Cider has been a true English drink for many centuries and one of the most important instructions for producing it, was the importance of planting the orchard in the correct manner.
Thomas Hale, in the 1750s, stated that, “The first consideration in the raising of an orchard, is the choice of a proper piece of ground. It is a plantation that is to continue a great while, and that may be of very great value hereafter”. He recommended that the orchard should be planted near to the house where it would be convenient for the cropping of the apples and also to keep an eye on the apple thieves, that seemed to be common in those days. However, it was also commonly known that different types of apples needed various soil types for the tree to fruit well. It would have been accepted to plant the orchard away from the house or farm, as soils dictated.
Thomas Hale pointed out that fruit trees, if transplanted, should not be taken from soil that is better than the prepared orchard ground where they are to grow and preferably from a nursery not far from the new orchard.
It was known, that an apple tree would bear fruit long and well when planted young. The best sort of tree recommended for planting was a three year old , grafted onto a crab-apple stock (full standard), which was known to last many years.
In the 17th century, when fruit trees were planted, hardly a stem would have been pruned, although, the roots would have been tidied up with the knife. In the 18th century, the roots would have been tidied up and also, pruning of the stems was fashionable.
Thomas Hale said, “The gardener with his knife is as terrible as the surgeon with all his apparatus of instruments; and he thinks the more he cuts away the more he shews a masterly hand; both extremes are wrong...In old time in England, gardeners were afraid of taking off the smallest shoot from a new planted tree: at present the fasion is opposite... The new planted tree will not be able to support so large a head at first setting, as it did whilst in the native ground...is to take off a part, and to manage his knife in such a manner, that what is left on may be of such growth as to form a well shaped head...secured from damage from winds by staking...the stem is to be tied to it with a hay-band”.
It was recommended placing a chopped up turf, face down, at the base of the roots. Also turf placed two feet around the stem when planted, to help keep in the moisture within the soil. The above method of planting is pretty well what we would do today.
Methods of making cider in the early 1700s seemed to differ and some of these methods from individual sources are related below.
Thomas Hale instructed, “The apples intended for cyder must be picked clean, and their juice expressed or squeesed out...no filth or foulness of any kind must be mixed with them...decayed ones must be thrown away...the picked apples are to be put into the mill, where they are mashed and ground to pieces by a stone moved round upon them: this is the proper method for large quantities; but any method of bruising and squeesing them thoroughly will do...and as some foulness will have come among it, it must be strained. A tolerably close hair sieve answers very well for the purpose, or a canvas bag may be employed...the juice thus strained from inpurities is to be put into a vessel, which must not be quite full. It is to be covered loosely, and set quitely by for three days. At the end of that time it is to be covered up as tightly and closely as may be with clay; and then the business is to watch for its growing fine”.
It was recommended that a small quantity of cider should be drawn out and inspected every couple of days and examined for clearness.
“In this respect we are to inform the farmer, that he is to examine his cyder according to the nature of the apples under three kinds. These may be named according to the apple; The Summer Fruit cyder; The Gennet Moil cyder; and the Redstreak cyder...these have their three several times at which they may be naturally expected to arrive at this degree of fineness: The time of the Summer Fruit cyder is about a month: The Gennet Moil cyder seldom comes to it till toward the beginning of October; and the Redstreak kind not till January. Those are not to be supposed certain, invariable, and universal rules, for there can be no such...Sometimes a quantity of cyder will be fine sooner than can be expected; frequently it takes a fortnight longer for the Summer Fruit kinds, and a month or six weeks longer than the natural and usual time for the others. In general the winter kinds are to be expected to answer in the manner of the Redstreak, and when after a month, or at the utmost six weeks more than the usual time, they are not grown fine, they must be racked off as clear as may be in the manner of wine”.
Fining or clearing the cider requires an ingredient that takes down the cloudiness and clears the cider. Many ingredients, perhaps not healthy to the cider or drinker were, and in a minority of cases are used to fine the cider.
“Many expedients have been used to fine down the cyder that does not answer as it should, but most of them are very improper. There is however one eminent ingredient that is of excellent service to this purpose, and may be used with perfect safety. This is Isinglass. It is a very harmless drug, and when dissolved is of such a clammy quality that it lays hold of all kinds of foulness, and when the fault is is not too great will carry all down with it, and leave the liquor perfectly fine...Isinglass is brought from the northern parts of Europe, where it is made by boiling the sinewy and skinny parts of a fish, much like a sturgeon, to a jelly; which is then poured out upon a table to dry, in the same manner as our glue is made...the best way is to dissolve the isinglass for the present purpose in a good bodied white wine...Let the farmer who wants this drug therefore, see that he ask for beaten isinglass, and that it be well beaten into thin shivers. Then he is to put it into the wine for fining down the cyder. It will be fit for use as soon as it is thoroughly melted, but not before; this is a thing that is done slowly: some hasten it by heat; but that is not so well.
If the wine and isinglass be set over a gentle fire, and kept stirring, it will in some little time melt; but thus the wine loses a great part of its spirit, and after the whole gets a burnt taste. This is to be guarded against in the most careful manner; if the necessity of the farmer's affairs make him use the way with heat: but the better way is to take a proper time, and let it dissolve in the cold. The fine beaten isinglass is for this use to be put into a large bottle, two thirds filled with wine; and set by in a sellar. It is to be shook gently from time to time, and by degrees it will perfectly dissolve, and the whole will make a fine jelly. This dissolution is much more perfect than that with the help of the fire, and it always succeeds much better when put to use.
When the cyder is thus made fine by an innocent addition, or when it has, in the common course of time, become fine of itself, it is to be drawn off at pleasure and bottled, if the farmer chuses”.
It seems that 18th century cider was very drinkable and probably quite clear in appearance, somewhat different but better than our farmhouse or homemade cider we know and drink today.
The Reverend Mr George Turner's method of making cider. 1756, can be seen here
preserving rural bygones
Cider making - 1