Lately, I have been haunted by the ghost of John Chapman.
It started at Christmas time, as it does every year, when we listen to a recording of Bing Crosby’s How Lovely is Christmas.
In the story, a young pioneer boy dreams that he is visited by three mythical and semi-mythical American heroes, Paul Bunyan*, Daniel Boone, and Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman.
Both the books that Michelle and I are currently listening to feature John Chapman. Michelle is re-listening to Michael Pollan’s excellent The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World (check your local independent bookstore) which includes a chapter on Johnny Appleseed’s role as America’s Dionysus. Johnny Appleseed pops up in the book I’m currently reading, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
Finally, another book I read recently inspired me to finally add cider making to my home winemaking effort. So now, on The Festival of Brewing (see Happy “Brewing!“) I’m starting a batch of hard cider, a mainstay of pioneer American home life, and the real reason Johnny Appleseed traveled far and wide, planting apple trees across the continent. Chapman’s story, as told by Michael Pollan and corroborated by many other historians, is quite incredible. If you grew up with the Disney version of his story, as I did, you’re in for an eye opening treat!
I’ve made apple wine a couple of times, with excellent results. I’m attracted to the idea of hard cider because I won’t feel compelled to worry about clarity, carbonation, or other fine points of good winemaking. We’re very fond of unfiltered cider, so I have visions of unfiltered hard cider. I don’ t know if that’s obtainable, but it’s a low bar. As it were.
I quickly learned that it takes a lot of work to mash apples without a press, but I managed to do a decent job. We have a food mill, so I ran the mashed-by-hand apples through that for a bit. Because of volume, I had to make my “gallon” batch in two gallon jars; I’ll combine them as soon as practical.
One of these days, I’ll likely have some hard cider. I’ll let you know how (if?) it turns out. If not, well, we can always find uses for apple cider vinegar. John Chapman’s ghost may disapprove, but he’ll get over it, I suppose.
*Yes, I know that technically Paul Bunyan, the creation of a marketing department, cannot be considered mythical. Let’s not get into that right now.