HISTORY OF CIDER
“No one knows for certain who discovered cider or exactly where in the world it was first made and consumed. The first recorded references however date back to Roman times. In 55 B.C Julius Caesar began his conquest of Britain, where his soldiers found the Celtic inhabitants fermenting the juice of the native crab apples to make an alcoholic beverage.”
Though Europe and England experienced many wars and conquests, the skill and knowledge of grafting, pruning and fruit growing were preserved during the Dark Ages by the Christian Monastic orders. At the same time, the Islamic Moors, who ruled much of Spain until the late fifteenth century, established impressive botanic gardens and built on the knowledge of classical authors, developing new varieties and techniques that greatly influenced those gardeners who followed them. Although most cider drinkers in North America, through cultural familiarity, consider French and English ciders the finest in the world, the people of Northern (non-Moorish) Spain were evidently making sidra, or cider, long before the birth of Christ.
Fast forward through many hundreds of years of cider history to the apple coming to North America, not surprisingly it was one of the first crops introduced to American shores by colonists from England and Western Europe. By 1775 one out of every ten farms in New England owned and operated its own cider mill. Consumed by men, women and children, by hired hands and Harvard students, cider quickly became America’s national drink. Since it was so widely available, such a useful commodity in daily life and because currency was relatively scarce, especially in rural areas, cider became a common unit of exchange as it has been earlier in England. It was frequently used by farmers to pay the doctor, the school teacher, the minister and other local professionals for their services.
As the nineteenth century started to progress however ciders place in American culture started to wane. One major factor was urban migration. In 1790, 96 percent of Americans lived on farms and raised most of their own food, but by 1900 rural population fell to 44 percent and in 1910 only 30 percent of Americas were still on the farm. Many old orchards were abandoned, and as homemade farm cider was unfiltered and unpasteurized, it didn’t travel well to the new centers of population. Coupled with growing urbanization and resettlement, a steady stream of immigrants from German and northern Europe led to the establishment of more breweries in America and the increased consumption of beer, especially in cities.
Yet today after a long hiatus Americans are once again developing a taste for hard cider. In 2004, hard cider consumption in the United States exceeded 10.3 million gallons, up from 5.3 million gallons in 1996 and just 271,000 gallons in 1990. Sales of hard cider have skyrocketed in the past few years increasing 65 percent between 2011 and 2012 in supermarket sales alone, and far outpacing the growth of wine (5.6 percent) and craft beer (13 percent). Yet cider is still a relatively minor player in the overall alcohol industry equivalent to only 0.3 percent of the total US beer and flavored malt beverages market in 2012. Increasingly these days, small orchardists and serious cider makers in the United States are planting distinctive European cider apples and experiencing with both traditional and new American varieties to see which are best for making cider.”#
This is an exciting time for cider and we are creating our own history and our own path. Onward!
The history of cider is impossible to capture in just a few paragraphs. For this reason we will excitingly be hosting Cider School at Wild Terra the 1st Saturday of every month. This easy going class is FREE taught by our head cider maker Ethan, tastings included! Check our Facebook Events!
Additionally Ben Watson’s excellent book “Cider Hard & Sweet” will be available for purchase. This book was used for reference for the above condensed history of cider.
# Watson, Ben. Cider Hard & Sweet. The Countryman Press, 201