Recipes and technologies of cultivating the best apples and making the finest cider in the works of John Beale

Oana Matei

John Beale (c. 1608-1683) was an early fellow of the Royal Society and a member of the Georgical Committee. On the subject of fruit tree cultivation and cider making Beale published Herefordshire Orchards (1657), “General Advertisements Concerning Cider,” as part of the collective volume of Pomona (1670), and also made important contributions to the Philosophical Transactions  in the 1660s and 1670s.

In Herefordshire Orchards Beale took some recipes from William Lawson and how he further tested them and tried to stabilize them in such a manner to ensure predictable results and to make a technology of cultivating the best apples for cider in the most suited soil.

William Lawson (1553/4-1635) was an English clergyman and writer on gardening who published only one book: A New Orchard and Garden, or, The Best Way for Planting, Grafting, and to Make Any Ground Good for a Rich Orchard (London: Richard Jackson, 1618). Apparently it was the first published book on gardening in the North of England, and its section The Countrie Housewifes Garden was the first  horticultural work written for women.

Lawson’s observations (as recorded by Beale):

“1. That the best way to plant a• Orchard were to turn the ground with a spade in February, and to se• from February till May, every month• some kernels of the best and sounde• apples, or peares &c. finger deep, as a foot distance: And by removing the rest (as time and occasion should advise) to leave the likeliest plant to reside in the naturall place unremoved. Ch. 7. pag. 17.

2. That the kernels of every apple would bring forth apples of the like kind. Chap. 7. pag. 18.

3. That by the leaves of each spiring plant you might distinguish each kind of fruit, whether delicate or harsh, &c. Ch. 7. pag. 18.

4. That trees thus raised might be preserved or continue for a thousand years, &c. Chap. 14. pag. 47.

5. That apples either grafted, or any time removed, could never be sound, durable, or otherwise perfect.” (HO, 1657, 14-15)

Although after a first reading Beale refuted all of them, he then “resolved to make exact triall with patience.” (HO, 1657, 16) and noted down, systematically, all the results that he obtained.

  1. “By diligent enquiry the first Spring I found fourteen severall sorts of these naturall apples, the fruit much differing in tast, shape and colour; some only green and sowrish, some red-straked, some party-coloured, and very pleasant…I now find that the kernells of apples grafted on crab-stocks prove not all crabs, nor (as I guesse) altogether of the kind of that apple, whence the kernell was taken. (HO, 1657, 16-17)
  2. Tis sure that kernells of the same apples, in a far differing soyl, do produce a different apple; but (as I said) still with some inclina∣tion to the originall, if it be the kernell of an ungrafted apple. And this may advertise the best season of designing variety; namely, in applica∣tion of choice compost to the very kernel, as Gab. Plat prescribeth Exp. 14. pag. 210. of the Additions to the excellent Legacy. All other stories, of powring liquors into the bark, or bulk of the tree, are effete and idle phansies, for nine dayes wonder. (HO, 1657, 18-19)
  3. I find the truth, & that much more might be added to Lawsons rules, of distinguishing the hopeful∣nesse of the fruit by the first leaves of the yearling plant. (HO, 1657, 19)
  4. For the incredible durance of apple-trees to a thousand years, I have upon much experience … ‘Tis certainly true (as Gabriel Plat in the foresaid place noteth,) that if a man aime at his present profit, then graffing is his way: but if he aime at the profit of his posterity, then it is best not to graft at all.  … Every aspiring Trunk of some of these naturall apples, is much more lasting than any grafted fruit-tree (HO, 1657, 20-21)
  5. In a grafted plant every bow should be lopped, at the very tops, in apples and peares; not in cherries and plums. In a naturall plant, the bowes should not at all be lopped, but some taken off close to the trunk; that the root at first replantation be not engaged to maintain too many suckers. And this must be done with such discretion, that the top-branches be not too close together; for the naturall plant is apt to grow spiry, & thereby failes of fruitfulnesse. Therefore let the reserved branches be divided at a convenient roundnesse. The branches that are cut off, may be set, and will grow, but slowly. If the top prove spiry or the fruit unkind, then the due remedy must be in graffing.

Neither is graffing to be used only as a remedy. For it doth most certainly improve the kind of the fruit: insomuch that a graft of the same fruit doth meliorate the fruit, as is lately much observed by our Welsh neighbours, who do graffe the Gen∣net-moyle upon the same stock, and thereby obtain a larger apple, more juicy, and better for all uses: and some triplicate their graffings (for a curiosity) upon the same account.

And it is noted amongst us, that a pearmain or any other pleasant fruit either for cider, or the table, is much sweeter, if grafted upon the stock of a Gennet-moyle, or Kydoddin, than if grafted on a crab-stock; though much lesse lasting upon the stock of the Gennet-moyle: the Gennet-moyl being also lesse lasting, especially amongst us, where they are generally planted of large setlings, which must needs wound them in their very beginnings, and therefore hinder their duration.

Also graffing doth much precipitate, or at least expedite the reward, especially if the graffe be taken from a branch that hath some yeares constantly born sound fruit plentifully.” (HO, 1657, 23-25)

We can read Beale’s efforts as attempts to enact and test recipes, eliminate what does not work, propose a systematic approach to investigating the different steps in the cider-making procedure, i.e., building a cider-making technology.

Differences in respect to the recipe format:

-the lack of the imperative: “take that, do that….”

-many trials are presented altogether with both their good and bad results

-the stage of generalization is increased

In his trials, Beale was always asking why and how questions, but he has a bottom up oriented approach which starts from experiments that mainly produce fruits and ends up providing experiments of light. The technology of making cider reflects the transition from the knowledge entailed in old treatises as well as modern books of recipes but based essentially on descriptive accounts accompanied by a set of rules and practically-documented instructions, to a procedure stabilized as a result of repeated experimental attempts and that is able to lead to expected, predictable results.

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