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Letter to the Editor: The real story behind Vinegar Hill

on August 03, 2014 1:59 AM

Enough already with the urban myth about an Irishman naming Vinegar Hill. History is supposed to be a record of past events, not a compilation of cute, fabricated stories. The person who promoted the Irishman story was even quoted in the Gazette as saying, “It was a good story whether or not it was true.”

My grandfather, A.P. Hill, (1871-1962) knew the man who had the apple cider press at the top of Vinegar Hill.

He told us why it was named Vinegar Hill.

Every fall the man with the cider press made cider for people who took their apples to him.

Cider is made by grinding apples into a pomace and then crushing the apples in special tubs or wrapped in burlap or muslin fabric placed on slatted racks in the press.

The “press” juice is caught in a container that is emptied into a barrel for transport and storage. The remaining pomace (commonly called “pummies”) was disposed of to prepare for the next pressing.

He disposed of pummies by emptying them over the hillside. When the weather turned a little warm, the pummies fermented and the whole area smelled like vinegar. Not everyone in the area appreciated the odor!

One family might consume as much as two or three barrels of cider/vinegar in one winter. It was an important staple in every early American household.

Cider was used as a beverage and for cooking but only remained fresh briefly. It was only made in the fall just before the apples were hit by frost.

People enjoyed their fresh cider, then processed some of it into apple mead, apple wine, boiled cider, hard cider and, finally, vinegar.

For example, cider was, and often still is, used in the making of apple butter. Vinegar was used as a preservative (e.g., pickles), for cooking, for cleaning, even for treating sunburn or with honey to make a tonic.

Old cookbooks have recipes for a “refreshing” summer drink made with vinegar, before lemons became available.

Vinegar Hill was like so many other places in early America. It became known by its best-known characteristic. For a few months each year, it smelled like vinegar.

Shirley H. Risinger

Indiana

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