Colonists were Pioneers at the Table,
It may have looked picturesque to our eyes, but the colonial kitchen was most often an ill-lit, poorly ventilated room in which the closest thing to a labor saving device was a well-sharpened knife. The women of colonial America literally labored at their cooking. Water had to be drawn from a well, fires built and fed. It took strength and endurance to churn butter, knead bread and grind spices with a mortar and pestle. Few of us today would care to face the daily lifting and scouring of the heavy cast iron pots in which these women cooked for their huge families.
In adapting the resources of the New World into their mostly English-style cooking, the colonial women proved to be as ingenious as they were strong. They learned to use cornmeal in place of hard-to-get wheat flour. Duck and wild turkey were served in place of chicken, pork instead of mutton. Wild grapes were dried into raisins and sprinkled into every sort of dish from breads and relishes to desserts and beverages.
However, if there was one thing the early settlers mistrusted, it was water. They were convinced that all human ills could be traced to drinking water, a belief they brought with them from Europe. Thus, it’s easy to understand why when apple seeds brought back from England flourished so handsomely in the New World, farmers lost no time in building apple presses to press the sweet juice from the fruit.
They learned how to ferment the fresh cider into longer-lasting hard cider and, as in the case of the few enterprising farmers like William Laird of Scobeyville, to distill the hard cider into “Cyder Spirits”, which we know today as apple brandy or AppleJack. Hard cider and AppleJack became kitchen staples. Women used brandy to tenderize a roast, moisten a fruitcake, and flavor a sauce. They served it in hot drinks in the winter and cool punches in the summer. When the eagerly awaited ships arrived with their holds full of spices, they combined it with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, mace, pepper, and nutmeg, thus creating a repertoire of aromatic and hearty dishes, which serve as a lively legacy of an adventurous era.
The Colt’s Neck Inn
In 1717, The Colts Neck Inn, Colts Neck, New Jersey, was built by a Laird ancestor as a stopping place for stagecoaches and dispatch riders traveling from Freehold to Amboy.
AppleJack-Apple Brandy was a standard item on the Colts Neck Inn’s menu, and from family records, it appears to be one of the Inn’s best sellers.
The first records of commercial production and sale of AppleJack date to 1780 at this location. Robert Laird’s account book indicates a price of four shillings, six pence per gallon of “Cyder Spirits”, (AppleJack). This represented about a half-day’s wages.
In 1812, Samuel Laird, the third son of Robert, became the proprietor of the Colt’s Neck Inn, where he remained until his death in 1859.
The Laird AppleJack distillery flourished at the Colts Neck Inn site until 1849, when the distillery burned to the ground. (The Inn is still located at the same site.) Shortly after the fire, the second Robert Laird, son of Samuel, moved the AppleJack operations down the road to Scobeyville. They continued to operate at the Scobeyville site, under the direction of Joseph T. Laird Jr., (Samuel’s grandson) until prohibition was declared.
Prohibition Declared - Laird and Co.
Laird & Company survived during Prohibition through the production and sale of various apple products, such as sweet cider and applesauce.
In September 1933, Laird & Company was granted a federal license under the Prohibition Act to distill apple brandy for medicinal purposes. This made it possible for John E. Laird and his brother, Joseph T. Laird III, to produce legal inventories of AppleJack. Thus, AppleJack became available to the public immediately after the repeal of prohibition. At this time, modern stills were built and modern equipment such as cider presses, warehouses, laboratories, and bottling facilities were installed.
During prohibition, a large number of illegal distilleries operated along the east coast for the production of “bootleg AppleJack”. At this time, it was believed that bootleg AppleJack was probably the safest spirit beverage to consume, since it was made from pure apples with no adulterants added.
After repeal, most of the AppleJack distilleries became legal. Unfortunately, the flavor and quality of their product did not meet Laird & Company’s high standards. Thus, Laird & Company, then headed by John E. Laird Jr., pursued a campaign to buy up these distilleries to protect the quality and flavor of this unique beverage. Since that time Laird and Company has produced something in excess of 95 percent of all AppleJack-Apple Brandy sold in this country.
Since repeal, Laird & Company has been in continual operation except for the Second World War. During this period, the Scobeyville plant was converted to drying and dehydration of apple pomace for pectin and other products to aid in the war effort.
The year 1951 (100 years after the opening of the Scobeyville site) marked the millionth case of Laird’s AppleJack to be packed since repeal of the 18th Amendment. It was an occasion for celebration, with each employee receiving one silver dollar for each year of service.
Joe Laird Rides “Fashion”
- The greatest Thoroughbred Racer of her Time
Boston was so-called because he was won in a card game of that name. John Wickham, a distinguished Virginia attorney who had been counsel for Aaron Burr in the latter’s trial for treason, came out the loser in a session of card playing with his friend, Nathaniel Rives, one evening in 1835. To settle the account, Rives agreed to take an unbroken two-year-old colt by Sir Archie’s distinguished son, Timoleon, a not-otherwise-named sister to the brilliant horse Tuckahoe. (She raced as “Sister to Tuckahoe”.)
