It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new book that examines the long history of cider, and when the book is written by James Crowden you know you are in for a treat. Author of Ciderland (2008) and Cider – The Forgotten Miracle (1999), among many other titles, Mr. Crowden has been making, drinking and exploring cider for decades. His latest work, Cider Country, is a sweeping narrative that never fails to entertain and inform.
Starting with the apple’s birth in the Almaty Mountains of Central Asia, Mr. Crowden traces its route westward along the silk road to Asia Minor and into the orchards of ancient Greece and Rome. He follows an apparently separate northerly migration into Scandinavia, though the book’s focus is generally kept on England once the story takes us past the Norman conquest. Myths and legends are examined alongside the historical record, giving the reader a view of apples and cider that is a little astonishing in its breadth. No corner of the cider world is left unexamined, from Charlemagne’s eighth century edicts, to the advent of large-scale cidermaking in the late 19th century, to the members of the myriad village cider clubs that have kept so many local cider traditions alive in the face of modern industrial commodified cider. These are the folk that are at the heart of Mr. Crowden’s Cider Country.
While there are a couple of inaccuracies here and there, the bulk of this book has been extraordinarily well researched, especially in the chapters dealing with cider’s role in England’s maritime exploits, the contentious Cider Tax of 1763, and the development of sparkling ciders in the 17th century – well before anyone in France got the idea of trying it with wine. For all the scholarly work Mr. Crowden has done here, though, the tone of the book is anything but fussily academic. Reading it is more like spending an afternoon in the cider barn with your favorite slightly eccentric uncle, the one that has read long and deeply on many subjects, telling stories over an endless stream of pints. What a delicious way to spend one’s time.