Thursday, 31 December 2009

2009 - Mulling It Over

2009, a fairly mixed-bag of a year for most people I guess, us included. It's been a difficult year for everyone, and for all kinds of reasons, but at least our cidermaking has continued to go from strength to strength, and provided us with some memorable occasions along the way. On balance we can look back on the year with a measure of satisfaction, and a little sigh of relief. We seem to have weathered the storms reasonably well, and things could certainly have been a lot worse!

So with a new decade only a few hours away, I think a celebration is in order. We'll be seeing in the New Year in our local the Red Lion, but before that it's as good an occasion as any to break out the spices and Mull up a warming treat. The very last knockings of our Sulgrave Orchard Cider will make the fruity base to our Rockingham Forest Wassail Cup, along with a few spicy store-cupboard favourites. The cider we're using is very dry and quite sharp, so adjust the sweetening to suit the cider you're using and to your own taste. For every litre of dry cider we'll be adding:

2 or 3 dessert spoons of Honey
2 tbsp Calvados (or any other Brandy/Rum)
A good tsp each of Cinnamon Bark, Cloves, and Allspice (crushed)
A short grating of Nutmeg
Peel from half a Lemon
A few Chilli Flakes (optional)

Heat through and simmer very gently for a few minutes, then strain into a flask and surprise your friends and neighbours.

Wishing all our readers a very Happy New Year

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Wine Snobs Come Out Fighting

In what I'm assuming to be a blatant and savage riposte to my Six Ciders For Christmas Day selection, upmarket stick-in-the-mud wine magazine Decanter have only gone and pinched the idea and issued their own recommendations for the big day. Predictably it's wine, wine, wine all the way, with beer and cider well and truly off the radar. You can view the tawdry article here.

Well, I could whine on about it some more, but since plagiarism is surely the sincerest form of flattery I'll let them have their moment of glory. A small plug for our blog wouldn't have hurt though!... In the spirit of goodwill I'll mention that a Calvados does make it onto their Top 10 Spirits for Christmas list. Meantime, I'll be keeping a very close eye on those Gout-riddled Decanter Johnnys. All work on this blog is copyright. Even the rubbish stuff...

Merry Christmas to all our readers and drinkers.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Christmas Pudding

The usual orderly approach to Christmas Day has been anything but orderly this year. The late-late cidermaking hasn't helped, neither has an untimely flurry of real work following a Summer of bone-idleness. Suffice to say that the Christmas spirit has arrived very late this year...

Things are really kicking off now, which is just as well since it's less than a week before the big day! The tree is up, there's snow on the ground, and I've finally got round to making the Christmas Cake and Pudding.

Ho, Ho, Ho I hear you say, far too late to mature properly for Christmas Day. Stir-up Sunday, the traditional day to make your Christmas Pudding, came and went on the 22nd of November. Ha, Ha, Ha, I reply, it's not a problem when you're still eating last year's cake, and the pudding recipe I've used is a cross between a plum pudding and a steamed sponge cake. No maturing necessary, and I give you the recipe here because it's never too late to steam-up your kitchen for Christmas.

I've taken inspiration for the pudding from the accurately named 'Farmhouse Cookery', a veritable treasure trove of Irish recipes, produced by the lovely ladies of the Ballylennon Presbyterian Church, County Donegal. A full three quarters of this book is devoted to baking, which is as it should be. Play to your strengths that's what I say... So a tip of the hat to Anna McKean of Rateen, St Johnston whose recipe I almost followed to the letter.

For a medium sized pud, beat together 110g Butter and the same of Soft Brown Sugar until fluffy, or your arm succumbs to tennis-elbow. Add One and a Half Eggs, 40g Plain Flour, 25g Chopped Almonds, 110g Brown Breadcrumbs, a tsp of Mixed Spice, and a Quarter tsp of Baking Powder. Stir around a bit then add 350g Mixed Fruit which includes mixed peel, along with a peeled, cored and diced Cooking Apple. Things will have got pretty dry by now, so add the juice and grated rind of Half a Lemon, along with 2-4 tbsp of Sweet Cider, I used the same Henny's 2008 Vintage Cider which I recommended for the Cheese Board. Stir very well and transfer to a well buttered pudding bowl. The pud will rise by an inch or so, so cover with foil tied in such a way as to allow a little expansion, and steam for 3 Irish Hours (maybe a little less, maybe a little more, check with a skewer to see whether it's cooked through). When it's done, allow to cool a little, then pierce all over with a skewer and drizzle as much Cider Brandy or Calvados into the pud as you feel necessary. Quite a lot in our case!

Being made with butter rather than suet, this pudding will probably not keep so well as a more traditional, heavy plum pudding, though the Brandy should help.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Drink Cider for Conservation

Here's a little snippet of news which caught my eye from The Times today. Apparently, Naturalists from Butterfly Conservation, in partnership with the mighty National Trust, want us all to drink more cider...