For a time, it appeared that Rives had been finessed, for the colt, duly named “Boston”, was incorrigible. He was broken by John Alston, in the stable of John Belcher, and as a three-year-old, Boston was sent to L. White for finishing touches to his training. His new exercise boy could not stay aboard, so he was returned to Belcher with the recommendation that he be “either castrated or shot---preferably the latter.”
Belcher did neither, and after a number of lessons with the whip, Boston was entered in a match at the Broad Rock Course in Richmond against a colt from the stable of his rejecter, Colonel White. After gaining a long lead, he stopped dead and sulked, whereupon Belcher turned him over to a heavy exercise boy named Ned, with instructions that Boston be converted into a common hack until he acquired enough manners to race. It was quite a performance; much of it taking place on the streets of Richmond, but by Autumn Ned had succeeded in exacting from his pupil a sort of grudging obedience.
Although his vicious temper was still evident (Boston bit horses who tried to pass him), he was a drastically different racehorse. He won fifteen races and received a forfeit twice before tasting defeat again, in his first start as a six-year-old. He raced until the age of ten, winning 40 of his 45 starts. Thirty of his victories were 4-mile heats.
Fashion was the daughter of two distinguished parents. Her sire, Trustee, was shuffled about from place to place and owner to owner, but at the age of nearly twenty, when some question arose concerning how good he had been in his racing days, he was put back in training long enough to run a four-mile heat in 8 minutes flat.
Fashion’s dam, Bonnets o’ Blue, was a good mare trained by W.R. Johnson, who had also trained the next dam, Reality. “The Old Nap,” as he was coming to be known, had sold Bonnets o’ Blue, however, and William Gibbons of New Jersey was Fashion’s breeder, while Johnson, despite having been intimately associated with Fashion’s first three dams, was to assume his customary role of leader of the Southern forces, and a manager of the filly’s opponent.
On October 28, 1841, Boston, not having fully recovered from a hard victory in Baltimore a week earlier, had been distanced in the first heat of a race in Camden, New Jersey. It was the first, and only, such humiliation he suffered in his entire career, discounting his debut when he sulked, and the ultimate winner of the race was Fashion, so here came another challenge:
“To the friends of the distinguished race nag, Fashion, In the 4-mile race recently run over the Camden and Philadelphia Course, Boston was distanced by John Bount and Fashion in the first heat – Blount winning the heat in 7:42. The second heat was won by Fashion in 7:48 – Blount breaking down.
We, the undersigned, now propose to run Boston against Fashion, a match, four-mile heats, over the Union Course, Long Island, agreeably to the rules of said course, in Spring, 1842, or any day during the month of May, for $20,000 a side – one-half or one-fourth forfeit, as may be most agreeable to the friends of Fashion. The forfeit to be deposited (in New York money, in any bank in the city), and the day of the race to be named, when the match shall be closed. The challenge shall remain open during the month of November.
William R. Johnson
New York, Astor House, Nov. 5, 1941
race is on...
Although Gibbons deplored such ostentation, (a conservative man, he raced only horses he bred himself, and never bet), the public demand for such a match was irresistible, and on November 30, the last day before the challenge would lapse, one-fourth forfeit money was deposited. The forthcoming clash provided conversational fodder throughout that winter and spring, and the sporting press luxuriated in this windfall during the intervening months.
On race day, a crowd estimated at 70,000 attended, including, it was claimed, 40 United States senators and congressmen, who came up from Washington especially for the contest. A capacity crowd of 8,000 willingly paid the $10 admissions fee to the grandstand.
Train service from New York broke down, and a mob ran amuck, tearing down the ticket office. One trainload reached the course after the first heat, and rushed the fence until repelled by a group headed by the prizefighters Yankee Sullivan, Isaiah Runders, and Jerolman. A daily newspaper had to set up a press on the grounds, which issued extras after each heat, and carrier pigeons flew latest developments to other newspapers in the city.
Fashion, 5 years old, was ridden by Joseph T. Laird, Sr., and carried 111 pounds. Boston, 9 years old, was assigned 126 pounds, and ridden by the veteran, Gilpatrick.
In the first heat, Boston stuck his hip against the rail and received a long, jagged cut, and both horses were bothered by the crowd surging out onto the track and leaving them only a narrow lane – yet the distance was run in the unprecedented time of 7:32 ½ -- Fashion the winner by slightly more than a length.
Both cooled out well – Boston blowing like a locomotive, but that was his habit. There was a slight delay while the track was cleared of spectators for the second heat. Although Boston was leading after 3 miles, Fashion overtook him and sailed away to win by about 60 yards, in 7:45, Gilpatrick having pulled Boston up after passing the distance stand when he saw the cause was hopeless.
When the financial panic of 1837 was in full swing, Andrew Jackson’s young friend, Colonel Balie Peyton, conceived a strange antidote. He decided to stage the richest race in world history.
