At the beginning of the 21st century, in the courtyard of the Manor of Fay, the City of Yvetot replanted apple and pear trees.
Yvetot nurseries and the famous Legrand nursery, by Michel Traversat
The Pays de Caux is a high land of excellence for press apples, fruit trees for cider apples, a territory that saw the birth of Pierre-Michel Legrand.
The ’Caux’ is a massive plateau plunging into the sea by vertiginous cliffs. This austere country is frequently beaten by gusty winds. These closed hovels are delimited by slopes planted with trees; they contain at the inside, in addition to the farm buildings, more or less large meadows planted with apple trees. Farmers have always planted their trees.
The Yvetot Arrondissement Horticultural Society was founded on December 9, 1863.
In 1865 two years after its foundation, the Society counts Mr. Legrand, horticulturist in Yvetot, amongst its members. He later became curator and archivist in 1877.
The Society held its first horticultural exhibition in June 1865, with the activities of the Society clearly identified : ‘Having Horticulture as its object, The Society studies, by analysis and cultivation, the best varieties of fruit and propagates them, in particular cider apples.’
By November 1891, the officers comprised two horticulturists, Mr. Le Mail senior (vice-president) and Mr. Valentin (curator and archivist), and a nurseryman Mr. Legrand senior was also vice-president.
Mr. Pierre-Michel Legrand was born in Yvetot in 1821. He propagated his first seedling apple trees around 1840 . His father, whom he succeeded in 1850, was himself a nurseryman, promoting large plantations of cider apple trees in this town. Pierre took over the management of the family business at a difficult but critical time because over the previous two decades it had been noticed that some of the most esteemed apple varieties in Normandy had experienced a gradual decline in health, indicating exhaustion through old age.
The Societies of Agriculture and Horticulture of the Seine-Inférieure were consulted on how to remedy this calamitous state and were of the opinion “that it would be necessary to think of looking for new and young varieties which could advantageously replace those whose time is over.”
The investigation, which lasted from 1825 to 1843, consulted a large number of specialists, without much result. It was not until 1862 that the Société Centrale d’Horticulture de la Seine-Inférieure decided to organise the serious in-depth study of the fruits of the press, and appealed for help in this difficult enterprise from all those who could be interested in the cultivation of cider apple trees. Mr. Legrand was one of these: the sole object of his concerns was the replacement of the best of the varieties, the Doux à Lagniel or Vagnon, exhausted and no longer giving good fruit, by a variety regenerated from the same species.
His convictions as a sower appeared so sincere, so profound, that they convinced the Société d’Yvetot to open, in 1871, a special competition for seedling cider fruits ; the gold medal being successively awarded to Mr. Godard, to Mr. Dieppois, horticulturist at Yvetot, and to Mr. Legrand himself.
A little later, Mr. Legrand bought a piece of land where he only planted the mother plants of his most deserving gains in order to obtain, by hybridization, highly perfected varieties. Several of these seedlings became beautiful trees, laden with very beautiful fruits. A few were propagated and made available commercially.
This work of such importance continued without interruption for more than thirty years, and his perseverance attracted the attention of other societies. Between 1862 and 1877, he received 17 medals and in 1878, at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, in addition to the gold medal for one of his varieties, he was proclaimed the first winner of the International Press Fruit Competition. From 1881 to 1888, there were four new gold medals and two of silver-gilt and in 1888, Mr. Legrand was made a Chevalier du Mérite-agricultural. Still not resting on his laurels, there was more success for his elite varieties in the following decade, culminating with a final gold medal awarded by the Western Pomological Association.
Mr. Legrand died on November 2, 1896, aged 75. The collection of elite varieties he had raised could be found at his death almost everywhere in France. They are also part of most of the research orchards of England, Austria, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Luxembourg and some American states. His son, a former student of the Ecole d’Horticulture de Versailles, continued his father’s work.
In ‘History and improvement of apple trees and especially of cider apples’, by Auguste Chevalier published in 1921, the author also explains the role played by Bouteville and Hauchecorne in the improvement of cider apples and the decisive role of chemistry in the process of making cider. Hauchecorne (1824-1905) was an Yvetot pharmacist.
Normandy is currently the most important apple growing center in the whole world. This culture does not aim here to produce table fruit, compotes, dried fruit or vinegar, but it tends almost exclusively to the production of a hygienic drink, cider, widely consumed in the French provinces which make little or no wine, that is to say Normandy, Brittany, Maine, Artois. Twelve departments each produce more than 100,000 tonnes of apples each year for the manufacture of cider and cider brandy, or calvados. The other countries of the globe which make cider are in England: the counties of Herefordshire, Devonshire, Wales; in Spain: the Basque Country (Biscay, Navarre, Guipuzcoa) and Castile; in Germany.
In 1872, the Board of Directors of the Congress thought that the studies of declining cider apple varieties instigated by the Société d’Agriculture de la Seine-Inférieure were sufficiently advanced for a comprehensive work on the varieties of press fruit and on cider to be written.
This was the origin of the very important work of L. de Boutteville and A. Hauchecorne, ‘Le Cidre’, published in Rouen in 1875. It is a work of great and lasting value, with a precise manner of describing the varieties which they had adopted and the innovative methods of chemical analysis which A. Hauchecorne had first devised to determine the value of each sort of press fruit.
The study by L. de Boutteville and A. Hauchecorne led to research in all countries where the cider apple tree was grown. It focused attention upon the old elite varieties […] it encouraged some nurserymen in the Rouen region to undertake the creation of new varieties of cider apple trees having increasingly high saccharin content. About a third of the varieties of cider apple classified by the French Pomological Association at the beginning of the twentieth century were obtained by the skilled practitioners responding to the call of the Société d’Agriculture de la Seine-Inférieure, including Ambrette and Marabot obtained by Legrand.