Working at the IGA store in Germantown was my first real job. After about a year, I became the assistant manager of the produce section.
I enjoyed it. Keeping the shelves stocked with fresh produce was a challenge.
In those days, we still exchanged pop bottles and beer bottles for a few cents at the produce window. That kept us busy most of the time. We didn’t have to clean them out, but we had to keep them separated by brand and neatly stacked. It was always a challenge.
Then our store manager made a deal with a local orchard owner to stock their homemade apple cider. I would keep the plastic, gallon jugs in our large walk-in cooler. In the fall, those jugs sold quickly.
After Thanksgiving the demand dropped, and the plastic jugs would sit in the cooler for a few weeks. One day, I noticed the jugs were starting to swell a little.
I opened one of them and it hissed a little as I unscrewed the cap. That got my curiosity up, so I asked our store manager about it.
He said, “Oh, no. It sounds like it’s going hard.” I asked what that meant, and he explained that fresh apple cider could go hard and develop an alcohol content. He told me to take the bottles out back and dump them. I was a very curious teenager.
That cider had to be tasted before dumping it.
It certainly didn’t taste like simple apple cider anymore. It had developed a bit of a kick – a very tasty kick. I dumped all but one jug. A few of my friends joined me at the edge of woods. We killed that jug and made our way on home.
The next day wasn’t very pleasant. In fact, it took a few months before I could stomach the taste of applesauce. Eventually, I got over it. Thank goodness.
In Ohio, we can thank Johnny Appleseed for the ongoing popularity of apple cider. His real name was John Chapman, but after planting apple trees and starting orchards throughout the region, he became known as Johnny Appleseed.
Johnny didn’t plant the tasty variety of apples we have today – yellow delicious or red delicious. He favored a small apple. It was small and very tart. People called it a “spitter,” because that’s what people were prone to do after biting into one.
Although it was almost inedible, it was great for making hard cider and another potent drink called applejack.
During the early frontier days, it was unlikely that an apple would end up in a pie. It was far more likely that the apple would end up in a barrel of cider.
Drinking water was usually a problem. It was common for water to be contaminated with bacteria.
However, the alcohol in cider would kill the bacteria and provided a safe drink. Cider took the place of beer, wine and even water in most frontier homes.
Legend has it that Johnny Appleseed liked his pant legs to become ragged and torn. It is also said that he preferred not to wear shoes. He apparently chose to live in poverty.
He carried little with him as he walked the wilderness trails of the Midwest. It is said that he didn’t even carry a pot to cook in, but instead Johnny preferred to wear a pot on his head like a cap. In some places he became known as Tincap Appleseed.
He was an odd-looking man as he hiked the woods and plains of the Midwest. It is said that the Native Americans left him alone and even treated him with respect as someone who had been touched by the Great Spirit.
Besides spreading apple seeds, he also preached and spread the word of God. He converted many members of the American tribes to Christianity. He ended his lifetime of walking in Indiana. Johnny Appleseed lived to the ripe old age of 75 years old. He is buried near Fort Wayne, Indiana.
To honor his legend, the Fort Wayne minor league baseball team recently changed their name from the Fort Wayne Wizards to the Fort Wayne Tincaps and their mascot (a large apple wearing a tincap) is named Johnny.
There is a museum in Urbana dedicated to Johnny Appleseed and his work.
Here in Wilmington, we have a delightful cidery on Sugartree Street that would definitely bring a smile to Johnny’s face.
A local couple, Michelle and Jason, are from a family of beer, wine and cider makers. They had a dream of opening a cidery in Wilmington, and after years of planning and toil their business is now one of the landmarks of fellowship, fun and beverage on Sugartree Street. It is appropriately named “Tin Cap.”
Indeed, Johnny Appleseed would be proud.
Randy Riley is a former mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County commissioner.