On the forested flanks of the Tian Shan mountains; Alexander the great is credited with finding apples in Kazakhstan. Apples started their journey in the Hindu Kush region and have been brought west by traders on the Silk Road and selected for flavour and “eatablity”. The largest city in that region is called Almaty – the etymology of which has a few disputed translations, but all involve Apples. The name may mean “full of apples”, “apple mountain” or “Grandfather of apples”. The city and region around it have archaeological history dating back to around 1000 BC, so the apples were around long before human settlement. Each apple tree has its own unique taste as apples have multiple chromosome that mingle each time a flower is fertilised by pollen from another.
Prior to human intervention however the history of apples is interesting. European fossil beds, such as the Messel Pit in Germany, illustrate the presence of members of the Rosaceae family restricted to low-growing plants with small fruits across Asia and Europe of early and mid-Eocene period. Most have small fruits and seed is distributed by birds. However some living on the edges of woods switched to large animal dispersal to achieve better dispersal in these clearings Malus species included. While larger fruits are energetically more costly than their smaller counterparts, they were selected for on the late Miocene landscape of Eurasia, allowing trees to respond faster to climate change and environmental stressors. Glaciation then broke up the range into isolated enclaves and further genetic divergence occurred. Megafauna species decreased and now mainly bears and deer fulfill this role. Separate species developed including M sylvestris in Europe, M sieversii in the Kindu Kush area, M orientalis in the Caucasus, and M baccata in Asia. The modern domesticated apple M pumila/domestica shows traces of all 4 apple species , with the last hybridisation occurring on the westward trajectory along the Silk Road by humans. It is interesting that apples the most commonly grown fruit is not domesticated like cereals or rice. The clones are maintained by grafting . Each seed showing marked genetic diversity. There is already evidence of the previously thought genetically ‘pure’ M sieversii in the Tian Shan Mountains showing genes from M pumila.
The apple has often been considered the fruit that Eve gave to Adam in the Garden of Eden, however the Bible never stated the type of fruit. Some scholars suggest Pomegranate others figs. Apples are unlikely as they were less common and not that suited to the Fertile Crescent, although are noted to have grown in ancient times in Egypt.
The confusion may have arisen out of a play on Latin words. The pun only works in Latin. The word for apple and evil in Latin being the same – malum, (apart from a different accent on the letter ‘a’). From this root comes the latin name for the apple genus Malus , with the eating apple being Malus pumila, and its ancestor Malus sieversii, growing still in the Hindu Kush.
Apples continued their westward journey all the way to Northern Spain, where the regions of Asturias and Sagardoa in Basque have the perfect climate to grow them. This is called “Green Spain”.
When apples became made into cider instead of being eating is not clear, the Roman and Greek words for strong wine and cider are similar. Certainly it was not easy to make, considerable scare labour was needed to pulversise the apple and then extract the juice before fermentation could occur. With wine just treading the grapes with feet suffice! However cider was made here which the Asturians call Sidra.
Greek geographer Strabo describes sidra in his journey through Spain’s Asturia region in 60 B.C which would pre-date Julius Caesar’s discovery in the UK in 55BC. However, on further analysis it appears that Strabo the Greek was born in 64BC and, barring the possibility of him being a drunk literary toddler, it seems like any such reference in his works is second hand information he acquired from someone else at a later date.
His writings on the topic were likely compiled between 7BC and 23AD and some sources believe he never visited Northern Spain at all.
However Spain has a long history of apple cultivation and cider. From here it spread northwards to Normandy where the climate was marginal for wine
Julius Caesar is said to have written about trying a fermented apple drink produced in the south east of England when he tried to invade in 55 BC – facing off against the Celtic tribes that lived there at the time. Though the first invasion attempt was a failure, the discovery that the local tribes were fermenting apples was a discovery taken back to France by Caesar’s retreating troops. This recorded information would suggest that, as Caesar had already conquered France, he hadn’t at that point discovered cider. If they were making it in France, it was not a common drink. The Romans had not at this time brought modern apples, the Malus pumila, to England. This occurred when the Romans finally successfully invaded almost 100 years later, from 44AD
So, this would suggest the cider like beverage Caesar tasted on the shores of England was made from the local crabapples.
Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester & Somerset
Following the invasion of Britain by William Duke of Normandy, the apple continued its journey. Areas especially good for apple growing are the The Three Counties – Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester and also Somerset and Devon although apples are found growing all over UK, probably first in the South East where the Normans settled first.
The first specific written reference to the history of cider in the UK, after the Romans, comes in 1204 AD where cider was used as a form of payment by a manor in Runham, Norfolk .
Cider was often recorded as been made in the UK by Monks. They were the repository of much knowledge in the Dark Ages and made cider as well as beer. Initially to preserve food and provide clean drinking in the winter. Water was notoriously bad and food scare. These were also safe drinks for thirsty labourers as the fermentation or brewing sterilises the bacteria, water was often harbouring. It’s documented that the Bishop of Bath & Wells, in the south west of England, bought cider presses for his monastery in 1230. The monastery at Ely (Cambridgeshire) was particularly famous for its orchards and vineyards. A manuscript (circa 1165) of part of the plan of the garden of Christ Church monastery in Canterbury shows a pomerium, an apple garden, consisting of apples and pears for eating and apples for cider making.
