The history of cider is fascinating! Some historical texts say that the history of cider began some fifty million years in the past when it’s believed that the initial apple trees began to produce fruit here on earth. However it’d be a really long while before the first apple cider drink would be produced.
The history of cider, its production and consumption go way back. Making cider, in its most basic and original form, is a simple process that could have been performed for as long as fermentation has performed by humans. First apples are picked, then crushed into a pulp. The pulp can be pressed and strained to collect the raw juice. Natural yeast in the air begins the process of converting sugars in the apple juice into alcohol. Simple and natural, right?
Cider, Autumn’s Drink
Now, cider is the quintessential drink of fall and here, at least in North America, we are well into the autumn season. Most of the apple varieties have been harvested and cider producers are busy fermenting its juice all over the Northern Hemisphere. Cider’s dry, tart snap is just like the crunch of dead leaves underfoot, or perhaps like smell of cold dirt and fire smoke.
Where did our understanding of the word “hard cider” and the history of cider come from? Except for all its autumn time associations, the word “cider” really came into English by manner of the Biblical Old Testament and also the Promised Land, wherever you’re all the more likely to find date palms than apple orchards.
The History of the word “Cider”
In Hebrew, cider’s root is “shekhar,” that is itself derived from the Akkadian (Ancient Babylonian) word for barley brew, “sikkaru.” There’s some rivalry within the historical biblical libation community on whether or not the Hebrew “shekhar” meant something additional like ancient brew or ancient liquor, however it’s typically translated in more modern translated Bibles as “strong drink.”
By the time the Old Testament changed its language from Hebrew to Greek to widespread Latin, “shekhar” had morphed into “sicera,” that eventually eventually turned up being the Old French “cisdre,” and, finally, “cidre.”
As typically is the case within the jump from French to English, this is often where things get weird, this is the case with the word usage relating to the history of cider. Once the French took over England within the 1100s (a little thing referred to as the Norman Invasion), “cider” entered the English language, however a apparently unrelated word, “béor,” fell out of usage.
You’d assume that the Anglo-Saxon words “ealu” and “béor” would be roughly equivalent, like our present “ale” and “beer.” however “beer” solely came back to the language within the 1500s, from German “bier,” at around the same time that German lager was initially invented, four hundred years after “béor” died.
So, what’s that add up to? That the Old English word for “cider” was, probably (and oddly), “béor.” At the time, in each of French and English, it’s probable that “cider” and “béor” more typically noted as strong, sweet drink made with fruit or honey (as opposed to “ale” and “mead,” which were lower in alcohol) and served in sake-sized glasses.
As you can see, the history of cider is a long one and its beginning in Europe, in around 55 BC it was discovered by the ancient Romans that cider was already well established in England. The process of grinding and fermenting the apples into the popular drink was refined by Spanish, French and English apple farmers from ancient times.
Cider became the most widely consumed alcohol in Northern Europe and Great Britain for a very long time. When the English settled in America, they brought cider apple seeds with them. By the late 1800’s cider production began to decline due several factors including the increased consumption of beer and later, prohibition. Luckily, cider has made a massive revival and is available everywhere in excellent quality and variety.
Which, as much as I prefer today’s hard apple cider, the history of cider is good to know and also seems like an excellent drink for fall.