This article was originally published in Issue 7 of Malus. Copyright 2019 Melissa Madden. For a print version, please subscribe!
On the Beauty of edible wildness:
prologue and introduction
by Melissa Madden
I want to take you to a place. It is not on a map; it is not a farm. It is a blurry boundary between wildness and cultivation, neglect and intention. Here live feral flavors. Here live the stories of the humans who came before and how they left or were driven from this place. These tales are written in Fall’s fruit.
To visit this place requires a bumpy drive and a hike, and a certain dedication and a high clearance vehicle. The road washes away with each heavy rain, and today it is bumpy with relics of past construction–a concrete chunk four feet long sticks vertically six inches up into the road. When I can’t find a truck to borrow, I hump my pack in.
Today, in mid Fall, a golden light filters down through the trees. All over the Finger Lakes there is harvest–grapes, apples, fall vegetable crops, hay, grains. My partners and I carve out time for a visit after work as often as we can. The days get rapidly shorter, and we hike bathed in the wistful sunsets of Fall–goldenrod yellow, pale orange, brilliant rose, deep purple, light gray. Tired and sore as we may be–from this, from other work–we are buoyed by the restful energy of this place. The work of wild gathering is an act of love, and we are energized.
At the end of the marginal road, old fences mark the fields. We clamber through the barbed wires wrapped around the old fence posts, through the “gates.” These makeshift openings are for the use of seasonal grazers from May to November each year. There are cows in these fields, but they stay back as we enter and rewrap the tangled wire behind us.
This place is called a “multiuse” space, a place for hikers and enthusiasts, hunters, biologists, cows, and equestrians. Nominally, the land is national forest, accessible to all, but it is leased for use to grazers who send their cows to graze the woods and fields in the warm and shoulder months. Later in the Fall, the hunters arrive. Today we take our turn, dipping in and out with backpacks and tarps.
Once through the fence, the view is broad. The long view reminds me of the Southwest, my first home. Unlike so much of the Northeast, this place is more savanna than forest, large swaths open for grazing with clusters of trees scattered here and there and long hedgerows marking dividing lines. These are the places we seek, where we find unmanaged bounty at certain points throughout the year.
Now, in Fall, apples and pears adorn the trees. Each season varies, some trees are bare and some are loaded with fruit. Which tree does what alternates annually. This year many of the trees lost their leaves early, an onset of a complex of fungal and bacterial diseases including Marssonia that affect cultivated and wild orchards alike. At this late seasonal hour, the fruit and trees can use a bit more time in the sun, with leaves converting light to sugar. The roots need their winter stores and the fruit, at least for my purposes, needs more time and energy to fulfill ripening. My concern for the orchard is partially wrapped up in my desire to interact with its bounty and press it into something beautiful and expressive.
For myself and my harvest partners, Fall is a mix of scouting fruit ripeness and orchard health. The cows are everywhere and as we shake the ready trees they circle around us to receive the drops. Nursing mothers, little steers and rambunctious heifers, they each contest us for the apples we’ve come to collect. Harvest is a point of tension between defensive action and gathering. We collect apples from the ground in a traditional approach to cider apple collection, although we shake the trees instead of waiting patiently for the fruit to drop from the weight of its own ripeness. The cows leave us no choice; it is us and our project versus them and their gobbling. We try to wait for our harvest until the fruit is balanced on its own edge of readiness, where the starches are converted to sugars but just before each tree releases its reproductive task for the year and sends the bounty to the waiting ground. We scout, we measure fruit sugars with our refractometer, we tarp, we shake, we haul. And so Fall goes along.
As Winter comes, the cows go home. They do so only after the fruit has dropped all to the ground, and the game is up. The space becomes quiet. The large paddocks are brown long before frost from a mix of mowing, grazing and long developed seed heads on certain grasses. The trees lose all leaves and the occasional conifers–cedar, pine–stand out among the hedgerows along the back end of each paddock. Once the time for bounty passes so does the haste and this becomes a peaceful place of more general inquiry.
Late Fall and Winter see hunters eagerly crossing the land in groups driving deer. There are homes scattered about the corners of this area gridded by roads and as the days become more quiet, the sounds of living become more audible. Cars roar on nearby roads, dogs bark, and the louder human discussions drift over the fields. Into the groves, no one comes. The question of possession between cows and ourselves is temporarily settled, and we dominate. Under the trees–leaf full or bare–the air is close. The sky is obscured by the busy branches crisscrossing eight feet above our heads. These are old standard trees, grown to their fullest potential as determined by their rootstocks. I believe most of these are not seedling trees grown up from a successful seed, at least not in the dense groves. Over time and through much work with neighbors and the local Historical Society, I expect to learn who planted these groves, and when, and perhaps even why. These old, strong trees stand twisted, each trunk self-supporting with branches starting four feet off the ground. To climb these requires attention to the many dead branches and split trunks, but most are infinitely climbable and sturdy. These apples and pears are real trees, now untended.
