Older cider history


Cider has a long and often fascinating history. From the apple’s journey from the forests of Central Asia via the Silk Road and into several great civilizations, the apple, and eventually cider, has been well received and pushed forward in its development. With the arrival of Christianity, monks have brought their ideas about orchard management to Norway, and especially in the last 250 years, the amount of available documentation on fruit and cider production in Norway has increased significantly. The apple – of the ancestor species Malus sierversii – is much older than humans. In what geologists call the Tertiary period, which lasted from about 66 to 2.6 million years ago, a vast forest belt spread from the east coast of North America via the Bering Strait and through the Gansu Corridor all the way to what is now France and Spain.

Et transkontinentalt skogbelte som bredte seg fra Nord-Amerika til Vest-Europa. Kilde: Juniper & Mabberley 2019: 23, kort 2.
A transcontinental forest belt that spread from North America to Western Europe. Source: Juniper & Mabberley 2019: 23, card 2

Grafting became the path to distribution

In the Tian Shan mountains in Central Asia, the forest was free from the ever-recurring ice caps, mainly because of warm sea breezes from the south of the Indian Ocean. Other ideal factors such as soil rain, heat, etc. facilitated the growth of apples over time. The distribution of apples was helped by the large animals of the forest, such as bears, deer, and wild horses. The wild horse, a plant-eating migrating animal, used the Silk Road as a migration route, thereby spreading lots of apple seeds towards the west. This meant that apples, from around the rise of agriculture in the 2nd millennium BCE (before the common era), was a natural addition to the agriculture in Mesopotamia. Here, grafting became a necessary solution for the groups of people who cultivated the fertile soil between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Grafting means transplanting plant tissue from one apple variety to another similar variety. By grafting, rather than planting a seed, the farmer saves time because he does not have to wait for the tree to grow from seed, and in addition, he is absolutely sure which apple variety will grow on the newly grafted tree trunk and eventually make up the tree crown.

Idéen med podning versus vegetativ forplantning som følge av frøformering er fint illustrert her. Kilde: Juniper & Mabberley 2019: 106. Tegning Rosemary Wise.
The idea of grafting versus vegetative propagation as a result of seed propagation is nicely illustrated here. Source: Juniper & Mabberley 2019: 106. Drawing by Rosemary Wise.

Fruit spreads through Europe

A very important discovery in the history of fruits, apples, and cider. The idea of planting orchards is known from several stories such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Homer's verses on Odysseus' orchards, and later from the Romans' various writings. The Romans were incredibly good at writing down their thoughts and observations, and we can therefore say that cider most likely had its formal beginnings in the Roman Empire. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder (23-79) wrote about how fruit should be treated before and after harvesting in his great work Naturalis Historia. Pliny had opinions on how fruit should be stored; in north-facing storerooms with ventilating windows on a raised floor above the cold and damp soil. Thoughts that only became relevant in Norway many centuries later. Thanks to Charlemagne (742-814), the western parts of Europe experienced a new time of peace after a period of turmoil marked by many migrations after the fall of the Roman Empire in the year 476. It gave many devoted Christians time to work, and several monasteries, including the Cistercian Order founded in 1098 in Citeaux in Burgundy, France. The monks were good at cultivating the land, they were hardworking and, not least, extremely business oriented. They settled in England, and from the mid-1100s they also settled in parts of Norway. In Hardanger, they could observe a different climate, a milder climate than on the coast. This change of climate was important for growing fruit, as the monks were already located far to the north, at the 60th parallel north, on the same latitude as southern Greenland, Canada, Siberia and areas generally better known for permafrost than large-scale fruit growing.

