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Book Review: Cider book a rich & refreshing read

Special to The Recorder

“Cider Hard & Sweet” (third edition) by Ben Watson (Countryman Press, 208 pages, $16.95/paperback)

The new edition of Ben Watson’s “Cider Hard & Sweet” actually came out in the fall, just in time for Franklin County’s Cider Days. The author has long been an enthusiastic participant in that annual festival. Happily, winter is an even better season than fall in which to sit down with a glass of cider and a good book.

Billed as a writer, editor and “farm activist” by his publisher, Watson writes about apples and cider with knowledge and passion. He reminds readers that hard cider was the most popular beverage in colonial America (and New England in particular). The cider tasted better and was safer than much of the water available and it was relatively easy and inexpensive to make.

A number of factors contributed to cider’s decline in this country, among them the temperance movement and the increasing urbanization of the American population. Watson rejoices that hard cider has been making a comeback in recent years.

He even holds out hope for local unpasteurized sweet cider, which he calls “real cider.” This was almost snuffed out after a batch led to a small outbreak of E. coli in 1996. He notes that Americans seem to be getting over the fears engendered by that outbreak —and that orchardists are finding less intrusive, less expensive ways to pasteurize cider if they have to.

Watson’s book has many missions. He provides a brief worldwide history of cider. He discusses the different types of hard and sweet cider available. He muses on what makes the best cider, admitting that “best” is a subjective term. He leads the reader through the process of making cider.

He also touches on cider-related products like vinegar, Calvados, and applejack. He teaches the reader how to hold a cider-tasting party. And he provides a number of mouth-watering recipes.

I use hard cider only for cooking. Although I love sweet cider, I can buy it at local orchards (or make some at my neighbors’ annual cider-pressing party) so easily that I have never been tempted to make my own. I consequently skimmed over the book’s sections about manufacturing one’s own cider.

I found the rest of “Cider Hard & Sweet” as rich and refreshing as a glass of cider, however. Watson is supremely knowledgeable about his subject matter. When he expresses his enthusiasm about apples and cider, he is poetic.

His book is ideal for anyone who wants to learn more about cider and especially for anyone who contemplates making this quintessential New England beverage at home.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of The Pudding Hollow Cookbook (www.merrylion.com) and Pulling Taffy (www.pullingtaffy.com). She is always looking for new books from Franklin County-related authors to review for this paper. If you have a book suggestion, email her at Tinky@merrylion.com.

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