Hmm! Let's dig a little bit deeper into this one.

The truth of the story is less about giving the green light to bacchanalian excess, and more the plight of a rather rare little Moth which happens to have a strong affinity with Mistletoe. The Mistletoe Marble Moth (Celypha woodiana) is struggling to find enough of it's favourite mealtime delicacy owing to a decline in Mistletoe, which in turn is due to our sharply declining orchard stock. I think you may be able to see the connection now.

Journalistic shorthand leads to the conclusion that more cider simply must be consumed if we stand any chance of saving these poor critters. I'll drink to that, and so of course should you.

Having read the news feature again, I still can't see where Naturalists have made any specific mention of cider, instead they seem to be urging us to support British apple growers. It's a minor technicality, the result is the same whichever way you get your 'English Apple-a-Day'. A greater appreciation, and less destruction of old orchards, Mistletoe galore, and happy, happy Moths.

The image accompanying this post has been kindly made available by oldbilluk under a Creative Commons licence. Thanks Bill.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Six Ciders for Christmas Day - Brandy, No Cigar

And so we come to the last knockings of what has been a long and indulgent day. Snuggled up in front of a crackling gas fire, stuffed to the gunnel's with rich Christmas Fayre (ahem!), fit for nowt but a family film of your choice or the welcome oblivion of an afternoon nap. At this stage of the day you're not likely to have room for another cider, so my final choice for the day is a generous schooner of Julian Temperley's finest Cider Brandy.

Somerset Cider Brandy is a real home-produced treat, created from the distillation of fine Somerset cider at Burrow Hill in deepest Somerset. When Julian Temperley wrestled a licence to distill from a highly reticent HM Customs in 1989, the scene was set for the recreation of a style of Brandy which had all but faded from memory in this country. The bottlings which have been released up to now have been exceptionally well received, and as time has crept by, older and more mature Brandies have been released, including most recently, the stunning 15 year old Somerset Alchemy.

For preference I favour the 5 year old brandy, less fiery than the youthful 3 year old, but retaining more appley flavour than the smoother 10 year old bottling. Unfortunately, we don't have any of the sublime 5 year old to hand, so we'll have to slum it with a limited release 10 year old Single Cask Somerset Royal Cider Brandy. This version has a slightly higher alcohol level at 45.8%, and was matured in new Limousin Oak which will probably give creamy vanilla notes in the flavour.

If you can't get hold of a bottle of Somerset's finest, I'd also recommend the much easier to find Sainsbury's Calvados Pays d'Auge XO. This 12 year old spirit is deep golden in colour, slightly medicinal on the nose, but beautifully smooth on the tongue. There's rosy apple, vanilla, spiciness, and a Rum-like demerara sugariness. A great way to end the day, and if you can find a little more room, pair these two with a generous slice of Christmas Cake. If you can't, perhaps the cake itself would appreciate a drop or two!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Six Ciders for Christmas Day - Cheese

Two recommendations for the price of one.

I've said it before on this blog, and for those that may have missed it I'll happily repeat myself. Cheese & Cider, or to put it another way, Cider & Cheese, a marriage made in heaven. Yes, contrary to the opinions of the wine trade, most of which seem to believe that the only proper accompaniments to cheese are a Robust Red or a Zingy White (well they would say that, wouldn't they!), cider is the perfect partner to the Christmas cheeseboard. Now don't get me wrong, I'll certainly be rummaging around our small, carefully cellar'd collection of Ports for something special to go with the Stilton, but a really good Cheddar needs something far classier than mere Vintage Port, and that'll be Cider of course!

Bottled Luscombe Organic Devon Cider (4.9% abv) is as close to the taste of a proper draught Devon Cider as makes no difference. It's quite a chunky, rustic, and dare I say, unsophisticated cider. It's also unfiltered, and can therefore pour a little cloudy, something I'm not usually too fond of, but in this case it just adds to this ciders 'Farmhouse' charm. Pour into your glass from a height to help remove the slight sparkle, and you'll have the perfect accompaniment to a proper piece of tangy Farmhouse Cheddar. Close your eyes, pop a generous knob of cheese in your mouth, then swirl and nose a glass of this Devon Delight. Think Devonshire Summers, warm hay-lofts, cool cider barns and generous farmers wives. Lovely..... you can open your eyes now.

