Saturday, 29 December 2007
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
Our interpretation of this alcoholic by-product of Sloe Gin making, is to take the gin-soaked Sloes, and give them a second extended soaking in the last bottle of our 2006 cider. The idea being that all that gin which has migrated into the sloes needs to be coaxed back out again, ideally along with a little 'essence of Sloe'. We've also made up one jar with a bottle of the Co-op's pretty decent tasting Tillington Hills Dry Cider, though in hindsight what I perhaps should have done was add the sloes to a demijohn of this year's maturing cider, ideally under airlock. I'm a little bit concerned about any potential re-fermentation or bacterial infection, which could lead to exploding Kilner Jars, so as a precaution I've moved the whole experiment out into the potting shed, and I'll probably not leave things 'maturing' for too long.
The Sloe Gin has turned out to be very moreish, so I'm really looking forward to the results of this (strictly non-commercial) little experiment, and will post the results here when we get to try the Slider out.
Monday, 17 December 2007
Whilst working in the orchard the air was busy with the to-ing and fro-ing of Blackbirds, Blue Tits and Robins, all welcome visitors, particularly the Blue Tits which flit around the trees removing the many over-wintering bugs. Most days at this time of year we see Pheasants in the orchard, usually a rich chestnut and golden cock accompanied by a harem of flighty hens. They're a lovely sight, and they always do their bit by hoovering up insects and grubs from the grass. One visitor we are not so keen to see is a rabbit which has set up home beneath our neighbours garden. It loves the new grass in the orchard, and regularly makes a nuisance of itself in our vegetable patch during the Summer. I'm now hoping for a return visit from the young Sparrowhawk which dined in the orchard this Summer. The bird must surely be experienced enough to tackle a rabbit by now, but in the meantime it's just as well we took the advice of experienced orchardists and protected all our young trees with wire guards. Rabbits seem to have a particular liking for the bark of young apple trees, and whilst pruning I made sure that all the guards were in good shape, with no rabbit-sized gaps in evidence.
The hardest task was clearing the growth of weeds and grass from around each tree. Semi-dwarfing bush trees like these do not appreciate competition for nutrients from grasses and weeds, so it's essential in the early years to prevent this growth from encroaching around the tree. To be honest, I haven't tried hard enough to maintain this in the orchard, and I'll need to deal with this more rigorously next year, but an hour or so of hand weeding on a frosty December day has made a big difference, and I now feel all is ready in the orchard for the coming Spring.
Monday, 10 December 2007
Saturday, 17 November 2007
There is a link at the bottom of this page to our expanding range of branded items, and with the exchange rate as it is, this is a good time to buy from this American site.
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
Ok, so this is perhaps not the most exciting video to be found on the Internet, but it's highly significant for us nevertheless. This is a video record of this year's very last pressing, a juicy blend of Yarlington Mill, Dabinett and Brown's Apple; and absolutely the last cider apples that will pass through these hands until next year's cidermaking season. Enthusiasm for the hard graft of cidermaking was definitely on the wane, and those old injuries, and the inevitable strains and pains of lifting and shovelling were starting to take their toll.
Having said that, there is something very satisfying about watching several gallons of dark, sweet juice flowing from a well made 'cheese' of apple pulp, and the steady burble of gasses escaping from airlocks has a busy, industrious cadence, which drives you on to press more apples, fill more barrels, make more delicious cider........
Oh dear! I think it's definitely time to hang up the rubber gloves for another year. This cidermaking malarkey could become a bit of a habit.
Monday, 5 November 2007
The yeast is merrily doing it's bit for the cidery cause, and in the process creating the unmistakable, slightly skunky odour of fermenting fruit. This is a good thing, even though Karen wrinkles her nose up at the smell whenever she ventures into the ciderhouse. The racket coming from below our bedroom is not so good. I've had to put large pebbles on top of some of the airlocks to stop them rising up and crashing down with a hollow 'thock' every few seconds. If things don't calm down soon (unlikely to be honest) we may have to take a short vacation in the spare bedroom, at least until the snap, crackle, and pop of fermentation eases off a little.
