March marks International Women’s History Month, so what better way to celebrate than to highlight the important role of women in cider! Cider production in the UK has a long, rich history, within which women have been deeply intertwined, however, largely overlooked. In recent years, there has been a push from women within the trade to shine a light on this history, demonstrating the resilience of Cider Women now, and setting their sights on creating a more inclusive cider industry of the future.
Some of the first recognition of women’s role in the production of cider was in the traditional farmhouse setting. Farmer’s wives were known to take on the responsibility of producing cider, alongside other household essentials such as cheese, bread and candles – the production of cider was seen as an extension of traditionally female-led household duties. Meacham, in ‘Every Home A Distillery’ (2013) also highlights how this tradition was taken over to North American with British colonisers, with family cider recipes being handed down the matriarchal line, and brides being “imported” on commendation of their cider-making skills. Despite this, these women were not able to use these skills in order to develop their own independence, but to nourish and maintain their community. It is such history that is represented in the exhibition of ‘Women & the Art of Cider’, curated by Elizabeth Pimblett, the director at the Museum of Cider in Herefordshire. Elizabeth has since remarked on the struggle she and her team had when trying to shine a light on women’s role in historical cider production, finding that much of women’s role had “either not been recorded, or edited out of history”.
In the latter part of the 20th century, women became a focus of the cider industry, but unfortunately largely only as models for brands in their oversexualised adverts, in attempts to increase sales, and to move away from the image of the typical aged, rosy-cheeky farmer as the face of cider. Meanwhile, against all odds, real-world progress was being made by pioneering women in the industry – a significant example of this came in 1974 when Stephanie Bowen became the first female superintendent at the H. P. Bulmer’s Ltd factory, outdoing 15 men in the interview process to get the job. Another trailblazer for women in the cider industry is the late Jean Nowell of Lyne Down Cider, Herefordshire. She is famed as the “mother of all cider-makers”, and is remembered for her love of the craft, especially perry, her contribution to Herefordshire’s Big Apple Festival and her role as a mentor to many craft cider makers. A memorial fund in Jean’s name was created by the Three Counties Cider and Perry Association, given to cider producers to further their craft.
Paving the way
Today, the cider industry is full of women passionate about all things cider. Cider Women was formed in 2019 to “help facilitate peer support and networking for self-identifying women and non-binary and trans people involved in cider in the UK”. Women in cider are making leaps and bounds, establishing links and creating a platform to highlight the important work of other cider women. The group includes Elizabeth Pimblett, previously mentioned director of the Museum of Cider, Cath Potter, Central Manchester CAMRA vice-chair, Cider Buzz MCR writer, and pommelier, and Susanna Forbes, co-founder of Little Pomona and other cider making pioneer. There are far too many pioneering cider women for me to mention them all here, but to mention just a few: Jane Peyton who became the UK’s first accredited pommelier in 2018, having also established the School of Booze, and working as a drinks writer and ambassador; Emma Jordan, one half of Nottingham’s Blue Barrel Cider, who has recently won the first round of Jean Nowell memorial awards, The Real Al Company, is a woman-led taproom in Walthamstow, east London, that creates its own brand cider, as well as distributing other craft ciders in London. Lastly we have myself Colette Goulding and Lizzie Pegler The Orchard Projects very own cidermakers, who won CAMRA’s Pomona Award for their outstanding contributions to the production of real cider.
Despite all of the work that has been done in order to increase inclusivity in the UK cider industry, it is still comprised largely of white, middle class people. There is still a lot of work to be done in order to increase diversity, and availability of opportunities to a wider range of people in the UK. Alison from the Hop Inn, Hornchurch put this very eloquently, stating “Traditionally, cider has been produced in areas where there wasn’t a great deal of diversity, so roles haven’t been with working women or people from differing racial backgrounds. I think with more urban/community cider making and generally following on from the explosion of craft beer, the world of cider can be an increasingly diverse and exciting place”. The cider industry is in a great position to bring about some real, significant change for the better.
Written by Colette Goulding, Cider Maker