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January 6, 2014

Points East: Some strong stuff

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — I worked one winter in the late ‘60s with an old fellow named John Bowers as part time caretaker of Camp Shawnee on Dewey Lake in Floyd County.  John lived in a cabin at the camp through the week, but he went home to Pike County on weekends.  I covered for him while he was away.  Which meant I mostly sat around and did nothing more strenuous than tend to John’s Granny-fighting cider on Friday and Saturday nights when the weather got real cold this time of year. 

He had a cider press and an apple orchard at home.  He stored the cider in gallon soda concentrate jugs that he had accumulated from restaurants and drug stores that sold fountain sodas.  Somehow he canned it at home so the jugs would seal and the cider wouldn’t spoil before he was ready to use it. 

I can’t remember exactly how he did it, just that the process involved putting yeast into the jugs and letting them sit opened in a warm room with a vapor lock plugged into the neck for a few days to ferment and that the cabin smelled like a late fall orchard where the ground was littered with rotten apples.  Not terribly unpleasant, but not appetizing either.  Anyway, you could smell the cabin for a quarter mile before you got to it. 

John would pour the fermented stuff into a half gallon tub, set it outside on cold nights and let it freeze over, break the ice and skim it off the next day, strain the remains through cheese cloth into a milk churn,  and what was left was a potent alcoholic beverage he called Granny fighting cider.   I’m over-simplifying here because it would take several pages to accurately describe the entire process.

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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

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