In Spring, bloom comes in scattered form. Some trees bear fruit heavily in one year and offer no blossoms the next, a deep set biennial habit particular to apple trees. Very young fruit, usually in June, will send a hormonal signal to the tree about the current fruit load, and if heavy enough the tree will be fallow the following year. To walk these groves during bloom is to witness and accept this pattern.
And then comes Summer. A rush towards harvest, heat shining off of the diked ponds where cows wallow and water. This year there were lush leaves on all trees until mid-August, and then with the onset of the bacterial and fungal disease, half the foliage dropped. A visit in July versus August in 2019 was an abrupt change in scenery; most apples had yet to color up to the reds and blushed red streaks of Fall. The groves’ color palette went from a lush green to the deeper grays of lichened, aged branches missing their leaves. The canopy with its sunlight and cleansing wind stayed foliated, the approach to the groves was a study in a vertical line of gray to brilliant, photosynthesizing green.
And so turn the seasons here. There is much that is the same, the annual nuances are where my love lies. Next season, how will these trees accommodate for the early defoliation of 2019? Which trees will bear in abundance in 2020? Whom might I encounter in the course of my own foraging? Because this is a public space, my own hopes for it are wrapped in faith and patience–unlike my farm, this place is not mine to control.
I write about this place I love as an introduction. Please walk with me here and take the next steps. We’ll investigate why alcohol does and does not perfectly express the abundance of this place. We’ll present our research on levers of territory and possession, and dispossession and displacement throughout history on this landscape. We’ll talk about personhood for human and nonhuman dwellers of this space. We’ll explore wildness and cultivation, and where humans fit in. It’s an opportunity to make the case for free access and true mixed use of public lands. It is a chance to discuss land reparations and how we make them. And through it all, it is a chance to revel in a space available to us all, full of bounty. Each visit for me is one of increasing joy and gratitude for my access to such a place.
I am engaging this place as subject matter beyond imbibables. The National Forest is our Commons. It has layers of history–a home to the Seneca and Cayuga Nations, site of Revolutionary War land grants, subject to deforestation, home of small industry and the rise of the wine region. Rich with meaning, it suggests questions.
This is the first in an ongoing series of articles exploring topics such as land rights and access, food sovereignty, cultivated vs feral crops, and systems ecology and interconnectedness through the lens of the GAYOGOH´O:NO´ lands in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State.
Melissa Madden lives in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State on Seneca and Cayuga Nation land. She has owned, farmed and run the Good Life Farm/Kite & String Cider/Finger Lakes Cider House for the past 12 years. She is now a roving small farm consultant, wild-forraged cider maker, and advocate of regenerative agriculture. Find her on Instagram @fromcidertohere.
This article was originally published in Spring 2019/Issue 5 of Malus. Copyright 2019 Olivia Maki. For a print version, please subscribe!
American Cider in Black and White
by Olivia Maki
Jupiter Evans was born in 1743 on a Virginia plantation. We don’t know too much about his life and it is only speculated that his last name was Evans—like so many undocumented stories of slaves. Evans was born into slavery in a time in America where slavery was commonplace, not just in the South but throughout the Eastern seaboard. He was also born in the same year and on the same plantation as Thomas Jefferson, whose father owned Evans and his family. Jefferson and Evans grew up together and played together as children. When Jefferson turned 21, he received Evans as a gift from his father. Evans traveled with and worked closely alongside Jefferson his entire life.
We know quite a bit about Jefferson. He was a prolific writer and his life was steadily documented. He has been studied by scholars and written about in textbooks. We know that he was the third president of the United States and that he was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. But fewer of us know (or perhaps realize) that Jefferson’s entire life was made possible by slavery. His wealth, status, and political career were founded on the work of slaves. He fathered at least six of his own children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. Jefferson began a sexual relationship with Hemings when she was 13 or 14 and he was 43. Throughout his lifetime, Jefferson owned 607 enslaved men, women, and children. Despite publicly stating that slavery was an “abomination,” he only freed seven slaves in his lifetime.
And some of us know that Jefferson loved to drink wine, beer, and cider. Evans knew Jefferson intimately and had a few different roles in his household, including as his personal butler. One of those roles was being involved in cidermaking at Monticello, Jefferson’s plantation, a task that is thought to have been reserved for someone trusted and of high skill. When Evans died in 1800, Jefferson said his loss “caused a real gap in his household management.”
