In Europe and pre-Prohibition America, apples were more often drunk than eaten. And nearly all of that cider was alcoholic—what we now call hard cider. Before refrigeration, all apple juice would soon turn from a sweek drink to a fermented brew. Cider was considered a safe drink for everyone, even children. Most homes and taverns served cider rather than water or milk.
Nearly everyone in colonial America had an orchard and nearly everyone preserved their apple harvest by making cider. Cider was easy to make—you simply needed to crush some fruit in something like this large cider press from Stone Lake, Wisconsin. It wasn’t all for drinking. Cider was also the first step on the way to cider vinegar, an important preservative used to pickle fruits and vegetables.
Cider was so important to the colonial economy that people would pay for everything from housewares to schooling with barrels of cider. Cider was America’s founding drink. The Temperance movement changed perceptions of cider, though, and consumption dropped off rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Temperance—and eventually Prohibition—also changed the language. Americans began calling what had long been known simply as “cider” to “hard cider” as a way to distinguish it from the sweet juice (apple juice) that Temperance and refrigeration made possible. Most of the world, though, continues to mean an alcoholic drink when they say “cider.”