Thursday, 11 October 2007

Cooking Apple Conundrum

This weekend we pressed another load of the big, boxy cookers from the village orchard, plus a few more kindly donated by our neighbours and a few unknown 'fizzy-sharp', russeted apples from Rockingham. All things considered, a pretty sharp bunch of customers, and far too high in acidity to make a palatable cider on their own (although Richard Keeble of the Stamford Juice Co manages to makes a very good Bramley apple cider, so it can be done!). This is a shame, as they are some of the juiciest apples we get to press, far more giving of their juice than any of the cider apples we use, with the possible exception of the sharp, aromatic Browns apple.

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.

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