On Finding Real Apple Cider

Jonathan Kauffman
Rainbow Orchards' cider: $4/quart at the Inner Sunset Farmers Market.
Fall in Indiana began with the start of school. Then came the heavy jackets, the leaf mounds and rake-blistered hands, and the weekly trips to the orchard to fill up our jugs with fresh-pressed cider. For two or three months, we drank our fill: Movies were always accompanied by popcorn and cider, parties with Crock Pots of mulled cider that filled the house with cinnamon and cloves. I'd drink the stuff until my stomach hurt, then wait until the next day, and be at the jug again. By the time winter came, the Kauffmans would be so sick of cider that the jugs would sit in the fridge until they got fizzy and sour, not alcoholic enough to get us buzzed but well on the way to becoming vinegar.

The cider days disappeared when I left Indiana ― any unfiltered apple juice I found in the store was pasteurized, which stripped out the flavor, rendering it innocuously sweet. For a spell, jugs of unfiltered cider would occasionally appear at Rainbow Grocery in the fall, but the 1996 Odwalla E. coli outbreak seemed to end that.

Last week, however, at the Inner Sunset farmers' market, I stopped by the Rainbow Orchards stand and found them selling jugs of murky brown cider. Yes, it was unpasteurized and unfiltered. Yes, it tasted like the real thing ― with a honeylike, almost floral sweetness and enough spice to prickle my tongue.

As San Francisco's neighborhood farmers markets have proliferated, Rainbow Orchards, based in Camino, has become a real player. Its stands show up at close to two dozen Bay Area markets, including Civic Center (Wednesday and Sunday), Divisadero (Sunday), Inner Sunset (Sunday), Crocker Galleria (Thursday), Alemany (Saturday), and Fillmore (Saturday). The jugs it sells range from Odwalla-size to gallons, and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks before starting to go hard.

According to Betty, the woman I spoke to at the orchard's bakeshop in Camino, Rainbow Orchards presses apples three to four times a week during peak apple season; after the bakeshop closes in December, the farmers market stands continue to sell cider pressed from cellared apples all the way through April. The orchard follows FDA guidelines for maintaining a still room and disinfecting its equipment. (The FDA still permits small orchards and juice bars to sell unpasteurized cider directly to consumers.) Right now, Betty surmised, the apples in the cider would include Jonagolds, Galas, and Goldens, plus whatever else they have on hand. Granny Smiths will soon be added to the mix, which may tart it up ― not a bad thing.

So: a fall ritual, restored after all these years. Until I called the orchard, I had no idea the cider season would last so long, so I parsed out the quart into dainty glasses. Come Sunday, I plan to lug home twice as much ― one quart for chugging now, one to store in the back of the fridge for a couple of weeks. Just to see what might happen.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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