The Long Evolution

How the Cider Apple came to Somerset

The apples that we eat, cook and make cider with today all evolved from the wild crab apples, a mixture of the large fruited Asian Malus sieverseii -above – and the sour European crab, Malus sylvestris pictured below.
The wild apples of Asia Minor in the mountain forests of the Tian Shan have always been the favourite food of wild horses and bears. There in the Bronze age the sheep and goat herders started to grow cereals like wheat and barley and gradually began to move out onto the Steppes with their animals and horses, bringing with them the tasty wild apples.
Travellers moving west along the trade routes, the Silk Roads, brought with them many kinds of exotic fruit from the far east; apricots, almonds, more wild apples and pears, leaving a legacy of self-sown seedlings along the way.
Thus many new fruits came to Europe and trees grew where they could find the right climate to suit them.

Sometime, maybe 4000 years ago there was a happy marriage between the colourful wild Asian apples and the European native crab. Now there were new flavours, new colours, bigger fruits, a plenty of different apples to choose from.

The ancient Greeks who knew the art of grafting were able to select and preserve the best of these exotic fruits. Thus over time the biggest and tastiest apples were selected and cherished.

The Romans came to our isles In 43AD, bringing with them plenty of apples [they called their eating apples urbanories and their rustic ones agrestic poma] and many exotic fruits together with much of the ancient horticultural knowledge.

When they arrived they would have found that our native Celtic society had already certainly been eating wild apples, some brought by earlier travellers to our southern shores, and very probably making cider from them since perhaps as long ago as 1000BC . They would have heard Celtic names such as Avel in Cornwall, Avall in Wales and the legendary Ynis Avallach, the Isle of Apples in Somerset.

The new roads like the Fosse Way that starts near Axminster on our Devon coast and extends through Dorset and Somerset even right up to Lincolnshire, made way for the Roman’s contribution of fruit and expansion of horticultural knowledge throughout much of the southern part England and Wales.

Today our English cider apples are unique and very special to our islands. The best are called bittersweets, their juice a full flavoured mix of sharp malic acid and subtle tannins.

Text : Liz Copas.