Luscombes Cider can sometimes be found in upmarket Cafes and Deli's, alongside their excellent range of soft drinks (the Ginger Beer is great for the day after if you know what I mean!). Ours came from The Case Wine Shop on Millstone Lane, Leicester. Another excellent alternative which is more widely available is Henney's 2008 Vintage Cider (6.5%), a still, full-flavoured medium cider, easily the match for a chunk of Keen's award-winning Cheddar. A sweeter cider like this would even hold its own alongside the pungent saltiness of a good Stilton. Ok, so these ciders may be a little too robust for gentler tasting cheeses, so my advice is... 'Don't buy any gentle tasting cheeses'. It's too late in the day for subtlety, it's a tongue-tingling whopper of a cheese you're after, not a prissy little soft goats cheese. Since when did Brie & Chardonnay transport you anywhere so nice on Christmas Day!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Six Ciders for Christmas Day - The Queen's Speech

Hush-up and stand to attention, it's 'er Majesty on the box. If you've forgotten to get the cheeses out of the fridge, it's too late now...

Pour yourself a generous glass of Duchy Originals Organic Dry Reserve Cider (it could be a long speech this year*), and settle down for the traditional post dinner royal roundup. This robust, earthy, grown-up cider is more medium/dry to my taste, but with a good dry finish. The very light sparkle accentuates a spicy, almost sherbet-y character, which seems to be a house style of Worcestershire cidermaker Knights (now owned by Aston Manor) where this cider is made. You'll find this excellent cider in larger branches of Waitrose. If you don't have a Waitrose nearby, you might like to try it's lighter-weight cousin, Tillington Hills Premium Dry Reserve Cider, also made by Knights and available in many Co-op stores.

If you're finding it hard to concentrate on the speech, you may prefer to picture the bucolic scene in the 'Royal Ciderhouse'. Camilla working up a sweat grinding the apples in the old wooden Scratter. Charles bent double over the twin-screw press, the Royal Smock stained brown with apple juice, rubber-gloved hands carefully spreading the pomace out to the corners of the cheese. Prince William, slumped in the corner by the massive oak barrels, a drinking horn nestled protectively in folds of tweed...

Drink-up, it's time for the Cheese Gromit.

* and no, we won't be watching it either!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Six Ciders for Christmas Day - A Tipple with your Turkey

Christmas Dinner, and we're not making things any easier for you.

Let's assume that like us you're having Turkey. Over the years we've tried the alternatives, from a Free-Range Goose which was so long it only just fitted in the oven (I liked, Karen didn't), through Duck, Partridge, and even a brace of toothsome Quails one memorable Christmas, but always with a little Turkey on the side for the picky eaters! This year it's Turkey all the way, because when cooked properly it's the ultimate meaty comfort food, a no-worries bird that'll feed you through the whole 12 days of Christmas and beyond.

I think Turkey goes best with a good dry White Wine, or better still a fine Perry. Gamier birds, and darker meats might benefit from something a little more robust, a fullsome English Cider for example, or a light-ish Red Wine if you're feeling particularly unimaginative. Turkey needs a lighter hand. A good Perry is delicate, floral, aromatic, with maybe a touch of sweetness to enhance the soft fruitiness. The perfect partner to a savoury slice of breast meat, and a sweeter, fuller flavoured Perry would go very nicely with the Christmas Pudding too.

We'll be pulling the cork from a bottle of our dwindling supply of Rockingham Forest Blakeney Red Perry, nicely dry, and now showing just a hint of sparkle from the extended time in strong bottles. For the pud I'll open a smaller bottle of Waitrose 2008 Vintage Perry, a richer, sweeter example of the style made for the supermarket by Westons of Herefordshire. Waitrose are possibly the only supermarket offering a range of quality perrys, and you might be lucky enough to find a bottle of Dunkertons Organic Perry on their shelves too.

I wish you well in your search for a good quality Perry. It's not the easiest drink to find outside of the Three Counties area, and even there it's not exactly common. If you don't a have a Waitrose on your doorstep, I think you'll struggle to find anything other than inferior Pear Ciders, which I can't recommend in all honesty. Online you might like to try Orchard Hive & Vine, who specialise in Three Counties producers, many of which produce excellent Perry.

Next: A Toast for the Queen's Christmas Message

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Six Ciders for Christmas Day - The Pre-Dinner Snifter

A good Pint in a welcoming Pub can be a truly memorable Experience. It would be true to say though, that some Pints, in some Pubs, and on some Occasions, are certainly more memorable than others.

The 'Unexpectedly bumping into friends in the Pub and accidentally drinking the afternoon away...' is certainly one of the better 'Memorable Pints'.

How about the 'Warming winter Pint in front of the crackling log fire after a long walk in the countryside', surely everyone loves that one.

A recent addition to the 'Memorable Pint' list is the 'Gosh, we appear to be snowed in and can't get to work so might as well go to the Pub... Blimey, everyone else in the village seems to have had the same idea, Mine's a Pint'... This one is a particular favourite of ours, and one we look forward to repeating some time during this years greatly anticipated Winter freeze.

