Basque Fact of the Week: Hard Apple Cider once Dominated Basque Life

Before wine and beer and soft drinks became popular, before land was devoted to corn, sagardoa, or apple cider, was the drink of the land. This was true up to maybe 100 years ago. Family farms, or baserriak, made cider for family consumption and sagardotegiak, places to drink cider that were the de facto main public meeting place, existed in all towns. These sagardotegis were the ancestors of the gastronomic societies that later sprung up in places like Donostia.

  • The word sagardoa is a contraction of two other words, sagarardo, literally meaning apple wine. Curiously, this term entered the popular speech of Andalusia with the meaning of bad woman, perhaps explained by some association with the acid taste of the cider broth.
  • Since at least the mid 1300s, the regulation of cider has been encoded into local laws, with the goal of controlling quality and to defend the local production of cider. Already by November 1, 1335, the town hall of Tolosa warned the cider merchants that if they were caught selling watery cider they would be fined 100 maravedis. Both aspects of law – the defense of local cider and the prosecution of fraud – appear in title XXI of the Fueros de Gipuzkoa of 1585.
  • The judge of Bordeaux, Pierre Lancre, who at the beginning of the seventeenth century burned several hundred people accused of witchcraft, wrote in his book Inconstance des Demons that the perversity of the Basques was caused by the cider that was drunk in the Basque Country, being the juice of the demonic fruit that caused the condemnation of Adam and Eve. (He also believed that “the root of the natural Basque tendency towards evil was love of dance.”)
  • Basque sailors, in their contracts, demanded cider as part of their pay, requiring 2-3 liters per day. The high level of vitamin C in cider protected them from scurvy, a disease that ravaged sailors from other regions that did not drink cider.

Aguirre Sorondo, Antxon; Aguirre Sorondo, Antxon. Sidra. Enciclopedia Auñamendi [en línea], 2019. [Fecha de consulta: 09 de Febrero de 2019]. http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/sidra/ar-109880/

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