History of Cider Part II: Rise of Apple and Cider Popularity in Europe

March 8, 2010

In my previous post, I outline the development of the apple and how the Romans spread agriculture technology beneficial to growing apples, and how they saw various cultures making cider. Continuing the story:

  • While most of Western Europe went though the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome, apple tree horticulture was kept alive by monastery gardens and by the Islamic Moors in Spain, a region that had been producing sidra before the birth of Christ.
  • Apples would have been widely grown in the cooler northwest regions of Europe, including northern Spain, Germany, Normandy and Brittany in France, and southern and western counties of England where grape vines would not have thrived. It is in these regions that cider developed.
  • Andrew Lea states, “… [cider] became well-established in Normandy and Brittany in early medieval times (from 800 AD onwards).” It was the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066 which reintroduced apples and apple care to the island, in which cider shortly became the second most popular drink after ale, and it would be used to help pay tithes and rents. Ben Watson gives the following example, “A deed of 1204, stipulated that the tenancy of the manor of Runham in Norfolk would bring in an annual rent of ‘200 Pearmaines [apple] and four hogshead of Pear-maine cyder,’ payable to the Exchequer every Michaelmas (September 29) by Robert de Evermore, the lord of the manor. A hundred years later, seventy-four of the eighty parishes in West Sussex were paying their church tithes in cider” (pages 19-20).
  • Before the twelfth century, Watson noted, beer was a more popular drink in Normandy, a region now known for its cider. Cider was only consumed when there was a shortage of beer. Watson explained, “Not until the fourteenth century did cider become as popular and available as beer and wine in Normandy. By 1371, however, almost as much cider was being sold at Caen as wine, and some of it was being shipped up the Seine to the Paris market… In 1532 Francois I toured Normandy and order several barrels of cider made from the Pomme d’Espice apple for himself.”
  • It was a Norman by the name of Julien le Paulmier who wrote De Vino et Pomaceo in 1588, which he listed eighty two varieties of cider apples, and helped to promote the popularity of cider in France.
  • When hops were introduced to England in the sixteenth century, cider lost some of its popularity, according to Watson, due to improved flavors of ale. However, Richard Harris, a fruiterer to Henry VIII, advanced apple growing in England by importing French apples that were both suitable for dessert and cider making.
  • Lea adds, “In the 17th and 18th centuries it seemed to have reached something of a zenith, with cider being compared to the best French wines and exported from the West Country to London. A number of manuals on the subject were published at this time, including Worlidge’s famous ‘Vinum Britannicum – a treatise on Cider and Perry’. John Evelyn, the diarist, politician and arboriculturalist, published his ‘Pomona’ in 1670, which discusses fruit growing in general and cider making in particular, and includes contributions from authors throughout the country. This book (part of his epic ‘Sylva’) went through several editions and is still available in facsimile today.” Amateur cider makers during this time were keeping better records, which allowed them to duplicate cider quality repeatedly.
  • “Lord Scudamore,” Watson says, “is credited with having bottled cider as early as the 1640s at Home Lacy, at a time when almost all cider was stored in wooden barrels and drawn off ‘on draft’ as needed. Scudamore made use of the new, stronger, coke-fired English glass bottles that had been recently introduced. The slight fermentation that took place in the bottled released carbon dioxide gas, which produced a sparkling drink and helped preserve the cider better than could half-emptied wooden casks or barrels, where aerobic organisms came in contact with the cider and often spoiled it” (page 21).
  • In England’s West Counties, cider apples grew easily in the climate and soils, and was very popular in the seventieth century. They were low maintenance crops that allowed for cattle grazing among them, and did not require harvesting until October or later after other crops had been harvested. The apples could be pressed for cider, and the left over apples then fed to livestock. During this time, there was a shortage of burnable wood to brew ale in England, allowing cider to be the most produced beverage.
  • During the 18th centuries, Watson notes, agricultural societies formed and sponsored prizes for cider competitions. In 1863, phylloxera, an insect related to aphids, struck grapevines, so until the vineyards were reestablished on insect-resistant American rootstocks, cider grew in popularity. By the nineteenth century, Watson says, “the French government estimated more than one million persons were engaged in cidermaking; by 1902 the nation was producing around 647 millions gallons commercially (that is, not counting what farmers were making and drinking themselves).”
  • Over in England during this same time, Daniel Defoe stated that there were ten to twenty thousand hogsheds of cider, meaning that there was about one to two thousand gallons being exported from Exeter in the 1720s. Photographs were taken at harvest showing the workers drinking cider, which was also part of their labor payment until it was declared illegal in 1878.

Part III will be posted on March 15, 2010

My sources include:

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5 Responses to “History of Cider Part II: Rise of Apple and Cider Popularity in Europe”

  1. Luann Helms Says:

    If only more people could read about this!


  2. [...] More pears varieties from France were imported to England by Henry VIII’s fruiter Richard Harris. [...]


  3. [...] History of Cider Part II – Rise of the Apple and Cider Popularity in Europe [...]


  4. [...] History of Cider Part II: Rise of the Apple and Cider Popularity in Europe [...]


  5. [...] Spain has been producing cider, usually spelled “sidra”, since the ancient Roman times. However, the Spanish have developed a unique taste to their cider, almost a vinegar taste or [...]


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