GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
In this advertisement, Isaac Gray lists goods for sale, including “CYDER”. Mark Turdo provides descriptions of cider written in the eighteenth century by Reverend Israel Acrelius as part of A History of New Sweden: Or, the Settlements on the River Delaware. Acrelius included many different kinds of cyder, such as “Apple-wine (cider),” “Cider Royal,” and “Mulled cider,” and “Sampson.” Colonists used wooden mills to help prepare cider. This was a long process that began with a horse-powered grinding up apples. They then placed the apples under a press until the juice ran off. The juice went into a barrel and left to ferment. If the apples were “not of a good sort,” they boiled the cider and added a few pounds of ground ginger into it, and it became “more wholesome and better for cooking.” Acrelius stated, “This liquor is usually unwholesome, causes ague when it is fresh, and colic when it is too old.” Some people heated their cider with a red-hot iron.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
When they visited Isaac Gray’s warehouse to purchase cider, some customers likely acquired some of the grocery items also listed in his advertisement, intending to use them to enhance the beverage. As Bryant notes, Israel Acrelius described adding ginger to one kind of cider, a variation that he called “Apple-wine.” The minister also offered a recipe for “Cider Royal,” made by adding “some quarts of brandy” to a barrel of cider “along with several pounds of Muscovado sugar.” This resulted in a drink that “becomes stronger and tastes better.” It could be further improved by drawing it off into bottles, putting raisins in them, and then allowing the mixture to age “for a year or so.” Gray listed both raisins and “double and single refined loaf and lump sugars” among his wares. Although he did not mention brandy, he carried enough varieties of beer, wine, and spirits that he may have had some brandy among his merchandise as well.
Acrelius also described other sorts of cider commonly consumed in Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century. “Mulled cider” was served warm. In addition to sugar, it included “yolks of eggs and grains of allspice.” Gray named pepper and ginger in his advertisement, but also made a generic nod to other spices that he had in stock. If sugar, eggs, and allspice did not sufficiently enhance mulled cider then Acrelius recommended adding rum “to give it greater strength.” The recipe for “Sampson” required fewer ingredients: “Sampson is warmed cider with rum in it.” Gray certainly offered rum for sale, though he referred to it as “OLD Jamaica spirits.” In a final variation, “Cider Royal of another kind,” Acrelius described a mixture “in which one-half is cider and the other mead [honey liquor], both freshly fermented together.”
Gray marketed his “CYDER” for home consumption. Some customers may have enjoyed it in its original form as purchased from his warehouse, but Acrelius suggests that many others would have doctored it to their own tastes before they consumed it. In that regard, Gray operated a business similar to modern liquor stores that provide not only alcoholic beverages but also various accouterments, such as tonics and bitters, to make mixed drinks. Then and now, purveyors of beer, wine, and spirits, sell other products intended to enhance consumers’ enjoyment of their beverages.