Uncultivated: Wild Apples, Real Cider, and the Complicated Art of Making a Living
Today, food is being reconsidered. It’s a front-and-center topic in everything from politics to art, from science to economics. We know now that leaving food to government and industry specialists was one of the twentieth century’s greatest mistakes. The question is where do we go from here.
Author Andy Brennan describes uncultivation as a process: It involves exploring the wild; recognizing that much of nature is omitted from our conventional ways of seeing and doing things (our cultivations); and realizing the advantages to embracing what we’ve somehow forgotten or ignored. For most of us this process can be difficult, like swimming against the strong current of our modern culture.
The hero of this book is the wild apple. Uncultivated follows Brennan’s twenty-four-year history with naturalized trees and shows how they have guided him toward successes in agriculture, in the art of cider making, and in creating a small-farm business. The book contains useful information relevant to those particular fields, but is designed to connect the wild to a far greater audience, skillfully blending cultural criticism with a food activist’s agenda.
Apples rank among the most manipulated crops in the world, because not only do farmers want perfect fruit, they also assume the health of the tree depends on human intervention. Yet wild trees live all around us, and left to their own devices, they achieve different forms of success that modernity fails to apprehend. Andy Brennan learned of the health and taste advantages of such trees, and by emulating nature in his orchard (and in his cider) he has also enjoyed environmental and financial benefits. None of this would be possible by following today’s prevailing winds of apple cultivation.
In all fields, our cultural perspective is limited by a parallel proclivity. It’s not just agriculture: we all must fight tendencies toward specialization, efficiency, linear thought, and predetermined growth. We have cultivated those tendencies at the exclusion of nature’s full range. If Uncultivated is about faith in nature, and the power it has to deliver us from our own mistakes, then wild apple trees have already shown us the way.
About Andy Brennan
Andy Brennan owns Aaron Burr Cider in New York’s Catskills region. His career started as a freelance artist, working in the fields of photography, design, and architecture. Since its founding in 2011, Aaron Burr Cider has become well known among cider enthusiasts for its natural approach to cider making, using wild apples and yeasts. As a prominent figure in the growing US cider movement, Andy has been featured in print media and on television, radio, and podcasts. He regularly speaks about natural apple growing and cider production at museums, trade events, festivals, restaurants, and anywhere local food enthusiasts are found.
This book in an interesting read, especially if you have any experience with the trials and tribulations of growing tree fruits and enjoy a glass of cider now and again. The author tells a very personal story of his experiences with apples and cider, including a frank assessment of the learning curve he experienced as a new business owner trying to make a go of it with an orchard and cidery. I enjoyed his storytelling and can empathize with the difficulties he has encountered trying to run a business that is both operated on his own terms and also lucrative enough to support his family. He is devoted to growing and harvesting wild apples, rather than cultivated varieties, which is really fascinating from a genetic and horticultural perspective. He also has some of the fanaticism of a modern day Johnny Appleseed in his desire to promote a new way of looking at these fruits that values diversity, a wide flavor palette, and terroir over uniformity and insipid sweetness. Personally, I think there is room for both in the fruit and wine/cider industries, so sometimes his narrow focus comes across as elitist in its own way, as he turns up his nose at commercialized ciders that appeal to the taste buds of the masses who are raised on sweet cola drinks. Overall, though, I came away really respecting his work as an apple grower and cider maker. We need more people like him who are willing to push back against the norms created by the mega-food corporations to create space for unique agricultural products that reflect true artisanship and skill.