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Title: Cider
Original Title: Cidre
Volume and Page: Vol. 3 (1753), pp. 440–442
Author: Denis Diderot (biography)
Translator: Malcolm Eden [University of London,]
Subject terms:
Rural economy
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Diderot, Denis. "Cider." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Malcolm Eden. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Cidre," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 3. Paris, 1753.
Citation (Chicago): Diderot, Denis. "Cider." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Malcolm Eden. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Cidre," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 3:440–442 (Paris, 1753).
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Cider, a drink made from apples. It is very old. In ancient Hebrew it was called sichar, which St Jerome translated as sicera, from which we take our word cider. Later peoples also drank it, and the Greeks and the Romans made apple wine. It is very common in France, especially in regions without wine made from grapes.

Normandy is for cider what Burgundy and Champagne are for wine, and just as wine does not have the same quality in all cantons and provinces, so all the cantons of Normandy do not produce cider of the same quality. The produce is abundant and excellent above all in the Auge and Bessin regions or near Isigny. Eating apples are not used. Cider is made from several different varieties of country apples, the juices of which must be well identified so as to combine them appropriately and to balance one against the other. Orchards of this kind of apple are planted, they are cleft-grafted, set up in a quincunx pattern or arranged in avenues. There are perhaps more than thirty sorts of cider apples that are picked at different times as and when they seem ripe, and they ripen more or less quickly according to the progress of the seasons. They are distributed into three different classes, which are harvested one after the other. The first two classes are called soft apples and the third hard apples . The apples of the third class are indeed hard, and ripen later and with more difficulty. A general rule for the harvest is to choose dry weather, when the apples have been drained of their moisture.

This day is generally towards the end of September or the beginning of October. People gather at the trees and, as there would be too much work to pick the fruits by hand, the apples are knocked to the ground, either using poles or by shaking the trees. They are then picked up and taken to the loft, where they are heaped up according to their category. The apples then warm up, sweat and finish ripening.

If there is a precise ripening point to choose for harvesting apples, then there is another that is just as important for pressing them. Soft apples are left to ripen much longer before they are pounded and turned into cider; hard apples are pounded before they are ripe. The maturity of the apples heaped in the lofts is judged by the increasing aroma they give off. When this aroma has reached a degree of strength that can only be recognised by experience, then it is time to make the cider and carry the fruit to be pounded.

This is how the cider mill is made. Imagine a circular trough made of wood connected to two wooden millstones like those used in a windmill, but fixed differently. In a windmill, they are horizontal, but in the cider mill they are placed in the trough vertically. They are fixed to a vertical piece of wood that turns on itself and which is placed in the centre of the circular part of the trough; a long axle passes through them; the axle is joined to the vertical axis; its other end juts out from the trough; a horse  → is harnessed to it; the horse pulls the axle by walking round the trough, which also moves the pressing stones in the trough where the apples are pounded. When they are judged to be sufficiently crushed, that is to say, enough for all the juice to be extracted from them, the apples are removed with a wooden spade and put into a large vat nearby. Enough apples are pounded to make a pulp or pomace.

Wooden pressing stones are better than stone ones. The trough must be well sealed and the pieces put together in such a way that nothing is lost. Farmers who do not have large cider mills with revolving pressing stones use pestles and bludgeons, mashing the fruit with the strength of their arms.

The pomace is then placed on the bottom of the cider press. The press is made up of a large wooden frame called the ewe , between 24 and 28 feet long, placed horizontally on the ground, and a beam called the sheep, similarly shaped and placed parallel with the ewe . The sheep is supported at the less thick end by a heavy wooden screw, the other end of which is fixed in the same way at the smaller end of the ewe . In the middle of the two beams there is a set of ‘twins’, with another set at the larger end. The twins are four pieces of flat wood, end-stopped at the lower end by the ewe and at the upper end by a piece of wood that holds them firmly together and stops them coming apart. The sheep is raised and lowered between the four twins , and always plumb with the ewe . There is a cross piece that is placed by hand beneath the sheep between the two twins at the same end as the screw, where they are set up to receive and support it. Using this cross piece the larger end of the sheep rises and falls like a see-saw. For the rear twins there are pieces of wood called keys , which are used either to maintain or press down the sheep .

A strong plank of wood, called the press floor , is set up between the four twins on the ewe; this plank has an edge made of four pieces of wood called the press reeds; the edges contain the juice of the apples, which can only flow out into a basin called the beron and which then falls into a small vat.

The apple pomace is piled up perpendicularly on the press floor, in 3 or 4 inch layers, which are separated by layers of long straw or horse-hair cloth. The pile can reach as high as four or five feet. The pomace arranged in this way has the shape of a truncated and squared pyramid.

