Yo La Tengo--"Autumn Sweater" (mp3)
I fear that I have written this before, and perhaps I have, though I can't find it, so ingrained is it in the yearly cycles of my life.
There are any number ways to tell ourselves that the seasons have changed, that summer things must be left behind, that the coolness and the crispness of fall has taken their places.
For me, it is apple cider.
My family likes to tease me about my stated desire: "Dad likes a fall trip." Still, yesterday, we headed down to Dawsonville, Georgia to an outlet mall, a destination which has its own rewards and which offers so many savings, especially in a down economy, that you can't help but come home broke. Oh, the savings!
But to get there and to get home, you have to go through apple country. Apple country in Georgia ranges from hilly to mountainous, reachable only by small backroads that can clog when the fall celebrations reach a fever pitch of corn mazes and hayrides and carnivals and festivals, but in mid-to-late September, it's still pretty navigable.
By now, most of the harvest is in, but a stop at one of the many apple company stores is still a confused blend of summer and fall--the last of the tomatoes and zuchinni and okra available but off to the side, making way for fall crops of sweet potatoes and potatoes and gourds and pumpkins and ornamental squash and, most of all, apples.
Apples of every kind--Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Mushu, Jongold, Honeycrisp, Staymen Winesap, and more. Apples in every form--in bushels, pecks, and 1/2 pecks, dried and packaged, glistening in fried pies, baked into breads and other desserts, jarred as butters, and jellies, and applesauces. Even frozen into apple slushies.
And most of all, cider. Not bottled cider, which only has its cloudiness to distinguish from apple juice. And not hot cider, so laden with spices and likely to burn your tongue that the appleness of it is a secondary concern. You may as well drink chai.
No, I am talking about the ice cold cider, the liquid gold, the nectar of the gods. Cider whose first sip leaves you craving the second and so on until you have drained the glass. Cider that starts the day, or pairs with cheese, or sits patiently on a table in your backyard while you watch the leaves trickle down. A glass of cider is a glass of nature, the most perfect liquid in the world, whose flavor matches the fruit it comes from exactly.
A superior gallon of cider is not accidental. It is a brewing masterpiece, no different from a fine wine or whiskey, a blend of the sweetness, the tartness, the earthiness, the almost-potatoness of different kinds of apples, mixed in the proper proportions for the time of the season. For, yes, cider changes. The cider you buy in September will taste different from the cider you buy at the same place in December. Different apples ripen at different times, and ripen differently, so that where you taste them in their ripening can affect the taste of the cider dramatically.
I like ice cold water, coffee, milk, orange juice, root beer, iced tea, wine, beer, a good gin and tonic. But I love cider. And I love the four months that it is available, especially the batches from Fairmount Orchards on Signal Mountain, which I consider to be the best I've ever tasted. What ever else we may have to say about autumn, about the dying and the death of things, there is no doubt in my mind that a glass of apple cider is the glass of how delicious life can be.