Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Cyder Fruite RULES

In 1672, John Beale wrote to his friend, the great chemist Robert Boyle, complaining about how the English predilection for foreign wine was draining the country's wealth.

"I am told that in our late Warre with Holland, 1665, the French began to interdict trade with England, till an accomplished showed their King that by trade we were pensioners to france, merely for their wines, to the value of some millions of money yearly...."


"... that by trading for French wines, in the perilous months of Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec, we loose more shipping and more seamen than by all our other trade." 

At this rate, Beale continues, we are practically asking for a French invasion, just "as Saxons, Danes and Normans have done."

Beale is talking about one very specific commodity, but he seems to be bringing up a somewhat larger question.  How do you control one's taste?  Which tastes are morally sound, and which tastes are more questionable?  And most importantly, what was one to do about it?

For Beale, one beverage held all the answers.

"Cyder Fruite"
There are many possible explanations for the cider vogue of the 1660s and 70s, the nuances of which are far beyond the humble ruminations of a grad-student food blogger.

But what I do want to point out is that the promotion of "Cyder Fruite" is often justified and rationalized by the sense of taste.  

For example, Beale boasts that his expertise lies in his acute sensory abilities.

"I can tell you, I have a nice palate, and some famous vinters have wish’t my taste, and for 5 years or thereabouts I have heretofore confin’d myself to wines of all sorts, French, Italian, Spanish and Grecian, and upon this presumption I have busied myself to discern all essays upon cider and perry these twenty years at least."  

(Clearly, modesty was a completely foreign concept to Beale.)

Beale never actually says that the best cider tasted better than the best French Bordeaux.  Who would have taken him seriously then?  However, he argued that a very good cider was always tastier than a mediocre French wine, and leagues tastier than any pathetic English attempt to make wine.  And the many varieties of local cider apples and pears –– the "feminine" Gennet-Moyl, the hardy Red-Strake –– could support the same culture of connoisseurship that wine did.  Through aging, mixing, and the addition of sundry spices, cider could be manipulated to taste like almost anything.

The late 17th century saw an
explosion of cider related publications
So what's next?  All we have to do, Beale says, is get the King to plant a few "Cyder-Orchards" at his palaces mansions.  Knowing that taste was difficult to extricate from social emulation, the whole country would follow his example, and, he wistfully concludes, "every Peasant would be a Gentleman."  Another writer claims that cider that is excessively "vinous" or wine-like, will “make the country-man think himself a lord, as the hard apple cider will do.”  For a moment, perhaps, tastes, both elite and common, could potentially see eye to eye. 

But by the beginning of the 18th century, these dreams of a whole kingdom running on cider have pretty much disappeared.  An article in The Tatler from 1709 laments the spread of bootleg foreign luxuries, such as “Bourdeaux out of a slow" and "champagne from an apple.”  Clearly, somewhere John Beale's vision had failed.  Cider never attained the prestige that imported wines did, and it certainly couldn't replace them in elite urban circles.  So much for the authentically "English" taste.   

As reading all this cider scholarship on a nice day can make one rather thirsty, I hit up the local grocery store post Guildhall this afternoon. 

Waitrose Cider Selection, Islington

There are many tasty things in London that don't come cheap, but luckily, cider isn't one of them.  Compared to the hefty San Francisco import mark-up, 1.85 pounds at Waitrose makes Henney's dry cider both a bargain and a pleasant refreshment.