So-called produce races, the equivalent of modern futurities in which nominations are made far in advance and the purse swelled by various installment payments, had been in vogue for some time, but none on the scale envisioned by Peyton.
In 1838, he announced a race for yet unborn foals of ’39, to be run at Nashville as four-year-olds in 1843, $5,000 to subscribe, and $1,000 in forfeit payments, with an estimated value at maturity of $150,000.
There were only 30 subscribers, and as time went on and the depression grew worse, some of the owners reneged on their forfeit money, and when race day finally arrived only four runners responded to the bugle. Despite the various financial jolts the race had suffered, value to the winner still amounted to about $35,000, and Glumdalclitch became the leading money winner of her sex in America. Her name was changed to Peytona in honor of her great victory.
Owned by Thomas Kirkman and trained by Isaac Van Leer, the huge filly, said to stride twenty-seven feet, had won all four of her previous races. Peytona remained undefeated after moving down to New Orleans, and she thereupon was chosen to challenge Fashion for national honors.
A match was accordingly arranged, with $10,000 a side, $2,000 forfeit, to be run on May 15, 1845 at the Union Course. Peytona was managed by her own trainer (W.R. Johnson acted as a consultant on this occasion), and made a leisurely journey up from Mobile in the company of four other horses and a big baggage wagon. Crowds turned out to cheer the cavalcade at every city along the way.
In the North, Fashion received similar adulation. Various articles of merchandise were named in her honor, from ladies’ gloves to men’s cigars, not to mention more permanent tributes, such as steamboats and hotels.
On the morning of the race there were reports that Fashion was showing evidence of being under the influence of her estrous cycle, but the race went off as scheduled. Fashion, this time the senior competitor, carried 123 pounds with her regular jockey, Joe Laird – while Peytona, at 116 pounds, was ridden by Francis “Barney” Palmer, the rider in her previous victories. Peytona won in straight heats, both of them hard-fought, in 7:39 ¾ and 7:45 ¼ respectively.
As this made the score 3-2 their favor in the intersectional matches, all were gleeful among the Southerners. Northerners consoled themselves that Peytona was both trained and ridden by Yankees (as, on previous occasions, Southerners had consoled themselves by pointing out the Virginia blood in the Northern winners).
The triumph had to be enjoyed while it lasted, because Fashion emerged from this race in good condition, while the bulky Peytona, who had been shod with very light plates, came out with feverish front feet and ankles. Both mares had been entered for a Jockey Club purse four days later. Peytona could not start, and Fashion won it easily, pulled up to a trot.
She met Peytona again at Camden, New Jersey on May 28, and again Fashion won pulled up, as Laird took care not to embarrass his erstwhile conqueror by leaving her outside the distance pole.
Further challenges were made – both on behalf of Peytona and also Boston (who had been at stud for three seasons) – but nothing came of them.
After a two-year layoff because of injuries, Peytona made one unsuccessful attempt to return to racing, then retired with earnings of $62,400, a record at that time for either sex.
Fashion went on and on – ending her career in 1848 at the age of eleven. Widely hailed as the greatest racer, if not the top money winner, of her sex ever to appear on the American turf, she won 32 of her 36 starts, was second in the other four, and set a four-mile record of 7:32 ½.
Mixing it up with AppleJack
Probably the closest thing to America’s first mixed drink was one known as “stone-wall.” According to writer Alice Morse Earle, this early eighteenth century concoction included rum and cider as well as applejack, and was highly potent.
Applejack figured well in many popular early American punches and drinks, at least partly because it was the most available distilled spirit in the East. During William Henry Harrison’s presidential campaign in 1840, cider flowed so freely at Whig rallies that Harrison became known as the Hard Cider Candidate. Eligible voters were invited to feasts at which quantities of hard cider laced with applejack were consumed. One reporter later declared that “spirit” had won Harrison the election.
Legend has it that one stormy night in 1887, a poverty-stricken Absecon, N.J. woman unhappily delivering her seventh child at a Smithville inn shouted that she hoped it would be a “devil.” It is said that her wish came true and the “Jersey Devil,” described as having the body of a kangaroo, head of a collie, face of a horse and wings of a giant bat, has been haunting the surrounding forests ever since. Supposedly, the bartender at the inn then invented a drink he dubbed the “Jersey Devil.” Those who downed a number of these would swear they’d seen the devil on their way home.
However, the cocktail as we know it today didn’t come into its own until the 20th century. Since it is usually served chilled, we may suppose that the spread of electric refrigeration played as much a part in its growth as the new lifestyle ushered in by Prohibition.
Applejack was a widely used cocktail ingredient. During Prohibition, a drink of two parts hard cider to one part applejack, called Stonewall Jackson, enjoyed a vogue among the hardy.
The Jack Rose was also born during this period. Smooth, sophisticated and good tasting, it outlasted the Jazz Age to become a classic. Since then, bartenders around the world have added to the applejack repertoire. Most prefer to use it in its blended 80-proof form, in which it has the same potency as whiskey, but retains the unique and delicious flavor and bouquet of ripe apples.