Get Stuffed 

The joy of cider

Apples from a bottle that bite

Ever last drop of moisture in the dusty, clay hills around Irún has been squeezed out of them by the time the end of August rolls around. Here the sun is no fool, it’s a professional at commanding respect: The withered grasses and almond trees that dot the hillsides look like they’re begging for mercy.

By the time we reached this small Spanish city in the heart of Basque country just a stone’s throw from the French border, we, too, were begging – for a long cool drink. But, surprise, it was Sunday morning and there was no sign of life, except for a small miserable donkey, who could barely be counted as being amongst the living, and a couple of straggly cats.

So what can a couple of Canadian tourists do? Roam the empty streets, poking our heads in darkened doorways and watching ourselves reflected in shop windows, like this one displaying a modest assortment of small green bottles with rubber plug stoppers, anonymous contents and no labels.

We were just about to turn away when a shadow inside moved across our reflections. Amazing! A shop that was open.

Ten minutes later we walked out with an assortment of thick breads and thicker sausages and without a doubt the best cider known to humankind. We devoured our impromptu picnic right in the front seat of our rental car, washing down the bread and sausage with big gulps from the small green bottles of cider the shopkeeper had plucked from his window.

I’ve been searching ever since to replicate that crisp, bittersweet, fulsome cider taste.

We, in North America at least, have drifted far from the days, say in 17 th and 18 th century Europe, when cider was more popular than, and, dare I say it just before Cornucopia, more revered than wine. In fact, the only proper vessel to drink chilled cider from back then was a beautiful stemmed crystal glass, shaped much like a contemporary champagne flute, but with a shorter bowl and wider mouth to better appreciate the aroma and effervescence. Many cider glasses were also etched with apple tree and fruit motifs, or a great sun beaming down on an orchard.

So many types of cider exist – and, no, I don’t mean because there are so many people who try making their own cider in their basement, because one cider maker in New York alone has more than 1,000 varieties of cider apples growing in his orchard – that I’m also waiting for the day when cider, good cider, commands it’s own B.C. festival; where we could sort through the best of them – dry, semisweet, sweet, sparkling and still – and celebrate them all.

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