I once had a friend who lived on Mount Warner in Hadley. Walks in the woods behind his house always brought us to a large, abandoned orchard on the northern slopes of that modest mountain. Even with a summit that only reaches 512 feet, toward the top the views could be spectacular, framed by the haunting, gnarled limbs of the ancient fruit-bearing trees around us.
A favorite picture I have of my wife is from a picnic we shared with my friend in that orchard on Sunday, the Connecticut River sweeping behind her in the afternoon sun. It was September 10, 2001, the day before everything changed.
In addition to the global political and economic shifts that have occurred since that fateful day, the orchard's also changed. It's no longer abandoned.
The Carr family moved to North Hadley about a half dozen years ago, intent on reviving the orchard and turning the barn on the property into a ciderhouse. They moved into a home just at the base of the mountain. The orchard is directly across Lake Warner from them.
As lovely as the old trees were, they were unreliable for serious cider production, so new trees were planted and are just beginning to yield fruit, but still not enough to make cider. This summer, though, Jonathan Carr finished refurbishing a century-old Mount Gilead cider press (he thinks it might be the oldest in operation in New England) and was itching to begin. So, with apples from another local orchard, cider production commenced.
Carr and his wife, Nicole Blum, shared the inaugural results at an open house a few nights before Christmas.
Though they make a sparkling cider which is low in alcohol (around 6 percent), that night they served one of their ice ciders, which is closer to 12 percent. Offered in champagne flutes with cheese and crackers, the crisp, dry cider was delicious, saturated with sharp apple flavors. Carr compares it to "a dry, still white wine like Gruner Veltliner."
There was a time when cider was more popular than beer, and presses could be found across New England. For celebrations in the new year, try a taste of the local past. Carr's Cider can be found at Provisions in Northampton and Four Seasons in Hadley.