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Bad apples

(article, Melanie Mesaros)

If you live in an area where apples are plentiful, the beginning of a sweet season is underway. Fresh-squeezed cider is more than a seasonal treat; it’s a rite of fall, especially when paired with a homemade doughnut. 

But unpasteurized cider is getting harder and harder to find. The elderly and very young have been warned for years about the threat of E. coli bacteria turning up in apple cider after deaths were linked to contaminated juice. As a result, the FDA now requires sellers of unpasteurized juice to put warnings on their labels.
Apples arrived in North America via early English colonists, who wanted them not for pies but for the boozy satisfaction of cider. These days, Washington state leads the U.S. in apple production, followed by New York and Michigan, which recently officially declared October “Apple Cider Month.” 

[%image feed-image float=right width=300 credit="Photo: iStockphoto/sparkia" caption="Doughnuts, cider, and E. coli?"]

Pasteurized cider is heat-treated to kill bacteria and the apple pulp (or sediment) is filtered out. But many cider-makers believe that filtering the sediment from the juice changes the final flavor; it's the sediment, they say, that gives the juice its cloudy, caramel color and tartness. As the apple season progresses and different varieties become available for processing, the taste of the cider changes, too.

According to the University of Georgia agricultural extension program, apples must be free of any spoiled areas (blemishes are okay) before they are cored and pressed for sweet juice. In Michigan, dropped or windfall apples are not permitted for use in the production of fresh cider, since they may have picked up contamination from the ground or have begun to rot. 

If you want to make sure no E. coli lurks in your cider — and you're not dosing your kids with the stuff — make like those early colonists and go for the hard stuff. Hard cider is made when apples are left to ferment like wine. In Portland, Oregon, Cyderworks makes a sparkling hard cider that requires more than a year to produce from harvest to bottle. From New York to Massachusetts, the hard-cider business has become an art form. Dozens of small-batch producers are turning out varieties complete with tasting notes on tannins. And you can even find instructions (via Cornell University) for how to brew your own.

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