The Normans had a strong tradition of apple growing and cider making. They introduced many apple types to Britain, the first recorded of which were the Pearmain and the Costard. The Pearmain was particularly valued for cider making. The Pearmain (Old English Pearmain) was first recorded in 1204. The manor of Runham (Norfolk) had to pay to the Exchequer each year 200 Pearmains and 4 hogsheads of cider made from Pearmains
Costermonger, coster, or costard is a street seller of fruit and vegetables, in London and other British towns. The term is derived from the words costard (a now extinct medieval variety of large, ribbed apple) and monger (seller), and later came to be used to describe hawkers in general.
Wrote one of the first books on cider. “A Treatise of
Fruit Trees” An early enthusiast linking fruit trees and fruit products with God. Ralph was religious and spirituality and nature were commonly closely entwined. Unfortunately Ralph was a Protestant and the Restoration and the Royal Society wiped him from the history books. No image of him exists today. This is the front-piece of his book.
However he is the first known source to note the addition of sugar to cider to keep it fresh ( and sparkling) with this annotation in the margin of the 2nd edition of his book in 1657
Dr Christopher Merret and Champagne
Dr Christopher Merrett was a medical doctor and scientist and was an early member of the Royal Society. He was the first to described sparkling champagne bottled in London 1662 in an address to the Royal Society
“Our wine coopers of recent times use vast quantities of sugar and
molasses to all sorts of wines to make them drink brisk and sparkling and to give them spirit,”
Pomona is an addendum added to John Evelyn’s book Sylva and is a collection of letters and essays on cider making. It is an extensive resource of the time. Collated by John Beale following the Trades programme of the Royal Society. The project was begun in 1662 but never completed as a separate publication. Not only was the knowledge of cider making published but the key members Beale Oldenburgh Moray Evelyn Neile and Merrett all grew orchards and swapped grafts of desirable cultivars. Robert Hooke even invented a new cider mill for the project. Beale went on to publish his own book on orchards and cider Herefordshire Orchards, a pattern for all England. in 1658
Worlidge published his book on cider , Vinetum britannicum, He advocated the production of cider over that of wine in England
Cider a Poem in two Books: John Philips
An amazing poem filled with cider making knowledge on a background of the English Civil war
Cider Tax and USA
Lord Bute’s Government introduces a tax on cider leading to ‘cider riots’ in the West of England. It also led to the phrase ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’, coined by William Pitt the Elder, describing the layman’s right to protect his private property from entry by the tax man. This lead to the principle of individual privacy, which is fundamental to the American system of government. In this regard, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution — part of the Bill of Rights — prohibits“unreasonable searches and seizures.”
An illness of abdominal cramps and often leading to death after ingesting lead. This was proved by Sir George Baker to be from the lead used in the cider mills in Devon. See Cider Musings for more details
The Herefordshire Pomona is a 19th-century catalogue of the apples and pears that were grown in this county in England Witeen by Drs Robert Hogg and Henry Bull. It was one of the first attempts to fully catalogue the existing varieties of English fruit and has been called “a classic of late Victorian natural history” Only 600 copies were ever printed. The book originally appeared in seven issues, the first part appearing in 1878 and the last in 1884, and included the 441 original watercolours produced by Alice and Edith of the different fruits, buds, blossoms of the cultivars and the blights which attacked them.
Once complete the seven parts were collected together and published by Jakeman & Carver Over a period of about ten years in the late 19th century, the Woolhope Naturalist’s Field Club of Hereford held an annual autumn show featuring the local varieties of apples and pears. The club members were worried that although Herefordshire was famous for its orchards “it was very remarkable that so few of the best varieties of apples should appear in the markets, or the fruit shops”, Dr Robert Hogg, at the time Vice-President of the Royal Horticultural Society RHS , and local doctor and former president of the Woolhope club, Dr Henry Bull, catalogued and described the fruit displayed at the shows.
First illustrated pomology book in the world Thomas Knight. Illustrated by Elizabeth Matthews, & engraved by William Hooker.
Percy Bulmer starts the age of industrial cider production
TeePee Cider started
It was in September that the first batch of trees were ordered from Bill Struthers of Nga Rakau Nurseries Auckland. Over the next 5 years over 100 trees of 20 cider varieties were planted. And in 2013 the first Perry pear was grafted. This is now fruiting well and the first perry made in 2018
Andrew Lea: Craft cider Making
Andrew writes first modern comprehensive lay book on cider making. He is a retired chemist / plant biochemist / food scientist by profession, and was the former Head of the Beverage Research section in a contract food analysis and consultancy company.
Andrew is an amateur cider maker which started when he worked at the Long Ashton Research Station near Bristol, where he took his Ph.D in the 1970’s. The cider research part of the Station closed in 1981 . LARS was first formed as a private organisation by Robert Neville-Grenville at his farm at
Butleigh near Glastonbury in 1893 for cider research This led to the formation of the National Fruit and Cider Institute in 1903 in fields south of the main road through Long Ashton.
In 1912 the Institute became the University of Bristol’s Department of Agricultural and Horticultural Research and its name was changed to Long Ashton Research Station.