Leonard Mascall, on Cleanliness in Sixteenth Century Cyder-Making

Vinetum Brittanicum frontispiece showing C17th apple grinding and pressing technology
"Of Apples and Peares, men doe make Cyder and Pirrie, because the use thereof in most places is knowne I wyll heere let passe to speake any further thereof, but this (in the pressing your Cyder) I wyl counsel you to keepe cleane your vessels, and the places wheras your fruite doth lye, and specially after it is brused or broken, for then they drawe fylthy ayre unto them, and if it be nighe, the Cyder shall be infected therewith, and also beare the taste after the infection thereof: therefore as soone as you can, tunne it into cleane and sweete barrels, as into vessels of white Wine or of Sacke, or Claret and such like, for these shall keepe your Cyder the better and the stronger, along time after: ye may hang a small bag of linnen by a thred downe into the lower part of your vessel, with powder of Cloves, Mace, Cynamon, Ginger and such lyke, which wyll make your Cyder to have a pleasaunt taste."

Leonard Mascall, A Booke of the Arte and Maner, Howe to Plant and Graffe all Sortes of Trees (1575)

Judging by the content of my Twitter feed at the moment, juice-pressing and cider-making season is in full swing. That means a lot of sterilisation, scrubbing and hosing down of pressing gear and fermentation vessels before any juice is extracted, to ensure that the cider makers’ effort isn’t wasted due to the sort of infection that can ruin a batch of cider, turning it into unintended vinegar.

It’s easy to assume that our historical predecessors were ignorant of concepts that we associate with more modern scientific theories. For instance, because the germ theory of disease didn’t become mainstream knowledge until the work of Pasteur in the 1850s and Koch in the 1880s, it’s tempting to think that nobody bothered with even basic hygiene in earlier eras.

The extract above[1] demonstrates that although the specific causes of infection weren’t fully understood[2] people were still perfectly capable of observing and inferring cause and effect, and taking appropriate action to avoid negative outcomes.

I have to say that the addition of a bag of spices to the fermentation vessel to add flavour sounds rather pleasaunt to me, too. I’m sure there must be a few cider-makers who are still making use of that technique today. Anyone know of any? Please do feel free to make recommendations, via the comments.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 This snippet of advice from is from an additional selection of compiled ‘Dutch practises’, translated by Mascall from sources unknown, rather than the main section of A Booke of the Arte and Maner…, which was originally written by Frenchman David Brossard.
2 Although the prevalent theory of the time – that “fylthy ayre” is the primary cause of disease – isn’t a million miles from the air-borne bacterial and/or fungal pathogens that we now know to be the major cause of unpleasant flavours developing during fermentation.

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