Kart som på enkel måte viser hvor Hardanger ligger i langstrakte Norge. Illustrasjon Thor Oddvar Havn.
Map that in simple way shows where Hardanger is located in Norway. Illustration by Thor Oddvar Havn.
Dronebilde over Nå i Vikebygd (mars, 2022). De røde bygninger nede til venstre er Edel Sideri og den fine, hvite bygningen som ligger ytterst på kaiplassen er fine dining restauranten Siderhuset Ola K. Droneansvarlig: Thor Oddvar Havn.
Drone image over Nå in Vikebygd (March, 2022). The red buildings on the bottom left are Edel Sideri and the nice, white building located at the far end of the quay is the fine dining restaurant Siderhuset Ola K. Drone operator: Thor Oddvar Havn.

Norwegian fruit

The monks managed this, and the whole monastic community generally contributed with important improvements in fruit cultivation, such as the art of grafting. “Aldehage” was a word meaning orchard, and “apal” meant apple or apple tree. The earliest documentation of the sale of fruit in Norway dates to the 2nd of August 1665, when Lars Amundsen Aga (1630-approx. 1685) went to Bergen in his boat to sell sour cherries. At the same time, there was a naval battle between the Dutch and the English, and when the authorities in Bergen called in witnesses for questioning, Lars had to give them his name and an explanation for his stay in the city. When it comes to grafting, farmer Lars Larsson Bleie (1756-1827) learned to graft as early as 1775. At Bleie farm, he grafted sweet cherry trees from grafting twigs that he had received from the rectory in Ullensvang. Bleie farm became known for sweet cherry cultivation early on. Around the same time, Asbjørn Måge worked on making juice out of fruit, and he was awarded a prize for this work by Det Nyttige Selskab in Bergen in 1774. He had "shown great enthusiasm for the planting and grafting of fruit trees, and (had) put together a convenient machine to press the fruit into juice." In 1792, another Hardanger local; gardener, blacksmith and member of parliament, Johannes Pedersen Aga (1767-1838), imported two Gravenstein apple trees to Aga in Sørfjorden in Hardanger. The apples were imported from Hamburg via traders in Bergen and planted in 1792. This apple variety still thrives in Norway today, and few, if any other apple varieties, have generated a bigger economy for the country than the Gravenstein variety.

Knud Knudsen

Shortly after the dissolution of the union with Denmark in 1814, a boy named Knud Knudsen Bustetun (1832-1915) was born at Tokheim near Odda. He would become very important for fruit farming in Norway. As a young boy, Knud was already very interested in growing plants, especially fruit trees, and he acquired knowledge from his trips abroad as fast as he could; he kept German journals on apple growing for the rest of his life after his study trip to the Pomologische Institut in Reutlingen near Stuttgart in Germany in 1862. Knudsen mastered the art of photography, and thanks to his thorough efforts, we have many insights into the fruit cultivation of the time. At one point, he had over 150 different apple varieties to look after on the Tokheim farm. In the 1800s, fruit farming was often run alongside sheep farming, and the fruit was therefore placed in more inaccessible terrain.

Fruit growing is demanding, but the sugar is "released"

Fruit trees were planted in the rocky part of the farm, left to look after themselves, and then the fruits were harvested when they were ripe. The fruit trees were much taller than today's trees, and as we can see from Knudsen's photos, the apples were picked and put in small willow baskets and then kept in herring barrels for further distribution (see illustration 5). Fruit farming was a difficult job, and the fruit farmer's worries didn't stop with the harvest. The voyage from the fjords to the markets was weather-dependent and time-consuming, and the price for overripe fruit was lower than the price for new, fresh and firm fruits. This fruit distribution started to change in the mid-1800s with the start of steamships and passenger boats. Steam powered ships could cover long distances faster than earlier sailboats (see illustration 6). This meant a larger turnover area and, not least, an increased income. New times were ahead with the end of the trade laws of 1842 and 1857, which changed the supply of sugar. An important part of cider history.

Dampskipet ligger til kai på Naa lenge før kjøpmannsbutikk, boligbyggeri, skule, og fine dining har sett dagens lys. Kilde: Finn Måge, postkort i privateie.
The steam ship is docked at Naa long before merchant's shops, house builders, schools, and fine dining see the light of day. Source: Finn Måge, postcard in private ownership.

Written by Kasper Wrem Anderson