There is a trend in cider to romanticize the history of cidermaking in America, to cite the Founding Fathers as avid cider drinkers, and to talk about the heritage of American cidermaking and American cider apples. That trend fails to recognize the reality behind this history. Enslaved black men, women, and children were the ones growing the crops and making cider, beer, and wine on the plantations owned by many of the Founding Fathers. Many of those slaves brought fermentation techniques and styles with them from their respective countries in Africa.
Media coverage and consumer-facing marketing campaigns encourage this tired dialogue along with tales of Johnny
Appleseed. Following their cue, many cidermakers and national organizations continue the colonial nostalgia and utilize terms like “Old World,” “New World,” and “heritage” to differentiate styles of cidermaking. The first major example of this was with the national cider competition Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition (GLINTCAP) landing on the term “heritage” in 2015 to denote ciders made with “fine craftsmanship...and thoughtful and deliberate choices...with regard to varieties, blending, fermentation, maturation, and even packaging,” according to GLINTCAP Competition Director Eric West. “The terms ‘heritage’ and ‘heirloom’ have similar connotations, and a Heritage Cider often contains varieties that would typically be thought of as ‘heirloom.’”
In the recent style guide issued by the United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM), they created four standard styles of cider for producers, retailers, journalists, and consumers to use when talking about cider: Modern Cider, Heritage Cider, Modern Perry, and Heritage Perry. But what is “Heritage Cider”? The USACM defines it as cider “made primarily from the fresh juice of multi-use or cider-specific bittersweet/bittersharp apples and heirloom varieties; wild or crab apples are sometimes used for acidity/tannin balance.” Their Heritage definition also points to ciders made in the UK, France, Spain, Germany, and the US. According to USACM Executive Director Michelle McGrath, they looked to the GLINTCAP style guideline primarily as the reason for adopting the term “heritage” and cited the agricultural industry’s embrace of the term with marketing around heritage products.
The word “heritage” has weight to it. It can encompass history, genetics, and inheritance. You can see it in connotation with land rights, and more recently with both conservative politics and the progressive Slow Food movement. Common themes run throughout these different uses. There is typically a desire to look to the past to preserve the future (especially with white nationalists), or to describe something as having historical significance, or to communicate a rejection of industrialization. In cider, the term “heritage” can mean more than just apple selection, due to its historical connection to slavery. In a time in which more and more white supremacy groups are using the word “heritage” to talk about their birthright over disenfranchised groups, to use the term lightly is to ignore the real and painful connotations that come with it. In a predominantly white industry, how can we encourage people of color to grow apples, ferment juice, start small businesses, and buy cider when the term “heritage” is used so frequently? When our Founding Fathers are referenced so often?
Ashtin Berry, founder of Radical XChange in Louisiana, recently hosted the first inaugural Resistance Served event in February in New Orleans. This event was aimed at bringing together people in the hospitality industry to talk about the contributions of black and African Americans in food and beverage. Berry explains, “People in cider who romanticize [colonial times] automatically don’t see people of color as their clientele because they are glorifying people who owned other people. And they are choosing to be selective about the narrative that they share. Our Founding Fathers were rapists and slave owners at the extreme and at the minimum they were capitalists who acknowledged the atrocities and human rights violation of slavery but willingly supported its continuation in order to fund the dream of freedom for a select few who happen to look just like them, white and male.”
“‘Heritage’ is a gentrified word. It’s become such a marketing ploy for people to talk about history in a way that doesn’t make them feel like shit. So when you speak of the Founding Fathers and you want to talk about how that’s your heritage, cool—it is your heritage. Just make sure that you mention slavery and all of the other things that go along with that heritage. You don’t get to piece and parcel it for the parts that make you feel proud and leave out the parts that make you feel ugly,” continues Berry.
The wine and beer industries don’t dwell on this past, don’t use terms like “heritage” to talk about the history of fermentation in this country—why should cider?
Krista Scruggs, the wine- and cidermaker behind ZAFA Wines in Vermont, explains, “People in the cider industry haven’t taken the time to really understand American history because if you know American history, you cannot ignore America’s original sin. We want to talk about tradition but not include the number-one thing that America was built off of: slavery. For someone to not understand how offensive it is to talk about Thomas Jefferson in front me, it is just so insensitive. And it should be offensive to everyone—not just people of color. Our history is rooted in that plantation. And when you try to trivialize that or take it away, you’re taking away my history, too.”
Two Virginia cideries, Blue Bee Cider and Albemarle Ciderworks, have each tried to bring light to the history of slavery in cider. Courtney Mailey, the owner of Blue Bee Cider, has hosted educational events highlighting black history in cidermaking but it comes with its own set of challenges.
