Cider apples were by far the most important crop in Jersey in the 17th and 18th centuries, and cider was being made in large quantities through the 19th and well into the 20th century. For a long period it was by far the most popular drink, because it could be made in the island, from locally grown ingredients, rather than beer having to be made from imported crops which could not be grown well in Jersey.
Land use statistics show that in the late 18th century, 15 per cent of the total land area of the island was covered in cider orchards, amounting to nearly 20 per cent of enclosed land.
There was hardly a house in the countryside which did not have an orchard - certainly every farm had one - and even town houses with gardens would have apple trees planted in them.
Any self-respecting farmer would make his own cider, and also help neighbours without the necessary equipment to turn their apples into the coveted drink. The necessary equipment consisted of a circular stone trough, usually, but not inevitably, situated out of doors, and a wooden press in an outbuilding for the second stage of the operation.
Crusher or pressoir
The stone trough, which had a circular stone wheel pulled round by one or more horses to crush the apples to pulp, is properly called an apple crusher, although in common parlance today it is frequently known as a cider press. Many 'knowledgeable' people can be quite pedantic about this but in Normandy, where the same stone devices are still in use on some farms, they are known as pressoirs a ronde, so they are just as much a press as a crusher.
Today the apple crusher is to be found as an ornament in many posh gardens. They can sell for many thousands of pounds and Jerripedia editor Mike Bisson, who has one in his the garden of his Normandy home, was told by the supplier that it would have fetched double the price he paid for it had it been exported to Jersey. It is unlikely that anyone would be able to distinguish a Normandy import from an original Jersey crusher, except that any that have recently been bought to be placed in gardens are likely to have been imported, because very few Jersey farmhouses retain their original apple crushers.
Even fewer have a cider press. These machines, which formed the second phase of cider production, were used to put the crushed apples brought inside from the pressoir a ronde under enormous pressure to extract every last drop of apple juice, for fermenting into cider. The press usually consists of a substantial wooden base, on which layer after layer of crushed apples are placed, separated by hessian sacks. A top plate is wound down by use of a large central screw, to compress the crushed apples and extract the juice, which is allowed to fall into a half barrel, before being taken away to be transferred to fermentation vessels.
As might be expected, there are many Jèrriais words associated with the process of cider making.
The apple crusher is lé tou d'preinseu - (an alternative name is lé tou à cidre). The granite sections the trough is made of are called les gattes. The inner ring containing the pillar or post at the centre of the tou d'preinseu is variously known as lé nouai, lé moueu, lé changlyi or l'auge. The wooden rake-like device attached behind the stone which scrapes and turns the crushed apples as the stone is pulled round the tou, is called lé traîné (the sledge). It may also be known as lé rabot.
Êtamper is the verb to 'crush', and the process of crushing apples for cider is l'êtamp'sie - which may be used as a synonym for cidermaking. The crushed apple pulp is lé mar. The process of spreading a layer of apple pulp on the cider press is couochi l'mar.
In Jèrriais the word preinseu means the cider press or the press house (a room or outbuilding in which the press was housed).
The unfermented apple juice - lé pur jus - runs into a vat or tub called lé tchué.
Lé couté à mar is the knife used to cut up the pressed mar.
Another product of Jersey apples is black butter, which is traditionally spread on bread. Black butter making is one of Jersey's long-standing traditions, but only one or two séthées dé nièr beurre now take place each year, as the Jersey Evening Post reported in 2000.
- "The Trinity Battle of Flowers Association have been making the preserve for the past four years and last weekend were gathered at Le Carrefour, Trinity, the home of Richard and Jennie Le Sueur.
- "Bringing together young and old members of the parish community, the first task was peeling the 31 barrels of apples. Then 20 gallons of cider were poured into a giant bâchin and heated over the fire in the granite hearth.
- "The apples were added at intervals along with the other ingredients - 28lb of sugar, 11 liquidised lemons, a variety of spices and liquorice crushed with a pestle and mortar. As it was vital that the butter did not stick to the bottom of the bâchin and burn, turns were taken at stirring it continuously for a total of 30 hours, with a long handled rabot.
- "It was tested to see whether it was ready by dropping a dollop on to a saucer and then attempting to lift it with the back of a wooden spoon. When this was successful, it was all hands on deck for potting up. And this year the end result was a record number of 461 jars, which will be sold to raise funds for next year's entry in the Battle of Flowers."