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West Croft Cider - Historical Cider Facts and Stories

This is a collection of facts and anecdotes from the long and noble history of cider that have interested or amused us. It is not a definitive history of cider, as there is already a wealth of material published for serious students. For further reading, there is a list of some sources we recommend on the links page.

Nearly 1000 years before we started counting up in years on the calendar rather than down, Homer described the practice of cultivating apple orchards in the Odyssey. People in those days must have been very clever to know that an event was due that was going to cause the calendar direction to reverse… but we digress.

At some point, the really clever ones started collecting the apples, pressing the juice and letting it ferment naturally to create the drink that we all know today as cider.

Certainly several hundred years after Homer wrote, when the Romans arrived in Britain, they found that the locals were already well established in the practice of enjoying cider. No wonder they stayed so long.

West Croft Cider - Cider's Early Days

The first apple presses were re-worked olive presses. Courtesy of the Ancient Romans. Industrious as always, they wanted to keep using those expensive machines as much as possible. Obviously on their arrival in Britain, they had seen the pleasure that this golden liquid gave the inhabitants and wanted to speed up the process to make sure there was enough to go round.

In Latin, the worlds for apple ("mālum") and for evil ("mălum") are almost identical, only the accent on letter 'a' changes. This may be why the apple was assumed to be the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. Many believe that it was probably a pomegranate. But apples take the blame in most medieval paintings. This word survives in the latin name for the apple genus, Malus Domestica, Malus Pumila, and the father of them all, Malus Sieversii.

Apples are believed to originate from Kazakhstan, the name of the country's capital being "Alma-Ata", literally translated as "The Father of Apples". The precise origin is hard to pin down, with record of apple trees being cared for by man showing up in early cave drawings. What is more certain is that most of the cider apple varieties in the UK arrived via France. William the Conquerer was responsible for bringing in many varieties and in the years following 1066, cider's popularity in Britain boomed.

West Croft Cider - Cider in the Middle Ages

In Britain, between the 13th and the 19th centuries, farm workers' wages included four pints of cider a day. In 1887 a law called the Truck Amendment Act made it illegal to compensate workers in this manner. This was a blow to the many farms where they made the best cider and attracted the best workers.

In 14th Century Britain, many children were baptised in cider, it was cleaner than the water. Not only that, you could drink it afterwards, making cider one of the first ever dual purpose products.

Legend has it that on November 18th, 1307 William Tell shot an apple from his son's head. November 18th is now National Apple Cider Day in the UK. Is this a coincidence? Who knows? Or for that matter who cares, although it is a matter for some debate as to what happened to the apple after it had been shot from the head of the aforementioned son…

West Croft Cider - And Then We Discovered America

When The Pilgrim Fathers sailed to America, mostly they drank cider because it was safer than drinking water. With the amount of chemicals in our tap water now, making each glass smell like a swimming pool, it wouldn't surprise us to find out that this is once more the case. It is believed that the first recorded Thanksgiving Dinner in the US in 1621 was washed down with cider.

President John Adams, who comes in third for "longest lived U.S. president" enjoyed a tankard of hard cider every morning with breakfast. With the number of US presidents who have been shot or done away with over the years, most of them would have been better served to stay at home and drink cider all day! Interestingly, John Adams, who lived to be 91, died on Independence Day in 1826.

"It's bad to eat apples. It is better to turn them all into cider." - Benjamin Franklin (January 6th, 1705 - April 17th, 1790). Healthy advice from another US Founding Father. Benjamin Franklin was never elected president, although he did get his picture on the $100 bill. Judging from the sound nature of his advice, he was probably too sensible to stand for such a precarious office, preferring the safety and comfort of his home with a glass of cider to sustain him. As if to mark his passing, the Falmouth Cider Festival ended on April 17th this year.

West Croft Cider - Then Back to the Present

In the 19th Century cider was advertised as a cure for the gout and other illnesses. If it doesn't cure what it is you are suffering from, even today, there is a fair chance it will take your mind off it…

Cider's fortunes have waxed and waned over the years, largely thanks to external influences. In Britain, this has often been the result of trade restrictions or punitive duties applied by governments over the years. many brewers have rejoiced in this of course. Far be it from me to suggest that had the brewers not been related to the government ministers at the time, the results may have been different. Cynical? Me? In the United States, they had the do-gooders of the world to contend with. The Temperance movement all but killed cider production. Fired up by speeches from ministers and politicians, many farmers destroyed their "demon orchards,", sparing only the trees used for sweet juice. During the years when Prohibition was enacted, American cider production fell by 76%. Who says "God bless America" eh?

Anyway, in current times, particularly here in Britain, cider production is healthy and the proportion of ciders made from good local fruit in small volumes by enthusiastic, traditional makers is gaining on the volume makers, with the market becoming more discerning about what does or does not constitute good cider. If you have read this far, you are probably thirsty by now, so visit our online shop and set yourself up with a delivery of the delicious West Croft cider of your choice.

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