“I’ve tried to do programming for Black History Month twice and there was really no point in trying to do more programming because the information was just not there,” Mailey explains, “I was trying to flesh out oral history. Trying to encourage people to bring any stories that they had because the written history is not that strong.”
Most of the recorded history from colonial times is coming from plantation records, and the majority of that data is around planting records, names, and birth dates but despite Mailey’s best efforts, little else exists to tell the story of slaves. “In our tasting room, we use the term ‘fine cider’; we don’t actually use ‘heritage cider’ as part of our regular conversation with customers,” Mailey says.
Albemarle Ciderworks has a cider named Jupiter’s Legacy in honor of Evans’s role in the cidermaking process at the Monticello plantation.
Terminology has a place in cider—it’s useful to categorize ciders for consumers, educators, buyers, and even cidermakers themselves. “The degree of unfamiliarity and confusion about the category is real,” explains Jennifer Smith, executive director of the New York Cider Association. “I find that most of the cidermakers in New York State are relieved to have a term to adopt and relieved to have a way to talk about ciders [their customers] might have had and how theirs are either similar or different. It’s not prioritizing one style over another. It’s giving you a framework to discuss choices that are made in growing techniques, source materials, cellaring techniques, and intended consumption.” Does it need to be the term “heritage”? Smith says no but warns that getting any group behind a shared lexicon will be difficult regardless of its usefulness.
But despite the good intentions of those who have embraced the term, Berry argues that they don’t get to decide whether or not people of color find it offensive. “The biggest issue in all our industries in beverage is how dismissive white people are when they are told something is racist,” says Berry. “You don’t get to decide how people of color feel about historical references… Why should those people have to relearn a term that has a historical reference because you decided it sounded cool rather than creating a term that didn’t have so much baggage? People who are in this industry—whether it be cider, beer, wine, craft cocktails—need to be cognizant of the terms they use. Words matter.”
What happens when we look at the word “heritage” through a white lens? We see some of the first American settlers planting apple trees and fermenting juice for the first time—we see a rejection of mass commercial products and an imagined intent on quality. Small batches made from local fruit trees. But if we only look at history and the heritage of any given subject matter through a white lens, we’re missing a huge part of the story. During that same time we imagine those Americans settlers planting cider apple trees, enslaved black people in this country were planting many of those trees, fermenting much of that juice, figuring out which apple varieties make the best cider and which grow best in their climates.
This issue extends beyond the beverage industry—the agricultural industry is marked by these same issues, too, with marketing terms like “heritage grain” and “heritage pork.” Food justice advocate and community organizer Shakirah Simley explains, “Whose past and contributions are we honoring when we adopt words like ‘heritage’? American food culture gives a lot credence to our European roots, but fails to fully acknowledge the recipes, foodways, techniques, knowledge of the African and native/indigenous people that shaped our land, agriculture, and culinary history. Early colonial cookbooks solidified earliest American recipes but were published mostly by wealthy white authors (who were allowed to read/write). It’s not a mistake that we’ve had very little cookbooks or fermentation guides by indigenous people or African Americans with a very few notable exceptions.”
After Emancipation, states passed laws making it illegal for people of color to own land, and in the decades to come, these people would be continually discriminated against based on the color of their skin including the ability to get loans, an education, the right to vote, and so much more. We have a shortage of black farm owners, winemakers, cidermakers, and business owners today because they weren’t allowed to have access to land and capital when our white ancestors were. When we celebrate the heritage of third- and fourth-generation white farmers, we aren’t talking about how they got access to the land they are farming or acknowledging those who weren’t given those same opportunities. Wealth and land ownership are intrinsically tied in this country. Heritage and slavery are intrinsically tied in this country.
“From the table to a restaurant to fermentations, if we don’t take the time collectively to understand our history, even the hard parts, we’re going to keep having this conversation over and over again. And why wouldn’t you be proud to properly honor our history and our traditions? And why would you exclude this huge group of people who contributed to that history?” says Scruggs. “Words do matter.”
We should honor the past—the whole past—and embrace a term that doesn’t whitewash over the racist parts of cider’s history. Other food and beverage organizations have embraced terms like “heirloom,” “orchard,” “good,” “clean,” and “fair” to separate products based on ingredients and integrity. We should create pathways to accurately highlight stories from our past and celebrate diversity in the industry as it grows. I urge GLINTCAP, the USACM, other organizations, and cidermakers to rename the Heritage Cider and Heritage Perry categories. I urge our entire industry to stop referencing colonial times and the Founding Fathers unless they plan on sharing the story of their slaves, who made their lives possible. I also urge our industry to consider making a certification and annual award named after Jupiter Evans. Seeing a cidermaker honored with the Jupiter Award every year, for example at CiderCon, would be a great first step in making this industry more inclusive. I want to envision a future where great cidermakers strive to gain a Jupiter Certification, the industry’s highest honor in quality, sourcing, and transparency in cidermaking. Let’s finally pay tribute where it is really due.
