During the horrific pumpkin shortage of 2009, I was in a boutique deli in Scotland serving American students their coveted tins of Libby's. It was all a bit alien to me.
We also sold other unique US produce, such as Marshmallow Fluff and Karo corn syrup. Americans flocked to us, just like I make a bee-line for the rows of HP Sauce and boxes of Tetley tea in US supermarkets now.
One cold day an American girl came to me and asked if we had any cider. We didn't, I explained, as we didn't have a license to sell booze. In an attempt to be helpful I suggested she try the local bottle shop (AKA liquor store in US-speak).
She looked at me like I'd been hit on the head by Newton's apple and wasn't thinking quite right. "Uh, it's not alcoholic…" she explained. I just apologized and said I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. If it wasn't an oversize bottle of Strongbow, then what did she want?
In the UK, cider is a sweet alcoholic apple drink. The cheap stuff is sometimes made from onions and is favored by young teens drinking illegally in bus shelters. Cider has experienced an image-boost in recent years though. Trendy brands brought out cool flavors: Summer fruits, elderflower, even toffee apple, or a light pear. Craft ciders began to adorn bar shelves and supermarkets.
Scrumptious scrumpy and perry is plenty available all over the UK now. The Cornish stuff, Healy's Cornish Cyder, packs a hearty punch. Their scrumpy is particularly strong, a heady 7.4% vol, which is more than most European beers.
But ask for cider here in North America and you'll get… apple juice. Cloudy apple juice. With a hint of spice. And no alcohol.
But call it 'apple juice' and you'll get withering looks from locals. This is another of these huge US Fall trends that I'm just learning. It's only available in the Fall months, and my husband drinks it by the gallon. When it first arrived at the local supermarket it sold out in days. My husband fretted that he wouldn't be able to get his favorite local brand and that Fall would be ruined.
Luckily though we've been well-stocked with this (soft) spiced apple cider stuff since then. I'm not hugely taken with it, but that's okay, because there are some delicious alternatives…