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.