Cider Musings

John Taverner Certaine Experiments Concerning Fish and Frvite

The history of English Cider works of antiquity starts in mid C17th. I until recently would consider Ralph Austen to be the first major english language writer with his Treatise of Fruit Trees published in 1653. Or John Lawson A New Orchard and Garden 1618 ( which although is instructive of planting grafting and pruning only contains one paragraph on Cider and perry, concluding it is healthy and "in France... and in England they make great use of Cyder and Perry"). 

However there is a short but succinct tract by John Taverner worthy of reading. This tract being published in January 1600.

The author  Iohn Taverner, a person about which little is known but living in East Anglia. However its presence shows that cider and perry were well established in England in the Elizabethan era. Although there are now only a few copies of this book extant, and all of the 1600 edition, Anthony A Wood chronicler of Oxford notes it had been printed several times.

He is not John Taverner the composer who regarded as one of the most important English composers of his era. He is best-known for Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas and The Western Wynde Mass, and Missa Corona Spinea is also often viewed as a masterwork c1490 – 18 October 1545.

Our John Taverner succeeded his father Roger as the Royal Surveyor of the King's woods in 1582 and he published this book in 1600. He died in 1606. His uncle Richard was knighted and preached in St Mary's church in Oxford ( with sword by his side, those must have been interesting sermons!). His father also wrote a book on agriculture De Fame which was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth. This patriotic text was given to Archbishop Parker of Canterbury who gave it to Taverner's College, Caius Cambridge, where where it remains!

So we should think of John as an Elizabethan county gentleman of high standing, religious and aware of rural practices. His practical and succinct tract of only 38 pages was important.

Not only was it not verbose , nor religious ( as a lot of books were both at that time) it also contained useful true facts tried by the author though experiment. Very much in the style of Francis Bacon. It is unknown wether he knew Bacon. Compare this to Austen who although knew many practical facts wrote his book with the addition of "The spiritual use of an orchard or garden of fruit trees; set forth in divers similitudes between natural and spiritual fruit trees, according to Scripture and experience". the 4 pages that concern us on fruit trees are brimming with advice on where to plant. What to plant and graft.

John introduces the book with "Good reader.....having a desire by all honest means possible, to benefit this my native countrie of England, and finding my abilitie otherwise insufficient to performe the same, I have thought good to set down some experiments that my selfe have had especially of fruite". And he nails it in an era when a lot of facts transcribed from one author to another proved erroneous. A note in the margin states " Many men are at great charge in planting of Orchards and yet can have no good fruit only by reason their trees are at first set too deepe: howbeit do not percieue the reason thereof" and The Peare will prosper in a ground inclined to be wet, better than apple will do." His advice on treating canker is the same as today! Cut it out and seal the wound. 

John several times mentions growing fruit for cider and perry " very wholesome for the bodies of natural English people, especially such as do labour and travell." He also suggests both are carried in ships on long sea voyages " for the relish they give to water". Francis Bacon also noted this, in 1600. Did he hear of it from Taverner? It was mentioned by another cider maker Worlidge in 1676, Lind did experiments in 1747 but the Royal Navy did not cure scurvy till 1795!