A piece of wood, called the hatch , is attached to the underside of the sheep. It is the same size as the piece bearing the pomace. By turning the screw placed at the ends of the ewe and the sheep, the sheep is lowered. The hatch is strongly pressed down on the pomace, which is arranged in the shape of a pyramid, and the pressure forces the juice out of the pomace.

The pile is left for some time to subside beneath the hatch before it is raised. When the juice has practically stopped flowing, the press is unscrewed, the pile is formed into a square shape using a press knife (a large piece of curved iron with a wooden handle), the carved off pieces are put on top of the pile and the pressing goes on. The process is repeated until all the pomace is used up.

At the bottom of the screw of the cider press there is a wooden device placed horizontally on the ewe , and which is in contact with the screw. This device is a kind of wheel, the spokes of which are levers. On the outside of the wheel there are pegs; the screw is turned by moving the pegs by hand; the sheep descends further, and presses the pomace even more firmly.

As the small vat lying beneath the press basin fills up, the cider is removed and put into a funnel. The funnel has a horse-hair sieve that filters the solid lumps of pomace that are mixed in with the cider. Barrels are not completely filled up, but a four-inch space is left at the top. The barrels are taken down to the cellar and left open, since the fermentation of cider is aggressive. The cider is fermented and clarified, and some of the dregs drop to the bottom, while another part, called the cap , rises to the top .

To make strong cider , it is left to settle on its dregs, and covered with the cap. If a sweet, pleasant and delicate cider is sought, it is bottled when it starts to tickle the palate a little. At this stage, it is called ready cider. To maintain its quality, a sixth part of sweet cider is added to it when it leaves the press. This addition provokes a second light fermentation, which sends a little of the dregs to the bottom of the barrel, and brings a light film to the top of the liqueur.

Once the juice has been extracted from the pomace on the press floor, the pomace is removed and returned to the pile with a sufficient quantity of water. The pomace is then mixed with the water, and the mixture is taken to a press, where ‘small cider ’ is made, which is the ordinary drink of the common people. The first juice is called ‘full cider’.

The less small cider is pressed, the better it is. Its sale generally covers the costs of the harvest. The pomace from four big muids [1] of cider produces two muids of small cider. So it is worthwhile for farmers to own their own presses, since the pomace remains the property of the press’s owner, with the price per pile that he presses for other people. When the pomace is completely dry, it is used as fertiliser for pigs and trees or is burnt.

When the cider has been kept long enough in a barrel called a futaille , containing one muid of cider , and it has the required pleasant taste, then fish glue, a fining agent, is added to it as it is for wine, and it is bottled.

Good cider must be clear, amber-coloured, with a pleasant taste and aroma, and must tickle the palate. Some cider can be kept for up to four years. Light ciders will hardly keep longer than the first year.

In general, 36 boisseaux  [2] or six mines [3] of apples are needed to make one muid of 168 pots of cider. It is said that the best cider is subject to the cap, a kind of crust that is formed on the surface. If it breaks when the barrel is almost empty, the rest of the cider is filled with sediment. Since this crust only breaks when the barrel is almost empty, we can probably attribute this phenomenon to the extreme fragility of the cap, and to the decrease of the horizontal surface of the barrel. As the barrel is being emptied, the horizontal surface of the liqueur increases, from the stopper to the chime hoop. From the chime hoop to the bottom, the surface area decreases in the same proportion that it had increased. What in fact is happening? As it nears the bottom of the barrel, the cap presses against the sides of the barrel, and if it were strong enough, it would remain suspended in the air without touching the surface of the cider , which would be lower than the cap. But since the cap is fragile, it breaks up, its fragments fall to the bottom, dissolve and cloud the rest of the cider. I believe that square containers or barrels placed upright would remedy this drawback. The cap would fall along with the liqueur evenly, and would always be supported, without their being any reason for it to break.

Perry is made from rustic pears, in the same way that rustic apples are used to make apple cider. See Perry.

A cider the French call cormé is made from the fruit of the service tree . See Sorb.

A kind of brandy, but which is not highly thought of, is made from apple cider . Vinegar can also be made from it, just as vinegar is made from wine.

Cider is generally considered expectorant, appetising, thirst-quenching and refreshing. Drunk to excess it is very harmful. It is said that when one is not used to it from youth, it can cause diarrhoea and attack the nervous system, and that people can only be cured by ceasing to drink it and spending time in a different climate.

1. One muid = about 270 litres.

2. One boisseau = 12.67 litres.

3. One mine = about six boisseaux .

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