From Juice to Jug: Cider Making in Western Kentucky

Students at cider press

Students at cider press

In the summer of 1970, Western Kentucky University folk studies student Karen Stewart set out to explore the cider making process at a small home in the even smaller river town of Woodbury, Kentucky. The cider press owners, Randall and Daisy Lytle, were certainly no strangers to the nuances of traditional cider making and shared with Stewart their history of owning a press and working the apples from juice to jug.

Snaking its way through thick forests and sprawling pastures, the Green River skirts the edges of small towns throughout south-central Kentucky. It was on these muddy banks where Lytle, at the time a young boy, received his first cider press from a ninety-year-old riverboat captain. Lytle restored the barely-functioning press to its former glory and began selling homemade cider for fifty-cents a gallon. Several years later, after returning home from serving in World War II, Lytle discovered his press had been sold as scrap iron for twenty cents. It would be another quarter of a century before Lytle found his second press, but the cider was worth the wait.

Enlisting the help of an orchard owner in Logansport, Kentucky, Lytle, along with his wife Daisy, began the intensive process of cider making. Adhering to the motto of “no apple left behind,” the Lytles gathered as many apples as possible, including those with worms, which, according to Daisy, were “just protein, anyway.” After sorting and washing, Lytle placed the apples into a large hopper on the top of the press. With a large crank to one side, the hopper served as a makeshift food processor reducing the apples to a thick pulp, which was collected in a barrel made of wooden slats. Lytle transferred the product to another barrel where a large wooden disc was lowered onto the pulp, squeezing out the juice between the slats. Afterwards, the juice was strained through a cloth into a glass jug, and any remaining pulp was fed to farm animals. Standing in the bottle for several days, the juice would begin the fermentation process, eventually resulting in the crisp, tangy flavor of a well-made cider.

With interest in southern foodways, self-sustainability, and cultivating intentional community at an all-time high, there is comfort in knowing that the Lytles served a vital role in carrying on the legacy of traditional craft brewing.

To access Stewart’s paper online, click here for a digital copy of the finding aid.

For more information relating to Kentucky folk studies, projects, and collections, visit WKU’s Manuscripts and Folklife Archives!

Post written by WKU Folk Studies graduate student Delainey Bowers

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Kentucky Live! presents Joel Pett, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist

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Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Joel Pett spoke in this year’s WKU Libraries’ “Kentucky Live” speaker series on the evening of Thursday, October 19, 2017. at Barnes & Noble Bookstore, a partner with WKU Libraries for community outreach services.

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A Niche Market

The Scioto (Courtney Ellis Collection)

The Scioto (Courtney Ellis Collection)

Thanks to lock and dam construction by the Rough River Navigation Company, incorporated in 1856, the citizens of Hartford and Ohio County, Kentucky once enjoyed regular steamboat traffic along that tributary of the Green River.  Late in the 19th century the Scioto, a 94-foot-long craft owned by the Hartford and Evansville Packet Company, transported both freight and passengers between Hartford and Evansville, Indiana.

The daily demands of operating the Scioto are documented in a collection of bills and receipts held in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Dated 1899, they show the expenses necessary to maintain this floating conveyance of people and goods.  We see purchases of foodstuffs such as flour, peas, corn, butter, coffee, ketchup, sugar and potatoes; provisions such as oil, matches and deck brooms; services rendered for laundering sheets, towels and tablecloths; and repairs to stoves, pipes and flanges.  The Scioto‘s crew did business at both ends of its route, so Hartford and Evansville merchants are well represented.  Some of these firms catered specifically to the steamboat trade, promising to serve their customers’ needs “at all hours.”  Many of the Evansville businesses were appropriately located on Upper Water Street, now Riverside Drive.

Receipt from bakery serving steamboatsClick here to access a finding aid for the Scioto steamboat collection of receipts, and here to learn about our premier collection of Ohio River Valley steamboat photographs.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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The Falling Leaves

Leaves from the Antietam Battlefield

Leaves from the Antietam Battlefield

I now promise to be less attentive to my military duties, which will enable me to pursue my other schemes more successfully.  This is the first feature of my new ‘leaf.’  So wrote Captain Richard Vance in his diary on January 1, 1887.  An Army career of more than 20 years had taken him to postings in the South, the western frontier, and now Texas, but Vance, who had never been particularly fond of the military, was yearning to retire.

By his own account, Vance resembled the stereotypical soldier:  a devoted hunter and scrapper (he was once acquitted of murder), he chided himself over his chronic weakness for women (more about that here).  But he was also widely read and self-taught, and his resolution for 1887 was to focus on the things that truly interested him and that he believed he could master.  “For the present,” he wrote, “I shall confine myself to French, German, Botany & Ornithology.”