Saturday, 27 October 2007
One area of the cidermaking process we have been wrestling with for the last couple of years is the accumulation of spent pomace after pressing. By the time we finish pressing this year we'll have pressed almost two tons of fruit, leaving us with the problem of disposing of around a third of a ton of fairly dry, pulped apples. Traditionally, cidermakers have dealt with this problem by either 'losing' it under a field hedge, obviously not an option for us, or feeding it to their livestock. Pigs love it, and cattle are also more than happy with the temporary change of diet (though probably not dairy cows, as it could taint the milk). Sheep stomachs are apparently too delicate for more than an occasional nibble of pomace, which is a shame as there are plenty of sheep grazing in Middleton and Cottingham, but almost no cattle or pigs to my knowledge. Disposing of our pomace in an environmentally sensible way had become a bit of a headache.
We'd resigned ourselves to hiring a mini-skip, at no small cost, and hoping the skip company were true to their promise of taking the contents to the green waste recycling site. We were not particularly happy with this arrangement, but in this part of Leicestershire/Northants, the only other 'livestock' grazing the fields are the whinnying & clopping variety, so couldn't see any other realistic options.
We started our main cidermaking on Friday, and as a last treat before the week-long slog ahead I squeezed in a Thursday night visit to a few pubs in the market town of Uppingham. On my third attempt at getting served a drinkable pint of Bombadier in a pub whose name escapes me now, I happened to overhear a chap at the bar discussing his rare-breed pigs. My ears were by now in full 'pricked-up' mode. The chap turned out to be a very amiable builder named Rob, who when not building, helps out on his fathers smallholding in the picturesque village of Medbourne, a 'lick and a spit' from us in Middleton. A lucky meeting indeed, and just in the nick of time. Rob has now collected the first batch of pomace, and I trust the porkers are now enjoying their new orchard diet.
Yes, the back is aching, but not debilitatingly so. My dodgy knee is holding up surprisingly well so far (looks around frantically for piece of wood!), and everything seemed to be progressing fairly well, albeit a little slower than I would have liked. But at some point during the first session, I appear to have strained a small area of my left hand, not so big as to render it useless, but it had become progressively more painful to use over the course of the second day. Such a small injury, but one in such a crucial position for lifting, washing, and shovelling apples and pomace, that I may as well have milled and pressed the bloody hand itself for all the use it is now.
I intend to rest it on Sunday, which means Karen will be cooking the roast, and driving me to the pub, and I'll have to remember to lift my Sunday lunchtime pint(s) strictly with my right hand only. Not all bad then...
Tuesday, 23 October 2007
We came back with quite a wide range of cider apples, including the 'vintage' bittersweet varieties Dabinett, Tremlett's Bitter, and Yarlington Mill; plus a few precious bags of the sharp, aromatic Brown's Apple (pictured above) which will help give the cider a good balance of tannin and acidity. Some of the apples came from a batch of mixed cider fruit, amongst which we recognised the scabby green/yellow of Bulmer's Norman, and some Sweet Coppin's which should help to moderate the hard tannin of the Norman's. We're very pleased with the varieties we got, and the quality of the fruit seems to be better than last years batch, which needed a lot of hard work to weed out the rotten and heavily bruised specimens.
When dealing with known varieties of high quality cider apples, it's often tempting to press and ferment the different varieties separately, with the potential to give you a more interesting range of 'Single Variety' ciders. I've always believed that the very best ciders are made from a good blend of apple varieties, and though single variety ciders can be quite interesting (and also make good commercial sense), they often taste a bit one-dimensional to me. We'll be blending the different varieties as we press, with the aim of achieving a single batch of well balanced cider. This is why we take great care in selecting as good a range of apple varieties as possible, though the vagaries of apple growing and supply, mean that the blend is always likely to change slightly from one season to the next.
Looking at the bags of apples now, the task in hand does look a little daunting for a hobby-size mill and press, but we've given ourselves the whole week to get this lot pressed, and the only thing we can do now is clean and sterilise everything in sight, and pray for the good weather to continue into next week.
Thursday, 11 October 2007
These large cooking apples are pretty common around here. The number of trees dotted around Middleton & Cottingham suggest there was once a substantial orchard, probably associated with the 'Big House' at Cottingham. Unfortunately we don't know what variety they are, although at first glance I'd say they appear most likely to be Bramley's Seedling.
