Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Little Perry Never Hurt Anyone

My brother, Leon (who was one year older than me), and I enjoyed 'hanging out' at my paternal grandparents' house.

My grandfather, Eldon Smith (whom we called, Pap), would look at Leon, and say: "Hey Boy, hand me that newspaper over there." A little later on, I would be getting a drink of water at the kitchen sink. Pap would call out to me: "Hey Boy, take that cup up to the shed and get me some cider."

Now I should point out ~ neither I, nor my brother, was ever offended by the fact that Pap called me, and/or him by the common name of Boy. What might have angered someone else at Pap's use of the seemingly derogatory or condescending name was endearing to me and my brother. We actually laughed about it at times; we figured that he couldn't remember our names, and so he just used the name Boy for both of us. As the years passed, and long after Pap was laid to rest, Leon and I called each other "Boy", probably to the amusement of others hearing us.

In any case, this post wasn't just meant to be about my grandfather and what he called me. It actually was meant to be about perry - and its cousin, cider. (That explains the photo of pear blossoms at the top of this post.)

Most people are familiar with, and enjoy drinking, apple cider ~ especially in the Autumn, when fresh apples are harvested. What they might not be so familiar with, and perhaps have never even tried, is the same drink, albeit made with pears ~ perry. Whether to extend the amount of drink to be made from one's available harvest, or whether for the blended taste, pears might be added to the apples as they were being mashed into cider. But the pears, alone, would produce an enjoyable drink similar to cider.

Now, it's no secret that through the years since the Colonial Period, most cider was drunk in its hard form, meaning after it had fermented and become 'alcoholic'. Perry, made from pears, would also undergo fermentation due to the presence of lactic acid bacteria in the pears. In the 'old days', before the use of refrigerators to keep food and drinks cold ~or~ before liquids could be sealed in glass or metal containers to preserve their freshness, cider and perry was stored in wooden casks and barrels. The tannic acid in the wood of the barrel would encourage the fermentation

When my grandfather would take apples and pears to the press to have them mashed, he would obtain enough cider and perry to fill two large barrels ~ about twenty or thirty gallons worth. The two barrels would then last Pap and my grandmother through the whole winter and into the next spring and summer. The longer the cider lasted, the harder it got.

To return to something I noted above ~ When Pap would tell me to take the cup up to the shed to get him some cider, he would be referring to the tin cup that was kept on the kitchen sink. Everyone used that same cup when you wanted a drink of water ~ or cider. Of course, after using the cup you were expected to rinse it out. Anyways, when told to get him some cider, Pap was directing me to take the tin cup, and to go to the small shed beside the barn that stood on a slightly sloping hill ~ in which the barrels were kept ~ positioned on their sides and nestled on X-shaped cradles. On each barrel, a wooden spigot had been pounded into a bung hole. I'd hold the tin cup under the spigot and turn the 'handle', meaning I'd loosen the wooden stopper so that the cider or perry would flow through the spigot. I'd then carefully carry the cup full of cider down the slope of the hill to give to my waiting grandfather.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention ~ I usually stole a 'sip' out of the cup myself before taking it down to Pap. I thought I was getting away with something ~ because we kids were not supposed to drink the cider after it had turned hard ~ but I'm sure that Pap knew that I had taken a sip... Maybe that's why he would send me to get him a cup full instead of getting it himself.

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