Old World Cider

When I was around ten years old, we lived in Bavaria, Germany. For a while, it was with my grandparents in Altheim, a little village in Franconia. We lived next door to the Sichlings. They farmed and they also had a dairy.

Most of the residents of Altheim were peasants, but the Sichlings actually owned land, so they were a cut above their neighbors. Unlike here in the United States, no one actually lived on the land they farmed. (The peasants did not even own any land and had to rent fields from people like the Sichlings.) Everyone lived in the village and went out to work in the fields.

Later, after we moved, my brother Hartmut and I came back to spent a vacation at the farm. This was in the mid-fifties and there was really nothing to drink there, but herbal tea and hard cider. The milk they sold. Nobody in Sichling’s house drank water. I suppose it had to be boiled first.

I recall my first draft of cider. To a boy who had never had an alcoholic drink, the taste was unexpected, “dry”, bitter and yet sweet; it was not the apple juice to which I was accustomed. When I had finished, I was left giddy-headed and even breathless. I suppose I did get used to drinking the cider as my main fluid intake over the next two weeks.

The Sichlings owned many apple trees, but none in the village. Theirs were all over the general vicinity, lining the fields here and there, or growing on unworkable ground. They were probably mostly wildings, not good apples, for the Sichlings themselves never ate any of the fruit. One day I asked for an apple. The adults discussed where I could find an edible one and finally gave me directions to a tree. Hartmut and I went with the oldest Sichling boy, who was my age, and when we found the tree, the fruit turned out to be heavily covered with brown russet. I don’t think they were Leathercoats, but that would have been an appropriate name. As a ten year old unaccustomed to russets I was very leery of them, but we nevertheless bit in and found sweet, brisk, juicy, yellow flesh inside.

The Sichlings matured their cider in two large vats that were in a cellar on the church grounds. One vat was a year’s drinking, so they alternated between the vats.

I was there for the one of the crushings. Everyone went out with the largest wagon. (The Sichlings owned one of the few tractors in the village.) We went from tree to tree, shaking them and picking up the fallen apples until the whole wagon was full. Some of the apples were clearly crabapples, but many were large and pretty. I bit into one lovely apple that was splashed with red, but it was very tart and bitter. We came home at dusk, clinging on to the outside of the wagon, since there was no room inside.

The next day, it was crushing time. The cider press was a large affair. It was turned by two long, wooden arms, which were attached to horses; they went round and round while the juice oozed out into buckets. We boys sat on stools under the arms and our job was to keep the flies away from the must. This was an important job, since there were many flies because the manure/compost heap was not very far away. The next day we were crushing again. This is all that I remember of it. The pomace was probably fed to the cows.

The milling situation out in the open in the yard was not particularly hygienic. I don’t think that Sichling added any yeast or did any of the procedures that we are advised to use to make cider, but the resultant product was excellent. It has had a long-term effect on me: it has spoiled my taste for cider. I have not yet been able to find any product that comes close to it in taste and briskness.