce. My record is 45 liters in an afternoon. I considered it may be interesting to know I was Maine Pomona Apple Princess back in my glory days of high school. “Pomona” refers to the Roman goddess of fruit and nut trees. I think that should have made me a goddess, not a princess. These days, I might be happy with either designation.
Thinking back on my reign as Apple Princess is a happy journey. I traveled Maine sharing news about the apple industry, learning about different varieties of apples and the many things you can do with them, besides throwing rotten or frozen ones and hearing them go “splat”. Growing up in rural Maine, required you made much of your own entertainment. As a child, picking frozen apples on the long walk home, uphill both directions, in frigid temperatures and with icicles eventually hanging from your eyelashes, allowed for some interesting entertainment. Handheld video games weren’t invented, yet, so to pick the frozen apples and make them flatten against something other than your sibling was an amusing pastime.
My older sibling walked me home after school. He knew of such things beyond splatting apples. He liked to pick them frozen and drink their juice. Now, I imagine those of you who are familiar with this activity are already chuckling. He was in high school. I was in elementary school. So I was oblivious as to what he found so enticing. I tried one, expecting it to taste sweet like apple cider. I was woefully disappointed. The day came when he was caught by the authorities, a.k.a. mom and dad. It wasn’t made clear to me that the juice was considered alcohol, so I was perplexed as to why it was a bad thing to do, other than the fact my brother didn’t have very good taste.
I did eventually learn he was enjoying nature’s offering of applejack! Applejack has made a bit of a comeback in recent years. You can find it pretty readily in any store where alcohol is sold. A more fun and engaging way of imbibing is visiting an apple farm where you can pick to your heart’s content and then reward yourself with samplings and full servings. My favorite place for sampling and purchasing is Tree Spirits of Maine located in Waterville. They aren’t a farm, but you can enjoy other fine wines and mead made from Maine’s agricultural products. To be honest, it’s hard to find apple jack production in Maine. I’m not an expert on apple jack, but I’ve visited farms in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts that have some fine offerings. And you visit a farm, so there’s that.
Applejack got its following from America’s early settlers. They were leery of drinking water, the story goes and they were supporters of “strong drink” to prevent ill health. It was a natural fit. It was historically made by concentrating cider. They would use the process of freeze distilling (think frozen apples) or evaporation distillation. The term applejack comes from the term “jacking”, which is a term for freeze distillation. By the mid-1800’s, applejack fell out of favor for a variety of reasons, such as foreign import substitutions. Before it did however, the Laird family of New Jersey had supplied Washington’s troops with the tasty beverage. Abraham Lincoln served it in his Illinois tavern and William Henry Harrison, the “Hard Cyder Candidate” is said to have won the presidency due to his serving hard apple beverage, freely at his Whig rallies. I see a trend here that perhaps, should be suggested to our current presidential candidates!
Applejack, the original American spirit, adds depth to any harvest food. Today’s version is sometimes a combination of spirits. I suggest you have a conversation with the maker and find out which version you are trying. The Laird Company of New Jersey is the oldest commercial producer of applejack, but their modern version has an apple brandy base. I haven’t tried it. If you do, let me know what you think.