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A Bucks County original returns home


After almost 100 years the Smith Cider apple, a Bucks County original, has returned home. The apple’s return is the result of a multi-year project led by Gary and Amy Manoff of Manoff Market Gardens and Cidery in Solebury.

Prior to Prohibition, and the rise of Adams County as a Pennsylvania orcharding center, Bucks County was one of the major apple producing areas on the East Coast. The nexus of this production was the corner of Solebury where Manoff Market Gardens, Comfort Farm, Paxson Hill and Burgess Lea converge.

Pomological and nursery catalogs from 1817 onward make repeated note of the quality and quantity of Bucks County apples. Yet, despite this quantity, as far as historical records show, only two of the apple varieties originated in Bucks: the Townsend and Smith Cider. Apples are not native to the United States, so these apples were bred and cultivated here.

The Townsend pre-dates the arrival of William Penn. The Lenape enjoyed it, though it was eventually named for the farm near Greenhill Road where the original tree grew. The Townsend went with the migration of farm labor to the American South at the beginning of the 19th century where it took on the name Saeger. It has since gone extinct. The Smith Cider nearly fell to the same fate.

Until Prohibition there were 17,000 distinct American apple varieties across the country. Because many of the trees were used for hard cider production the temperance movement went through the orchards and cut down trees. The entire cultural heritage of 12,000 unique American apple varieties, built over generations between diverse peoples, went extinct this way.

The Smith Cider was bred by Bucks County orchardists for hard cider production, though it was also used for drying and fresh eating. Until the influx of Polish, German and Irish immigrants into the country, beer drinking cultures, hard cider was the drink of choice for Americans of all classes. The ciderhouse dominated.

The cider made from the Smith Cider apple was noted for its high quality. After the Battle of Trenton Hessian soldiers fleeing to Virginia took cuttings, budwood, from Smith Cider trees with them. A widely adaptable apple it established itself across the American South rapidly and took on new names – Bucks County Cider, Jackson Winesap, Smith’s Superb, Choice Kentuck – but they were all Smith Cider. It was the early wide spreading of the Smith Cider, especially into isolated rural pockets, that allowed it to survive the temperance movement in ways the Townsend, and other apples, could not. For a variety of reasons Smith Cider production in Bucks County dropped off, with the last recorded harvests happening around the time the temperance supporters came through with their axes. As far as it’s known, the Smith Cider has not been grown, nor been used for an American dry hard cider, by a Bucks County orchard since1920. Until now.

After 35 years of farming Gary and Amy Manoff are still finding new ways to use their products. Four years ago Gary and his farmhands built a cidery at the back of the market. The first test pressings of hard cider came shortly thereafter. This began a long study of both classic and new cider-making techniques.

On a trip to Somerset, England, to study the old methods of cider making, Gary and Amy discovered that their friend Chuck Shelton of Albermarle Ciderworks in Garden, Va., had plantings of the Smith Cider.

Shelton sent budwood to the Manoffs and over the course of a long afternoon Gary and Brett Saddington of Bedminster Orchard grafted some 300 heirloom apple varieties, of which 20 were Smith Cider.

After a month in controlled refrigeration, to allow the grafts to heal, the trees were planted into a nursery row at Manoff Market Gardens. They remained in-row for a year to become hardy and receive their initial training. Then, on Thursday April 4, 2019, the Smith Cider trees were dug up and transplanted to their final home on the Manoff farm.

Because of the coordinated effort of three family farms the tree that went south in 1776 and survived Prohibition has come back. It is here to stay in its original soil.

The cidery at Manoff Market Gardens looks very different than it did four years ago. Stacks of oak aging barrels line the walls. Looking across the orchard there is a stunning ash and oak bar that Gary, who is also a furniture maker, made from trees he cut down at the Manoff house. Behind the bar is a line of tap handles, turned by Gary from cherry wood grown on the farm.

There are open cider tastings of several cider varieties on Thursdays and Saturdays with seven varieties on tap and five for sale in the bottle. Once the Smith Cider trees come into production, apples are then pressed, fermented and finally aged in oak barrels, the hard cider that results from all this labor, years in the making, will pour forth from one of those taps and into the glasses of happy drinkers.

This is exciting for both Manoff Market Cidery and Bucks County. But really, this is the way things were done here when the Smith Cider first came into being: You built your own place from the ground up with your own hands, you grafted your own trees and made your own furniture from wood you cut.

And you used original Bucks County apples for hard cider, something to raise and toast with friends, to pair with food, to enjoy.