Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

We ♥ The Big Apple

28th November 2014

Henry's Travels

If I were to tell you that New York’s nickname “The Big Apple” has nothing actually to do with apples you may not be surprised – you may even already know that. If you don’t, it’s a term that came from the racecourses that were all around New York in the first half of the 20th Century.

Legend has it that the black stable boys who followed the horses at shorter quarter mile tracks from New Orleans through the West and Mid East, referred to New York as The Big Apple. It was here the prize money and opportunity were the grandest. Overhearing this phrase at one New York track, John J Fitzgerald, a reporter for The Telegraph at the time, used it as the header for what became his regular column “Around the Big Apple”. 

Equal credit can be given for endorsing its use as part of the vernacular to the jazzmen of the 30’s and 40’s; they also referred to the city in much the same way as the stable boys overheard by Fitzgerald. Here, in Manhattan, the audiences were the largest, hippest and most appreciative. Here too, the money was the greatest. If you overheard a jazzman of the day saying he had a gig in The Big Apple, you knew exactly where he was heading and why. The rest, as they say, is history.

Oh no, hang on, it’s not actually – as with all the best stories, there has been the odd twist and turn on the way. Contrary to popular understanding, “The Big Apple” fell out of favour big time by the 60’s and by the 1970’s was largely forgotten. And by the ‘70’s, New York was quite a grim place, known for its blackouts, strikes, street crime and occasional riots. No longer was it seen as quite the city of opportunity it had once been. In order to revive the flagging image of the city and attract more tourists, the idea was hit on to revive the old nickname. What, after all, was more wholesome a symbol of renewal than a luscious looking red apple?

At the same time, the “I ♥ NY” campaign was launched, accompanied by a cheerful Big Apple logo in innumerable forms (t-shirts, fridge magnets, shopping bags, ashtrays, bumper stickers and too many others to mention). And so it has stuck, and as with many others, we have a story and a symbol whose true origins are somewhat different from its present day incarnation. Nothing necessarily wrong with that; I think I prefer the current version, though we all do well to remember the original.

Happily, the modern day story of apples and New York is more about finding the true origins of the association with, and reawakening of, what has been a long forgotten relationship. New York Cider Week continues to expand its reach, and capture the imagination of the city’s residents. This was the fourth – and my second, and the change in pace of awareness and interest in cider has been extraordinary to see. I’ve written before of the boom in cider in the US; and every time I return I realise I have completely under-estimated just how massive the momentum is. True, there is the shiny, plump, almost artificial look that defines the mass produced mainstream brands; but in parallel to these there is a passion, a dedication, and a huge respect for the past manifesting in an array of new ciders that is difficult to keep up with.

I usually list my “5 favourites” when I come over, but on this occasion I have 12 to choose from, 8 of which are made by cideries I had never heard of previously, and most from New York. So whether you prefer the modern incarnation or the original, in cider terms New York remains both a city of huge opportunity, as well as a potent symbol of the renewal of America’s oldest drinking tradition. That can only be a good thing.