I was gathering these 'Bramleys' from the village orchard earlier this week, when a pick-up van pulled up, and a smiling couple joined me in the orchard, and began filling carrier bags with these ripe culinary freebies. They were gathering the apples for pies and such-like, and were pretty convinced they were not Bramleys, but couldn't put a name to them. It would certainly be nice to think we were making cider from a variety of apple with a more local provenance, but it doesn't look as if we will find the time this weekend to visit another Apple Day event with experts on hand to identify these apples.
One of the main reasons we spent a day pressing this high acid mix of apples, is to supply us with a 'Malic Acid Stock' ready for the main pressing at the end of the month. We usually press a range of cider apples, mostly bittersweets (high in sugar and tannin), but also a reasonable amount of sharps (high in Malic acid) or bittersharps (high in tannin and acid). Tannin is the essential ingredient which gives 'West Country' ciders (and also our own Rockingham Forest Cider) it's distinctive rich flavour, but without a reasonable amount of 'sharp' acidity in the mix, the cider can lack balance, and the all important 'drinkability'. We try to derive as much of our acidity from sharp or bittersharp cider apples, such as Browns, Kingston Black, or Stoke Red. These sharp varieties also have very good flavour and aromatic properties, and bring much more to a blend than using relatively bland culinary fruit. Unfortunately, these 'vintage' sharp cider apples are often in short supply, so we like to have a ready made stock of mouth-puckeringly sharp cider to hand, just in case we need it.
Sunday, 7 October 2007
By a strange quirk of fate, I have never actually been to an Apple Day event, though certainly not by design. This year I determined to go to at least one of our local events, Stamford being one of the nearest.
One of the main motivators behind the Stamford Apple Day is the Stamford Community Orchard Group, which is dedicated to preserving Stamford heritage apple varieties (of which there are many, though most are currently designated as 'lost'), and establishing a community orchard for the benefit of all Stamford folk. They are ably assisted by the East of England Apples & Orchards Project, an umbrella organisation which covers voluntary groups throughout the Eastern Counties area.
The Stamford Apple Day event takes place at the Arts Centre in the town centre, with participants including Beekeepers, apple produce from Stamford New College, excellent local apple juices from the Stamford Juice Co (who also make a drop of fine cider), and a host of other interesting stalls with wide family appeal.
One of the most interesting aspects of an Apple Day event is the chance to have unknown varieties of apple from your own orchard/garden identified by experts in this field. I took along a couple of specimens from the several varieties we used in our recent cidermaking, hoping to put a name to a face as it were. Some small dessert apples from our own orchard proved difficult to pin down, not helped by the size of the fruit. We really should have thinned out the bumper crop on this tree, leading to better size apples, but as anyone who grows-to-press is likely to understand, removing healthy fruitlettes from a tree groaning with appley potential somehow goes against the grain. We'll know differently next year.
Another dessert apple, which we picked from the lovely Welland Valley village of Rockingham, was quickly identified as a Worcester Permain. In retrospect, and having now looked, and tasted these apples, the rich, sweet flavour and appearance is classic Worcester, but identifying unknown apples is notoriously difficult, even for the experts, so it's nice to have a really positive ID, rather than guesswork.
The image at the start of this Blog is of one of the many trays of apples laid out to help the 'identifiers', which also made a wonderful display of our rich orchard heritage.
We aim to go to at least one other local Apple Day event this year, possibly Wilson's Orchard in Northampton, and would seriously recommend you support Apple Day at an event near you.
Monday, 1 October 2007
Sunday, 30 September 2007
Once again, our first cidermaking session of the year turned out warm, sunny, and totally lacking in any need of cover from the elements. Pleasant it may have been, but somehow it just didn't seem right!
We were aiming to fill two of our 70 litre fermenters, giving enough cider to supply our regular outlets during the Summer Welland Valley Beer Festival. To this end I felt we needed to do at least 5 pressings, ideally over the course of a single day. This number of pressings should, on the face of it, be reasonably easy to achieve. In practice, by the time we've assembled, cleaned, and sterilized all the equipment, there is often barely enough time to press the day's quota in time to get everything cleaned up again before daylight, and enthusiasm rapidly fades. We managed to 'squeeze' 6 pressings in, and filled both fermenters, which was very pleasing.