A brief history of cider and cider-making
Apple trees existed along the Nile River Delta as early as 1300BC. The fermentation of apple juice is recorded in ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman writings.
The word Cider derived from the Hebrew word “Shekar” meaning strong drink. Gaia, Mother Earth presented an Apple tree to Zeus and Hera on their wedding day. Hercules stole magic apples from the garden of Hesperides, where the tree was guarded by a serpent. The apple was sacred to Aphrodite and Venus. The Roman goddess Pomana wandered through the countryside with a curved knife pruning apple trees as she went.
When the Romans arrived in England in 55BC, they found the local Kentish villages drinking a delicious cider-like beverage made from apples. According to ancient records, the Roman leader Julius Caesar embraced the pleasant pursuit with enthusiasm. After the Norman conquest of 1066, cider consumption became widespread in England and orchards were established to produce cider apples. During medieval times, cider making was an important industry. Monasteries sold vast quantities of their strong-spiced cider to the public. Farm labourers received a cider allowance as part of their wages.
At the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536-9, much of the cider and orchard knowledge was dispersed. Many of the upper classes then took over the role of cider making in preference to vineyards.
Cider tax was first introduced in 1643 during the civil war. In 1660 Charles II raised the tax. In 1763 Lord Bute raised the tax again to pay for the seven year war. This led to riots, mainly as it gave excise men the right to enter peoples’ homes. This angered many people and the phrase “an Englishman’s home is his castle” was coined.Today the largest worldwide producer of cider is the UK, followed by South Africa then France. Mass produced cider is now facing strong competition from traditional farmhouse “scrumpy” varieties and also many variations of rum, ginger whiskey and other flavoured ciders.