CHRISTOPHER A LONG - Les Découvertes en Campagne de Christopher Long [No. 1]

Les Découvertes en Campagne de Christopher

[No. 1] Saison des Pommes — La Voix Le Bocage — 30-09-2010

By Christopher Long

Christopher's Country Discoveries

It's the apple season!

As I write, great piles of apples are quietly maturing in our orchards, awaiting the arrival of a contractor and his mechanical cider press. Having been crushed and then pressed, the resulting apple juice will soon refill thousands of great barrels languishing in dark, chilly Norman cellars.

I have just been emptying out an old barn here at home where there were three huge 1,400 litre cider barrels (300 gallons each). Unfortunately they were all rotten. As I started rolling the first towards the door I noticed the end of a black hose-pipe near the chocks underneath it. They don't call me Sherlock for nothing... I studied the alignment of the pipe, did the calculations and quickly covered the fifty paces that led me to an old bread-oven situated slightly below the barn. And there, of course, I found the other end of the buried pipe. So, do I really have to tell you that, hidden in the roof of the bread-oven, were the remains of a home-made 'calvados' brandy still?

Thus it was that I discovered evidence of the secret and criminal activities of a former neighbour. It's now twenty-five years since the poor man was buried at least as deep as his secret black pipe. Not that his 'crime' was really all that serious. As long as family-produced 'moonshine' didn't actually leave the farm, customs and excise officers tended to turn a blind eye. On the other hand, serious penalties awaited those considered to be 'calva' smugglers — those, for example, who supplied drinking dens in Vire or Paris!

According to David Lecœur, a graduate of Caen University, apple trees have been cultivated in France since the arrival of the Romans. But it was only as a consequence of severe climate cooling at the end of the Middle Ages that apple orchards began to replace vineyards in Normandy. This explains why a significant production of cider had already been established in Normandy by the end of the C15th.

At l'Aumoire, in Morigny, it was the orchards, apple crusher and cider press (visible to this day) that made the manor's fortune from at least the C16th onwards. And it is very likely that there were other cider-based manors in a sort of crescent around St Sever Abbey: St Aubin-des-Bois, Courson, Sept-Frères and Landelles-et-Coupigny.

But when did the Normans start to distil their cider to make apple brandy? For David Lecœur this is the great question... to which Sherlock and his black plastic pipe have absolutely no answer at all.

With many thanks to Georges de Coupigny for the photograph that accompanied the original press article.

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