Monday, 13 October 2008

Cotswold Harvest

Whoever it was that booked the weather this weekend did a splendid job. A long weekend spent harvesting apples in driving wind and rain could have made for a thoroughly miserable experience, but the sun shined and it proved to be a memorable weekend in a beautiful Cotswold orchard.

Harvesting a ton or so of apples by hand is a very labour-intensive and back-breaking way to fill the cider press, but there are a few advantages which make it worth the additional effort. Despite the hard graft, it can be a very pleasant way to spend a day, particularly if willing helpers are on hand to lighten the load. Karen put in a very long day on Saturday, and brother Paul and sister-in-law Susan will no-doubt be feeling the pain from the Sunday harvesting session. It was a great effort and I'm very grateful for the help. I think everyone enjoyed the experience, and are presumably counting the days until next year's picking weekend...

Perhaps the biggest advantage of hand picking our apples is the chance to avoid any rotten, damaged, or unripe fruit. We can also avoid the excessive mud, leaves and twigs associated with mechanical harvesting, and this should make the cleaning process far easier.

Ripe cider apples are quite robust, and the traditional method of harvesting involves shaking the fruit down from the tree and collecting from the orchard floor, a hard but very effective method of clearing an orchard. So armed with long 'panking' poles, buckets, bags and a large tarpaulin, we moved swiftly through the orchards selecting only the best bittersweet cider apples to shake down, and a few precious perry pears. The steady stream of walkers on the adjacent Cotswold Way footpath seemed to appreciate our efforts, a rare glimpse of a genuine rural tradition, albeit with a modern fibreglass pole and a Lidl apple picker!

The poles need a little more thought as neither of them lasted the weekend intact. They really are essential tools in an old traditional orchard like this where most of the trees are on tall 'standard' rootstock. The perry pear trees are even taller, and much of the fruit is beyond the reach of even our longest pole.

We were selecting our apples by taste as most of the varieties were a mystery to us. Bittersweet cider apples have a distinctive bitter, tanninic quality, as well as a healthy dose of sweetness. We believe we may have Dabinett, Tremlett's Bitter, Yarlington Mill, and possibly even a few small Kingston Blacks amongst several other varieties. The perry pears could be either Blakeney Red or Moorcroft, and we're hopeful there are enough of them for a single pressing. This would give us enough juice to fill a 70 litre fermenter and with luck produce a very limited quantity of Rockingham Forest Perry.

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