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Orange Cider at the 1893 World’s Fair: Drink of the Gods or Soul-Destroying Concoction?

By: Marissa Croft
Jan 11 2024

CHM research and insights analyst Marissa Croft teams up with YouTuber Kaz Rowe to share a tale of two ciders at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Recipes for both ciders included at the end of this post!

Food trends seemingly take the world by storm all the time (the cronut, spicy chicken sandwiches, unicorn anything, etc.), and those looking to cash in on a craze must quickly come up with their own recipes. At 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, that popular and much-imitated food item was “orange cider.” Originally made by Huelsenkamp, a Floridian beverage maker and distributor, their orange cider was sold for 5 cents a glass in the Florida, Washington, and Illinois State Buildings, at the Midway by the Ice Railway, at the Big Tree at the side of the Vienna Café, and in the Streets of Cairo.

The orange cider stand at the Big Tree at the side of the Vienna Café, CHM,
ICHi-013860.

The original Floridian orange cider formula was nonalcoholic, making it popular with temperance folks and was described by fairgoers as “rich and mellow in quality, of a fine, delicious flavor, and withal most wholesome for young and old” (The Inter-Ocean, Sunday, August 20, 1893, p. 3). One Mr. Bowen Patterson said the orange cider in the Florida building must be “the drink of the gods” (The Inter-Ocean, July 23, 1893, p. 6) and the Dixon Evening Telegraph noted that the orange cider served in the Florida State Building “far excels in quality that found anywhere else on the grounds” (July 15, 1893, p. 6).

Competing orange cider booths near the Ferris Wheel in a photograph by C. E. Waterman, 1893. CHM, ICHi-002440.

However, as fall approached, other beverage vendors wanted in on the orange cider fad, but their imitations paled in comparison. According to a Chicago Daily Tribune article:

“There is a general complaint concerning the quality of the stuff now sold in the Exposition grounds as ‘orange cider.’ It was delicious when first introduced and became very popular, but prosperity seems to have spoiled it. Until the manufacturers return to first principles and make if of orange juice instead of vinegar, molasses, and various slops the Worlds’ Fair visitor will do well to let it alone.” (September 13, 1893, p. 12).

In one write-up of Manhattan Day at the fair, another reporter even called the orange cider “a soul destroying concoction.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, October 22, 1893, p. 12). This orange cider that was neither made from oranges, nor a true alcoholic cider soon became a punchline.

A joke about Orange Cider featured in the Chicago Daily Tribune, September 22, 1893, p. 12

One late fall Tribune article observed the even though orange cider vendors loved to claim their beverage had authentic Florida and California oranges, most of them were just citric acid, molasses, Lake Michigan water, and coloring matter and cost less than half a cent a glass to make. They noted it these bogus orange ciders were harmless and palatable. (Chicago Daily Tribune, October 9, 1893, p. 19). After the fair came to an end, countless beverage makers rolled out “orange cider” knockoffs to profit off of its popularity. These drinks were also invariably just a mix of various acids, vinegars, sugars, and molasses, and according to one article, soap!

Some of the ingredients you’ll need to make your own orange cider (no real oranges necessary).

If you’d like to try recreating this infamous historical drink, here are two recipes you can easily make at home. The first one approximates the original Floridian Huelsenkamp formula and is a very refreshing and tasty citrus beverage. It makes a great mixer for a cocktail or a more exciting version of lemonade for a summer picnic! The second recipe is for the cheap knockoff orange cider, and the resulting drink is unusual but not completely undrinkable (especially if you like unsweetened iced tea).

Orange Cider Recipe [Drink of the Gods Version]

Adapted from The Home Chemist; A Key to Honest Wealth by Prof. Duke H. Bashford, 1899.

Ingredients 

(Makes just over 1 quart)

4 cups water

1 cup simple syrup (1 cup sugar and 1 cup water)

1/2 Tbsp citric acid (can be found in the bulk bin section of most grocery stores)

3/4 tsp orange extract

1/4 tsp orange colored sanding sugar, or more to achieve desired color

  1. Make your simple syrup by combining 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water together in a small pot over medium heat until the sugar dissolves fully.
  2. In a pitcher, combine the water, the warm simple syrup, citric acid, orange extract, and colored sugar and stir well until all ingredients have dissolved. Chill or serve immediately over ice.
  3. According to Professor Bashford, “The above makes a most delicious beverage and costs less than ten cents per gallon.”

“Orange Cider” Recipe [Soul-Destroying Version]

Ingredients

(Makes 1 quart)

1 quart water

2–3 tablespoons molasses

1–2 tablespoons vinegar

½ tablespoon citric acid (optional)

  1. Heat water in medium pot on stove till warm then stir in the molasses, vinegar, and citric acid (if using).
  2. Adjust the proportions of molasses and vinegar to your taste.
  3. Chill or serve immediately over ice.

If you’d like to see a live taste test and review of these recipes, as well as a ranking of other 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition oddities, be sure to check out this video from Kaz Rowe!

Sources and Further Reading

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