Erica Wheeler: inspiring connections between people and place

November 2014/Comeback Kids: Hard Cider, Wild Turkeys and Heirloom Apples

 November 2014Comeback Kids Hard Cider Wild Turkeys and Heirloom Apples
This article focuses on success stories that are local and fitting for the season. It's about three comeback kids who were on the brink of vanishing completely, but are alive and thriving today.

The world is always changing, and with news that can consume us with loss, worry and cynicism every day, may these stories help you celebrate late autumn and ground you in the possibilities of what can happen with love, passion, persistence and good old-fashioned know-how.

Hard Cider: Once more popular than water
For early Americans, hard cider was the beverage of choice. Everyone drank hard cider, even children and the elderly in colonial times! It was thought to be safer than water. Production and consumption dropped off dramatically after 1850 due to the temperance movement. Beer became more popular and cheaper to produce and hard cider went out of fashion. Today the creation, quality and celebration of hard cider are vitally alive and well.

This past weekend we attended the 20th Annual Cider Days, an event that was founded by our neighbors here in Colrain, Judith and Terry Maloney of West County Cider. They are often credited as initiators of the hard cider revival, creating their own first batches in their basement in the 80's. This weekend's event was sold out, full of sampling dozens of varieties of hard cider, plus workshops and incredible farm to table food. Have you tried hard cider?

Wild Turkeys: Almost extinct by1851
Lately I've been noticing all the flocks of turkeys eating in the cornfields. There were 30 just behind our house. It's amazing to think that, according to Mass Audubon, in 1851 the last wild turkey was shot in Massachusetts on Mount Tom (Easthampton, MA).

In 1972, Mass Wildlife and UMass started a reintroduction project with just 37 birds! They were trapped in New York State and released, and today the estimated fall population is more than 20,000 birds. You see them everywhere. Huge success story, showing that, when given a chance, the natural world can thrive. Do you have turkeys where you live?

Heirloom Apples: They still grow those here?
Apples have been cultivated in America since the 1600's. Some became standouts for commercial reasons, but many varieties that would've disappeared can still be found, and are now treasured and cultivated.

Earlier this month, we attended a talk at the Williamsburg Historical Society by Russell Powell who just released his book "Apples of New England: A Users Guide" In the book he writes "Biting into a once popular apple discovered in New England tangibly connects us to our past."  A man after my heart.

Learn more in this wonderful "field guide" with histories and qualities of over 200 varieties. He had many there to taste after the talk. Who knew there was such variation? (Highly recommended gift idea!)

Try This:  Do a blind taste test.
See if you can find a market with a large variety of apples. I bought a bunch recently at our local co-op and labeled them in brown paper bags. We've tasted each one without looking at the name, just noting their qualities in a journal, and then looking them up in Russell's book to learn about the history of each one. This is a fun game and great way to celebrate apple season.

BTW, my No. 1 favorite (this time of year for sure) is still the Macoun. They don't last forever, but when they're in season they are tart, sweet, crisp and juicy all at once.

Your Story:  Know any comeback kids?
Do you have some success stories about anything regional or seasonal that was once on the brink of vanishing or being forgotten, that is alive and thriving today?
I'd love to hear your stories too!  Post them below.

updated: 1 year ago