Cider versus Wine, 1829

In the 37th year of Henry VIII's reign, the barking of apple trees was declared a felony, and the passing of this law was probably linked in some way to an increase in the number of apple trees grown from seed, or "pippins". "Costard-Monger" is an old English term for dealers in vegetables, including apples, the costard being a large apple, round and bulky, like a head. It seems that these apples were widely used, and that the name of the variety was passed to the species as a whole. The more delicate sorts were luxuries unknown to ordinary people until they were made more popular by orchard plantings in Kent, Sussex and elsewhere.

Better apples had become so well-known fifty years later that we find Shakespeare putting these words in the mouth of Justice Swallow, in his invitation to Falstaff: "You shall see mine orchard, where, in an arbour, we will eat a last year's pippin of my own grafting". Sir Hugh Evans, in the "Merry Wives of Windsor", says "I will make an end of my dinner - there's pippins and cheese to come". Pippins must have been delicacies for the dessert.

In another fifty years the national apple industry had made apples an important article of general consumption. Everyone ate them. The fine cider orchards of Herefordshire began to be planted in the reign of Charles I. The adaptation of these trees to the soil was quickly realised, and they spread over the whole country. Of the cider apples, REDSTREAK and SLINE were most prized. The cider of these apples (and the perry of the SQUASH pear) was famous throughout Europe. At one time it was believed that English cider in England would almost wholly replace foreign wines.

From the period of the Norman conquest England bought a lot of wine from France, and this increased when Henry II married the daughter of the Duke of Acquitaine. About the middle of the 1500s, there was a law that no-one of ordinary rank could keep an wine vessel bigger than ten gallons in his house. Perhaps the demand for it was greater than the supply. In 1635 an Englishman, Francis Chamberlain, was granted a patent to make wine from imported dried grapes from Spain and Portugal - again suggesting that not enough wine could be imported.

Under these circumstances cider began to fill the gap. It became a general beverage. In Gerard's Herbal, published about the close of Elizabeth's reign, is this quote: "I have seen in Mr. Roger Badnome's pastures and hedgerows an immense variety of apple trees; so many that his servants drink nothing but cider. It's so good that the parson has a large amount of it for tythes.

During the reigns of William III and Anne, when there were wars with France, cider use increased, and French wines were kept out. Philips, a contemporary of Addison, wrote a long poem in praise of cider, and embodied in his work a lot about selecting and managing apple trees.

But we know that the truest way to advance the prosperity of nations is to exchange the best natural products of the respective countries. If we are to drink Herefordshire cider in preference to claret from Bordeaux, for the sole reason that we grow it, the same principle, if applied to us, would cut us off from commerce with the rest of the world. This is not a wise course of action.

Paraphrased from "A description and history of vegetable substances used in the arts and domestic economy", 1829, pub. Charles Knight, Pall Mall.

Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

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