Sample from Richard Vance's Ringgold, Texas herbarium

Sample from Richard Vance’s Ringgold, Texas herbarium

While stationed in Texas at Fort Clark, Vance had begun work on an herbarium, but now, garrisoned at Ringgold, he began collecting, analyzing and preserving samples of local flora.  Though he made no claims to being an amateur, let alone professional botanist, Vance carefully researched, organized and classified his finds.  The result was a thick volume of specimens “collected and arranged entirely for my own amusement,” which enabled him to “pass a very pleasant summer at this place.”  While traveling, Vance also preserved leaves from the Antietam battlefield in Maryland and horse nettle from Warren County, Kentucky, where he was born.

Richard Vance’s herbaria are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a collection finding aid.  For more relating to botany and botanists, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Needed “Pure” Bourbon Whiskey

Today, obtaining needed medicine is relatively easy, but during the Civil War years and beyond, few medicines were available. Aspirin, which was discovered in 1849, still would not be used medically until the end of the 20th century. Doctors therefore relied on liquor such as brandy or whiskey to ease pain or disinfect a wound. It was many times the only anesthetic available. Whiskey could be purchased in large barrels but as a recent acquisition for the Department of Library Special Collections highlights, the quality of both brandy and whiskey for medical purposes was being questioned. Dr. William Cutter, of Louisville, KY was sent a “Circular to Physicians and Others, (January 1, 1862)” and it was also placed in such journals as the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal. The New York physicians were asking for assistance to obtain “pure” bourbon whiskey from Kentucky as they could not find the unadulterated product in their area. Cutter promised to provide a “pure article of copper-distilled bourbon whiskey, which [he] trusts will fully meet the requirements of your letter.”
Bourbon, an American corn-based whiskey, is on the rise in popularity, now not as medicine but as a favored beverage. A recent edition of Restaurant News noted, “Bourbon is one of the fastest-growing categories in the beverage alcohol world. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, bourbon and Tennessee whiskey exports topped $1 billion in 2015 for the third straight year.” In 2016, the figure had risen to $1.56 billion.
See this latest acquisition and many other interesting bourbon related items in the Kentucky Research Collections. For more information email or call 270-745-5083.

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“I can’t describe this storm”

Damage near Key West from the 1935 Labor Day hurricane

Damage near Key West from the 1935 Labor Day hurricane

Hugo.  Andrew.  Katrina.  Ike.  Harvey.  Irma.   These names no longer bring people to mind, but rather destructive hurricanes that have visited the United States.  The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections offers many firsthand experiences of these terrifying weather events.  We have already mentioned Andrew in a previous blog, but here are a few more accounts of hurricanes, both named and unnamed:

It was a vicious storm, seemed as tho the world had come to an end. . . .  I wanted to make a dash for the mainland but by that time our car was flooded and it’s a good thing we didn’t start as the storm returned with such greater fury that we would have no doubt been blown in the bay. — Lena Standrod, Miami, Florida, 1926

Miamians know what these hurricanes mean, therefore they know how to make thorough preparations. . . .  The big leaves on the palm trees fluttered on the trees like feathers in a breeze.  Few coconuts fell; they have a good supple stem I suppose.Dee Perguson, Miami, Florida, 1944

Hugo’s aftermath is far more powerful than his presence. . . .  Outside the scene was shocking.  It looked like a war zone.  The German lady up the street said it reminded her of Berlin after the war, except there weren’t any bullet holes.John Lee Disher, Summerville, South Carolina, 1989

After the murderous hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas in September 1900, a traumatized Ellen (Temple) Parker wrote a heartbreaking letter to her sister. “At 2 o’clock Saturday Sept. 8, I looked out and saw the gulf water backing up 32nd Street,” she recalled.  She summoned her husband home from work just as the waves and wind intensified, but he was stranded, unable to secure a carriage or horse at any price.  “I was entirely alone with the children until the worst of the blow was over,” she wrote, “and did not know what second our house would go” and her “babies would be at the mercy of the water and flying timbers.” Praying and reading to her children to stay calm, she fought the urge to “scream with fear” over the fate of her husband.  The family home lost several windows and much of its roof, but stood.  Ellen’s husband finally made it home the next day and they evacuated to Fort Worth.  “Mary,” Ellen declared to her sister, “I can’t describe this storm.  What you see in the papers is not over drawn; if anything it was even worse than the papers put it.”  Thankful that the family had escaped with their lives and at least some of their belongings, Ellen faced her next challenge: to recover her nerves and “get to be myself again.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more of our firsthand accounts of hurricanes, tornadoes and storms, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Kentucky Live! presents Fred Minnick on “Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey”

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On the evening of September 14 at Barnes & Noble Books, Bowling Green, KY, WKU Libraries featured Fred Minnick in its Kentucky Live! speaker series as part of its community outreach initiatives. Fred Minnick is the “Bourbon Authority” for the Kentucky Derby Museum. He talked about his newly published book Bourbon: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of An American Whiskey and signed it at the conclusion of his talk.

