Service or sorb trees (Sorbus domestica) are found throughout Europe, from northern Germany to Sicily, but are particularly characteristic in certain areas, such as the gentle hills of South Moravia, near the border between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, at an altitude of around 300 meters, home to the second-largest service tree ever recorded.
Over the centuries, the service tree has diversified into a large number of ecotypes in this region, and families traditionally use the fruit to prepare a spirit, which is the most important product. The fruits can also be dried or made into compote, jam or a special brandy made by leaving the fruit to steep in the spirit for a long time.
The service trees are often planted on mixed-use land where vineyards are alternated with local varieties of plums, apricots, apples and pears. The ground is often grassed over so that flocks of sheep can graze, but not goats or deer, which devour the leaves and fruit of the trees. It is common to see old, isolated service trees which survived widespread felling during the Communist era to create farmland for cereals.
Many families are committed to repopulating the species. Every year they choose the ecotypes with the largest fruits and nurture new plants in small family nurseries, mostly from the seeds or occasionally from grafts. The new trees are often planted out along the ridges of hills to take advantage of their ability to limit soil erosion with their strong, deep roots.
Producers wait for the fruit to fall to the ground, and in some cases use nets. They collect the fruits every day, then leave them for a few days inside baskets in the shade to ripen.
Most of the fruit is used to make spirits, at home or using traditional distillation equipment. The farmers bring their fruit to the distillery and then take home their spirit to drink during the winter. Everyone is very proud of their own product, and presents it during a festival where a prize is awarded every year for the best spirit. The winner has their name inscribed on a plaque kept at the Service Tree Museum in Tvarožná Lhota.
The Presidium’s focal point is the old distillery in Strážnice, which still functions as it has for the last two centuries. A discontinuous double-bottomed pot is fired with wood and distills in a double cycle that takes around two hours. The cost of the distillation is written on a blackboard and increases depending on the quantity of alcohol obtained in the final product. The government is responsible for over two-thirds of all distillation.
The abolition of private property during Communist rule and, in recent years, the arrival of big businesses focusing on monocultures, particularly corn, are behind the loss of many service trees, which were cut down and burned. A fungal disease that attacks the roots of the oldest trees has not helped the situation.
But over the last 20 years, new interest in reviving traditions linked to the service tree has grown. A festival, which awards a prize for the best spirit made from the fruit, has been relaunched, and a service tree museum has been opened.
Tvarožná Lhota, Hroznová Lhota, Strážnice, Vnorovy, Kněždub, Radějov and Podivín villages, South Moravia
Service Tree Museum (Museum Oskorusi), Tvarožná Lhota, tel. + 420 724162265, firstname.lastname@example.org