It’s official. December was the warmest since records began in 1910. It was also one of the wettest. This unseasonable weather put our schedule for picking and processing apples in a constant state of flux. We began picking dessert fruit to press for apple juice a good three weeks earlier than in previous years. By the middle of December, cider apples, that last year we were harvesting in January, were already beginning to rot on the ground. Despite this, we bottled nearly three thousand litres of apple juice and our first batch of cider is fermenting nicely.
Cider is one of the oldest fermented beverages in the world. No-one knows when cider production first began, but it has provided humans with a safe drink for centuries.
There is no evidence that cider was made in Central Asia where the ancestors of the domesticated apple that we know today originated from. [see Fruits of the Forest] It’s more likely that, as the apple moved West along trade routes into societies that were less nomadic and more settled in nature, the crushing of fruit to produce fermented beverages probably developed in tandem with techniques used for olives and grapes.
Its popularity is not hard to understand. Pure drinking water was in short supply. Mild cider was safe to drink and was a source of vitamins. In the 14th century in parts of England, children were baptised with cider because it was considered cleaner than water.
Although the cultivation of apple orchards was established in England by the Romans, it is not until after the Norman Conquest that there are any records of cider production. The popularity of cider grew steadily and its production spread throughout Britain. Manor houses would have their own cider presses and monasteries regularly sold their cider to the public. The first listing of cider presses as a source of income appears in 1230 in a Royal Charter granted to Jocelin Bishop of Bath.
Cider cultivars grew best in the counties of the west of England, Somerset, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. One of the earliest written references to Cider can be found in the Wycliffe ‘Cider’ Bible, printed in the early 15th Century. The Cider Bible uses the word ‘cider’ (sidir) for strong drink and it can be viewed today in Hereford Cathedral’s Chained Library.