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The history of Calvados – Apples, pears and legends

The apple is probably one of the oldest fruits known to man and belongs to the rose family probably easier to see by studying the rose like flower of the tree. It is believed that the ancestors of the apple originated from a tree still found wild in Kazakhstan between the Caspian and the Black Sea. The Pear belongs to the same family as the apple, the ancestor of the cider pear is the “poirasse”, found in the wild forests in the west of France. The lush valleys of Seine and Eure were home to some of the first humans, the Cro-Magnons, they ate wild apples and pears and preserved them in slices by drying them in the sun. The early writings of the Egyptians, Babylonians and Chinese talk of the gardens of Ramses II and the gardens of the Nile were planted with apples. The Romans planted many varieties recorded by agronomists like Cato Pliny and Palladius who lived in the third century BC and it is said that the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was the apple and symbolised as the fruit of love, beauty and health. The term “apple of our eye” is used when referring to someone we prize or love.

The exact origin of pressing fruit and fermenting the juice is not certain. Historians believe that the Egyptian and Byzantine civilisations made a sort of cider in the times before Christ and other civilisations had developed a form of alcoholic beverage from the simplicity of the spontaneous fermentation. The ingredients are of course simple, liquids with sugar from the fruits, grains or honey, natural yeast and air, a combination which can often occur together where quantities of fruits and their juice are stored. The areas of Normandy, Basque Provinces and the southern part of England have a tradition of making cider. The Celts and Gallic tribes are known to have cultivated wild apple trees, maintaining them in the forests and considering them as sacred. In 56 BC Caesar’s Roman legions fought their way north through France and eventually invaded Britain. With the Romans came major developments, Christianity and the opening of major new trade routes and in the centuries that followed orchards including apple trees and vines were appropriated by monasteries all over Normandy and Europe. Stabon, a Greek historian, describes the abundance of apple trees in Gaul, an area of Normandy but also mentions the “phitarra”, in the Basque regions – a beverage made by boiling sliced apples with honey.