Olivia Maki is the co-owner of Redfield Cider Bar & Bottle Shop in Oakland, California, and one of the voices behind the cider podcast Redfield Radio. In her career building community around food, drink, and agriculture, she has organized educational experiences at 18 Reasons and handled marketing and communications for the Farmers Guild and FarmsReach. Olivia is a senior manager for Bio-Logical Capital, a land investment and conservation company, and previously served as communications advisor for Kitchen Table Advisors and Real Food Real Stories. She has farmed in California and Vermont and worked with apple growers for the past eight years. She is the current Chair for the Cider Category for the Good Food Awards.
Sidebar: USACM Seeks Style Guide Feedback
According to USACM Executive Director Michelle McGrath, the association’s Cider Style Guide is a living document. “The cider industry is evolving, so we should be, too,” she says. The USACM has updated the guide twice since its first release in the fall of 2017, both times based on the feedback of the cider industry. The association is currently seeking input from cidermakers and industry professionals on existing styles as well as suggestions for new ones. Visit the USACM’s website to offer feedback (ciderassociation.org) by July 31. --Ed.
This is my first editor's note originally published in Spring 2018 / Issue 1, for some background as to why I decided to start Malus. —Ellen
This project almost seems inevitable. Words and print have been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. I published my own newspaper when I was 10; I was editor of my high school yearbook; I’ve been a book and magazine editor for over 20 years. But I never thought I’d commit these skills to cider. Until three years ago, as my mom lay dying.
After she passed, I struggled to justify all the time, money, energy, and anxiety I have expended over our cider business. Should I be doing something more significant with my life? But this work has never been just about money. It is personal, political, philosophical. It is how I connect to nature, agriculture, culture, community, history. It is how I’ve learned a lot about myself, my values, my motives. But I wasn’t sure how to adequately express these lessons and experiences. Social media and blog posts weren’t the right formats. Everyone goes on to the next shiny thing online. TL;DR. Trade and consumer publications are more interested in marketing products and ad-driven content. Precisely what I was reacting against.
Not long afterward, my New York–based cider friends Sabine Hrechdakian and Joy Doumis and I hatched a plan to start up an different kind of cider magazine. Neither Sabine nor Joy were able to pursue it further, but the seed had been planted. Then late last year, while I was on a much-needed hiatus from social media, sick of the cheapening and bastardization of cider and apples—and everything, really—I felt the pull to go back to my zine roots, to print, to giving voice to those like me. And so began Malus.
Malus is the genus of apple species, but it also sounds like malice. To be clear, nothing in these pages is malevolent, yet there is definitely an edge. Malus may be provocative. It may touch a nerve. The tagline is “in search of cider’s soul,” after all, and one cannot go about the difficult work of self-discovery without asking tough questions, exposing hard truths, and ultimately revealing great beauty. My hope is that Malus helps deepen the conversation about cider in America.
Malus is a print zine. Even though print is expensive and self-limiting, this format allows readers to spend quality time with the work without all the distractions inherent to our social media–fueled and clickbait-driven lifestyle. It is lo-fi, text-heavy, and subscriber-driven. No product reviews or fluff. The contributors are cidermakers, orchardists, and evangelists.
Malus is a work in progress. Think of this inaugural issue as an op-ed page that merged with a chapbook that crashed into an antiquarian print shop. Subsequent issues may be more journalistic. It will shapeshift over time, just like cider, and I will let it evolve organically, as wild apples do.
Malus is inclusive. That does not mean that I believe that “all cider is good” or that I will publish every viewpoint. It does mean that I am committed to equal representation of female and male contributors. I need more geographic and ethnic diversity—cider is so white!—so please email me with leads on cider thinkers of color and from the middle of the country.
Special thanks to Sabine and Joy for the early motivation, and to my co–Sonoma Pomona, Darlene Hayes, for her support and for helping me to become less reactionary and more disciplined. I am infinitely grateful to my brilliant, brave contributors who share their talent and passion so honestly. Even if you don’t agree with them, I hope you will appreciate what they bring to the table, and honor them with respect and an open mind.
I hope you enjoy getting to know Malus. I welcome your thoughtful feedback, your letters, and your own stories. --Ellen Cavalli