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Cider History
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Cider History
from Societe Volcler, Normandy cider maker

Antiquity :
We know that the Hebrews drank "Shekar" and the Greeks "Sikera" (a drink obtained by cooking apples with fermented juice).
Before the Christian era, the various peoples of Europe had succeeded in producing beverages more or less similar to cider from a variety of fruit. STABON, the Greek geographer, described the abundance of apple and pear trees in Gaul and mentioned the "Phitarra" in the Basque country, which was a beverage obtained by boiling pieces of apples in water with honey.
In the 4th century, the Gallo-Roman PALLADIUS tells us how the Romans prepared pear wine. At the end of the 4th century, Saint Gerome actually mentioned perry (Piracium) and seems to be the first author to introduce the word into the Latin language. Similarly, we also owe him the term "Sicera" giving Cider (in English) or Sidre and Cidre (in French). There is little difference between Sicera and Sagara (the word for apple tree in the Basque language). The progress made in apple and pear tree husbandry and the care given to their preservation in Merovingian times are shown by the introduction in the Salic law of a special clause relating to fruit trees: those who damaged the trees were to be severely punished.

Charlemagne:
In the 9th century, Charlemagne, in the Capitulars, ordered that skilled brewers (the Sicetores) be kept on his estates to prepare ale, "pommé" (pomacium), perry and all the liquors liable to be used as drinks. In 1163, Enjuger de Bodon granted the Abbey of Moutiers, in Normandy, the tythe from the apples, the orchards and the woods. Other acts of a similar nature can be found throughout the century. The Normandy vineyards acquired their highest degree of prosperity in the 11th and 12th centuries.

In the 13th century, an event was to mark the history of cider: THE INVENTION OF THE PRESS.

At the end of the 13th century, wine and cider brokers named by municipal officers were established in the city of Caen. The religious houses in High Normandy were provided with cider in plenty in the 14th century. It is also at that time that cider started to supplant ale and in the inns it competed with wine and beer. In 1371, about as much cider as wine was sold in Caen.

The Hundred Years War :
The 100 Years War was for Normandy a period of ruin and desolation during which agriculture suffered a lot and cider was submitted to heavy levies. In the 15th century, cider had become the usual beverage in High and Low Normandy. From the 15th century, real progress was made in its presentation. Cider is a way of life. A gentleman from Biscaye, GUILLAUME DURSUS, came to settle near Valognes in the Cotentin. In particular, he improved cultivated apple species, planting and popularising around him excellent varieties for which he had brought grafts from his native country, where apple tree cultivation was already given special attention. In his diary, SIRE DE GAUBERVILLE also showed some interest in improving apple trees and in the fermentation of cider in Cotentin, producing his first vintage on 28 March 1553.

At the time, fruit growing specialists recommended the use of sour-sweet apples to press a delicate tasting cider, adding to them a few acid apples to avoid blackening. They distinguished and classified different types of cider by their colour and flavour.

In 1588, Julien LE PAULMIER, a Norman gentleman and Charles IX's physician, published a treatise called "De Vino et pomaco". This book contributed to make cider better known and to give it the place it deserves as a healthy drink, and praised its medicinal properties. Under Louis XIII, because of taxes on wine, the vineyards in Normandy were nearly all pulled up, and the cultivation of apples developed and definitely spread to neighbouring areas. The consumption of cider grew and grew but was then halted several times by a permanent state of war, crippling levies and the general poverty of the population. In 1720, the state got interested in fruit growing and set up nurseries.

In 1758, CHARLES-GABRIEL PORÉE, Cannon of Caen, inaugurated an initial numerical classification of apples based on their flowering and harvesting periods. Agricultural Societies created at the time instituted prizes to encourage the cultivation of apple trees for cider-making and thus contributed greatly to progress.

19th century :
At the beginning of the 19th century, ODOLANT DESNOS was quoting 300 varieties of apple trees. From the second half of the 19th century, the local worthies became fascinated by the "natural sciences". They collected plants, they grafted, they planted, they read ancient texts and collected sayings. But whatever fruit growers might say or do, cider remained a country drink made in a traditional way. Cider production quadrupled in 30 years, as diseases devastated the vineyards and opened up the market for cider. From 4 million hectares in 1870, it reached 14 million hectares in 1900. In Paris, cider replaced wine. At the beginning of the century, the profession recommended making new plantations of apple trees and introducing strict regulations to control the quality of the products. While the making of cider remained essentially localised in apple growing areas, cider plants were set up near large towns.

20th century :
Around 1914, war preparation artificially boosted and at the same time decreased French cider production. The government commandeered the apple trees. Indeed they were counting on the orchards to provide alcohol for industry and armament needs.

All the efforts made at the end of the First World War were to be annihilated by the Second World War. Both wars got the better of the Norman orchards and many independent producers were to disappear.

The decline in French cider production was planned. In 1953, the French government issued an order starting a policy of pulling up apple trees. In 1956, they stopped all support policies to producers. Land redistribution, rural depopulation and changes in lifestyles marked the end of traditional farmhouse production.

Nowadays, ultra-modern processes guarantee the qualities (hygiene, stability, pasteurisation, bottling, etc.) essential for mass production in plants, whereas traditional operator production is disappearing at the local level.

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