A Humble Beginning: Nova Scotia and Cider

A Humble Beginning: Nova Scotia and Cider

Cider in Nova Scotia has a very humble beginning. There are no stories of noble families starting the first prestigious cidery dedicated to making the finest quality cider. No, our cider history started with a desire for the comforts of home, a need to preserve the fruits of harvest into the long cold winters, as a means of sharing merriment with family and friends. Cider in Nova Scotia was a simple agricultural by-product in which the people living in the rural countryside could enjoy a light, crisp, alcoholic beverage.

As Henry David Thoreau once said, “It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man.” I hope to expand on this notion by looking at the apple history of NS in order to observe its affects on our current cider market.

Beginning in 1604, with the arrival of French colonists at Port Royal, Samuel de Champlain refers to the first example of cider production in a 1605 diary entry, “the cold was so intense that the cider was divided by an axe and measured out by the pound.”

French cider was, and still is, a big deal. They are legendary pros at making wonderful cider. Back then, cider was the drink of choice for the French and it is not surprising that their colonists brought along a piece of home in the form of apple seeds. They even went so far as to bring varieties specific for cider production.

There are a few examples of the heirloom French varieties such as L’Epice, Pomme Grise, Fameuse, Belliveau, Nonpareil, and Bellefleur being planted.

The French worked tirelessly on cultivating the land for agricultural production. For generations the French built the dyke systems in the Minas area, they planted an impressive array of agricultural products, including many apple orchards. Unfortunately, information on the specific types of apple varieties and the methods of production is a bit uncertain due to the loss of documentation during the Acadian expulsion in 1755 by the English.

After the French were deported, the English found themselves with a large sum of super fertile land that was left vacant and needed to fill it with the “right people” (English and preferably Protestant). After an effective promotional campaign, an influx of new settlers came to Nova Scotia, known as the New England Planters.

Similar to the French, they too enjoyed a good apple and also brought along their favourite varieties. In fact, it was made easier for them because they were able to graft their varieties onto the trees left behind by the French. The difference being that they enjoyed more of an eating/cooking apple. In turn, NS started seeing more varieties such as Northern Spy, Ribston Pippin, Greening, Golden Russet, Baldwin. Many of these varieties can still be found in NS today.

During the 1800’s, urban centers began to grow. With shipping ports being developed, spirits and beer became more assessable and became the drinks of choice in the urban centers. At this time, cider was still very much a rural drink. It was still being made on a small scale for familial consumption. Transportation of apples, juice or cider would have been an expensive operation for rural producers.

In 1860, Nova Scotia became internationally renowned for it’s apples. NS apple producers started exporting across the Atlantic to Brittan. In fact, at one point 85% of all Nova Scotian apple production was dedicated to exportation. This is where we started seeing the decline of smaller apple producers and a focus of high-yield apple production.

Apples became Nova Scotia biggest agriculture commodity. With the age of industrialization, the apple industry began to see value in producing more eating apples. Apples that were large, red and shinny.

The first large scale cider production was started by a man named Lewis Chipman in 1940. He made a cider called “Golden Glow.” After 1952, Chipman sold his company and it moved to the Truro area. At which time, Chipman Wine Ltd. Sold 50,000 gallons annually in Atlantic Canada. If the stories can be trusted, “Golden Glow” was a pretty inexpensive cider that packed a big punch (in regard to alcohol and hangovers). I think it actually may have lead to a decline in the cider market in NS because people thought of cider as a cheap alternative that left a sour taste in your mouth.

After almost 60 years, cider has now begun to see a resurgence in Nova Scotia and now we are starting to see a real push for quality production. I, like so many other cider enthusiasts in NS, are trying to promote the value of producing more cider specific apples. However, it’s difficult because as I have just described, most of our history has been influenced by high-yield production, a focus on only a handful of high-quality eating apples. Thus, leaving little room for niche markets like cider apples.

I would like to channel the intrepidness of the French settlers and the work of Charles Presscott. We need to start seeing the value on these unique varieties of apples. Not only is it important to sustain variety but also see the value in producing apples that make excellent cider. I hope the current cider trends continue to rise and hopefully that will be enough to convince some apple producers to commit to these rare varieties.

Developing a culture around cider in NS is necessary for it's development. The need to give cider a face and a name is crucial. We need to connect cider to our history, culture and land or else it will just become just another cooler