“Cider and doughnuts belong together. This is the proper toast to our bright fall weather.”
With those words, Edith Labbie started her weekly column on Oct. 5, 1974, in the Lewiston Evening Journal Magazine Section.
She recalled the annual drive with her husband, John, out Minot Avenue in Auburn to George Nichols’ cider stand. There, they would exchange empty gallon jugs for filled ones “gleaming with the amber essence of October.” She praised its “tangy taste of frosty morning and the sweet mellowness of autumn noontimes.”
There’s an abundance of New England folklore related to cider and a good deal of the stories tell of a drink with a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. It was a common household beverage, served at family gatherings for many generations. On the other hand, “hard cider” was an illegal intoxicant during the years of prohibition.
The Labbie column noted that “frozen cider, known as applejack, has liberated many a tongue for an evening of storytelling.” She said barn raisings, ordinations and the arrival of a new baby were all occasions that called for “the raising of the cups.”
Laws were enacted to require the addition of preservatives so cider would not ferment, but there was a ready market for “hard cider.”
In 1906, a grocer in New Auburn had to argue in court whether the 85 gallons of cider seized by police from his basement was “good honest cider used only by the housewives of New Auburn for the purpose of making succulent mince pies.”
That news story quipped that “several of the male inhabitants take their mince meat in liquid form, with the meat apples and spices left out.”
In some years, the apple harvests were ample and cider flowed freely. In November of 1902, the Lewiston Daily Sun said, “The new cider venders are numerous in Lewiston. Owing to the large apple crop, more cider than usual was made this year.”
Hinting that sometimes the cider makers stretched their yield, one man said, “Apples are so plentiful this fall that the cider mill men do not have to use the ‘pump’ in order to increase the quantity of juice. Apples are cheaper than water this year.”
Just about every farm with a few apple trees pressed some cider each year. Every neighborhood had a cider mill or two, and the cider presses were manually operated. A heavy-duty screw press mashed the cut-up slices of apple.
One of those machines was known as the “Whitman Cider Mill.” It was the “same kind as they used to make in Auburn a few years ago, according to a 1906 ad from Geo. B. Haskell Co. Lewiston. The ad said, “We found people would not be satisfied with any other so we bought them this season. Three sizes, Senior, Medium and Junior.”
There was also a news item from a 1904 issue of the Lewiston Daily Sun that reported a novel use of a cider mill by a Mr. Sawyer at East Auburn. It said, “Mr. Sawyer has at two different times hauled peat here from his bog in Lewiston and had it ground fine in the cider mill, after which it is pressed in forms and used as fuel.”It was said to be cheaper than coal.
The story noted that “it is a lot of work to clean the cider press after the peat has been run through it.” It also said, “Much interest is felt in this locality in this new method of procuring fuel and many stories of the peat bog are being recalled by older citizens.”
Fresh cider and a variety of apples are currently available at orchards and farm stands throughout the area. Edith Labbie included a recipe for mulled cider in her 1974 column, and it might be worth a try.
A version to serve 12 people was as follows: two quarts of cider, two-thirds cup brown sugar, a quarter tsp. salt, six whole cloves, six whole allspice, and four cinnamon sticks. Bring to a boil, simmer and then strain.
“That will warm you down to your toes,” she wrote.
Her column ended with the declaration that “Fresh cider is fit for the gods. Hot or cold, in pies or cakes, it puts the granite of New England in our heart and in our soul.”
Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to email@example.com.