Notes on cider-making in Guernsey, 1823

Note on cider-making; by M. Bosc. (From The Accounts of the Meeting of the Agricultural Society of Rouen, 1823).

As with wine, cider varies infinitely in its quality and keeping, because apple varieties are as different one from the other as grapes, and are as affected by the vagaries of terrain, climate, exposure, and hot and cold or rainy and dry years.1

But since apples contain proportionally less sugar than grapes, and because cider-apples are grown almost exclusively in cold climates, control of the process of fermentation of cider is more difficult than with grapes. Thus, in Normandy, it is unusual for cider to be clear and to keep a year without degeneration.

North American producers, who are constantly striving to perfect their agricultural methods, have worked out how to lessen the difficulties inherent in the chemical composition of apples, by adopting a specific method of making cider, which they have passed on to certain Guernseymen, who in turn have informed the Normans. This is what they do:

The apples are pressed in the usual way and the juice is placed in barrels; but rather than allow complete fermentation, the cider is decanted to other barrels while fermentation is still under way, and then, once fermentation has begun again, the cider is decanted once more. This operation is usually repeated three times.

The foam and the marc from these three fermentations are in turn placed in woollen filters over a tub, and the cider that comes out of them, which is limpid and strong, is added to the cider in the last of the barrels, which are immediately carefully sealed. The cider thus obtained tastes exquisite and can be kept for ten years without the smallest alteration. It is sold in England for three times the price of ordinary cider.2

Science can explain these results, as the sugar in apples dissolves easily and the unwanted mucilage is filtered out. All the above would no doubt be applicable to the production of rough wine in our Northern regions.

From the French.

For more on the subject of local cider, see Barbarie Falla and Barbarie Rillie and What's on the Menu in Guernsey in 1681? George Métivier produced a poem on the making of the first cider of the season. It first appeared in the newspapers in October, 1826, as Les Chanson du prinseux, 'The song of the cider press.'In it he quotes what he calls a 'Cider-Toast:' 'V'la ta tôtaie.' The text of this poem and a translation into English can be found in Jennings and Marquis, The toad and the donkey, 2011, pp. 106-7.

Interesting details of the production, sale, and distribution of cider by his grandfather at Le Tertre in the Castel are given by P J Girard in 'Country life of the late 19th century,' Report & Trans. Soc. Guern., 1971, p. 93.

Quayle, in his General View of the Agriculture and present state of the Islands on the Coast of Normandy, 1815, pp. 129 ff., gives a very detailed account of the making of cider in Jersey.

1 In St Martin, A Parish History, ed. Richard Strappini, published in 2009, the author discusses the history of cider-making in the parish of St Martin, and points out how the Gardner's 'Duke of Richmond' map of 1787 shows the many apple orchards there, grouped together. These extensive orchards are not found near the more exposed west coast of the island, for example; the valleys of St Martin afforded one of the highest concentrations of apple orchards in the island. He also discusses the prinseux, or presses, remaining in the parish.

2 In August 1827, John Skinner stayed a couple of days in Guernsey. He visited an Inn in St Saviour's (probably Alexander's) 'much frequented by the gentry from the Town, who make parties to spend the day in the country.' Here he 'paid five pence for a bottle of excellent Cyder, much resembling in flavour that which is made at Taunton.' From Roger Jones' article, 'John Skinner's visit to the Channel Islands: Guernsey, August 1827,' in The Review of the Guernsey Society, (LV) 1, Spring 1999, pp. 22 ff.