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Ricardo Marin Ruiz and “Cycling in Spain”

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Our first speaker in this year’s Far Away Places series Ricardo Marin Ruiz spoke on cycling in Spain on Thursday, September 21 at Barnes & Noble Bookstore. Ricardo Marin Ruiz is a native of Albacete, a market town located in Southern Spain, where his family has lived for generations in a region immortalized in Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha.

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Eclipse Stories

After the solar eclipse on August 21, the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections received many photos and impressions of this rare event for our “Tell Us About Your Eclipse Day” project. Here are a few samples:

Everything just began to look slightly faded, like an old Polaroid photo.  It got noticeably cooler as the moon crept across the sun.  Crescents appeared in tree-leaved shadows.  Streetlights winked on along the streets.  — Roxanne Spencer

From Andrea Ford - crescent shaped lighting though trees

From Andrea Ford

“The Sun is setting Early!” exclaimed our six year old son; as he watched with wonder, on the solar telescope he helped build.  “Dad, will I be around to see the next one?” — Quentin Hughes

From Deana Groves (5th graders, W.R. McNeill Elementary)

From Deana Groves (5th graders, W.R. McNeill Elementary)

I could feel the mist coming off the trees.  I’ve noticed this before, the leaves’ expiration–the misting feeling that you get when you walk under trees at dusk. — Sue Ferrell

Around noon, I noticed people clamoring to look out windows in the Hancock Tower in downtown Chicago.  I ran outside to meet some friends and scarf down my lunch, all while staring upward at the eclipse. . . . There were a ton of people gathered around on the streets and sidewalks, but amazingly life went on throughout Michigan Avenue. — Aaron Straka

Eclip?  Eclip?  Dark. . . dark. . . dark. . . sky!  Moon a bye bye!  Sun. . . color black! — Penny Nimmo, age 2-1/2

Young child looking through solar viewer

From Rebecca Nimmo

I love[d] the sound of cheering by the kids in Smith Stadium and those who were on South Lawn.  That was simply awesome. — Andrea Ford

Moments before totality the street lamps came on, dragonflies swarmed the grassy parks of Reservoir Hill, the crickets began to chirp and the sound of the cicadas grew deafening.  The air became cooler and the winds picked up.  The quality of the light was unreal–like the strange, luminous glow that falls upon the treetops just after a thunderstorm. — Marla Zubel

From William Sledge - totality

From William Sledge

As quickly as night fell, morning came.  We witnessed a new day twice on August 21st.  I was in awe of the flocks of birds flying from the trees to welcome the “morning.”  My internal clock had me feeling strange, yet peaceful in those moments. — Mary Johnson

Anticipation can sometimes overshadow the actual occurrence.  Not this time. — Lorraine Baushke

pinhole projected image on map of Kentucky

From Larry Isenberg

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Mrs. Hoffman

Mary Hoffman's Confederate service

Mary Hoffman’s Confederate service

If it wasn’t for her five children, perhaps she would have tried to enlist, disguised as a man.  Although Mary Elizabeth Hoffman never joined the unique ranks of such warriors, she didn’t allow her sex to defeat her personal crusade on behalf of the Confederacy.

Born in Boyle County, Kentucky in 1825, Mary saw her husband William, a son, and three brothers enter Confederate service during the Civil War.  At home in Cynthiana, Mary jumped into the fray, delivering food, messages, aid and comfort to local rebels.  Though auburn-haired and fair-skinned, she often managed to pass through Union lines posing as an African American.  When some Confederate soldiers at a nearby hotel were cut off from their command and in danger of capture, Mary secured their horses, removed the incriminating weapons and uniforms from their saddle bags, and with the help of another Southern sympathizer later reunited the gear with its owners.

In April 1862, Mary resolved to head south to check on the welfare of her soldier menfolk, an undertaking that involved passing through numerous blockades and towns under martial law.  With a stash of letters concealed in her clothing, she was denied a pass at Chattanooga, but wagered the commandant in charge that she would get through anyway.  She did, by way of a midnight boat trip and a mule ride over mountainous terrain.  When she arrived at her husband’s camp, she spent several months ministering to his wounded comrades.  On the way back, she earned a pass from the commandant she had outwitted on the trip down.

In February 1863, however, Mary was arrested in Lexington and detained by the federals.  Once again, she donned a disguise, climbed out a second-story window, and escaped.  The Yankees caught up with her again and sent Mary and her husband, now discharged from service, north of the Ohio River where they would presumably make less trouble.  They were eventually paroled and returned to Cynthiana, where Mary’s husband met an early death after an altercation with a Union soldier and Mary, who died in 1888, would be remembered as a determined soldier of the South.

Click here to link to a collection describing the exploits of Mary Hoffman, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to browse all of our Civil War collections, or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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