Then there's the occasion which this post is all about, the 'Christmas Day lunchtime local Pint', always a little special, and as important a part of our Christmas Day as the Turkey and Tree (actually, nothing is more important than the Tree for our Karen).

We're very lucky to have a good draught cider available at all times in our village local the Red Lion, Middleton. When our own cider has ran out, we supply a range of quality alternatives from near and far to keep the 'Real Cider' flag flying through any shortages. The current 'Guest Cider' is from Hecks of Somerset, a proper West-Country cider from an award-winning producer. I'll probably go for the smooth, dry Tremlett's Bitter straight from the cellar, rather than the sweeter blended cider on handpump. A pint or two of this 6.5% beauty should set us up nicely for the Christmas Dinner.

Now I know what you're thinking! Recommending a cider in your local pub on Christmas Day is all well and good for those of us with a Real Cider pub on our doorstep, but what about the vast majority of pubs which offer little more than a range of poor quality bottled or draught 'industrial ciders' (you know the ones I'm talking about, though if your lucky there may be something decent from Aspall or Westons available). Well don't despair, in all honesty the main point of this blog post is less about the cider itself, and more about going to the pub on this special day. If there's nothing cidery worth drinking, feel free to deviate from the theme and try a good beer or wine instead. So long as it's in a pub amongst friends and acquaintances, your not likely to regret it.

Can't get to the pub! There's probably still time to order a bag-in-box of Real Cider for home consumption. Many of the larger regional cidermakers can deliver their draught ciders to your home, and the bag-in-box method guarantees that the cider will stay fresh and tasty throughout the Christmas period and beyond. Our good friends at Ross-on Wye Cider & Perry have recently set up an online sales website which I can heartily recommend, and for a wider range of West-Country ciders you might like to try

Coming Soon: A Tipple with your Turkey

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Six Ciders for Christmas Day - Breakfast

Breakfast drinking! Probably only appropriate on two occasions. Your own Wedding Day is one, and who would argue with that, but perhaps the only truly annual excuse for a drink with the cornflakes is Christmas Day.

Champagne or Cava are generally considered the traditional Christmas Breakfast Drinks, which is fair enough I suppose. A bit of fizz in the morning can be a great way to waken the senses and put you in a party mood. Sherry seems to feature too, though for what purpose I'm not sure. Perhaps it's the traditional way of polishing off what Santa couldn't finish the night before.

Now I'm all for tradition, but the problem with Champagne and Sherry are their 'weight'. I want the fizz, and I certainly want a grown-up drink, but let's face it, this Christmas Day thing, it's rather long isn't it! Too much alcohol and there's a very real danger of peaking early and missing the Queen's Speech! I want something bursting with zingy flavour, but relatively light in alcohol...

Which brings me to my first Christmas Cider recommendation. Something fruity and fulsome, lightweight and approachable, yet a cider of exceptionally high quality. I'm talking Classy, Sassy, and a little bit Gassy. I'm talking about something French! Yes, polish up the Champagne glasses, ease out the mushroom cork, and treat yourself to a delicious Cidre Traditionnel from across the channel. It's le jour de Noël...

I've chosen La Bolée du Père Raison (5.5%) from the Breton cidre maker Loïc Raison. It's a sophisticated, traditional sparkling cider, labelled as Brut but with more sweetness than some I've tried. Breton ciders tend to be more full-bodied in style than those from Normandy, and the slight sweetness helps to balance the full tannins and slight toffee-apple richness in this example. There's a lovely zesty fruitiness too which benefits from the restrained sparkle created by the Methode Traditionnel. The smaller bubbles created in the bottle enhance this cider, unlike the harsh fizziness found in most of our more commercial bottled 'ciders'.

I was lucky enough to come across this cider at Sergi's Deli in Spalding, Lincs. They also have a Sweeter (Doux) version which weighs in at a minuscule 2.0% abv. You might be forgiven for thinking this low level of alcohol can only be achieved through the generous addition of water, but in fact those clever French cidermakers have perfected the art of arresting the fermentation before all the sugars have been turned to alcohol, resulting in a naturally sweet, naturally low alcohol cider. Too sweet for my taste, but very good nevertheless.

If you can't get to Sergi's Deli, try your own local Delicatessen, many of which will have a good quality French Cidre. I would also like to recommend the excellent single apple variety Duche De Longueville Cidre... I would like to, but since I haven't come across it in a Sainsbury store for some time now, I can't. Decent sized Waitrose stores also sell a French Cider, but I haven't tried it so can't really recommend that to you either... An internet search should find a number of online retailers of French Cider.

So, the French have it, but not for long! It's time to shove the bird in the oven, scrub the Parsnips, and put little crosses in the Sprout stalks. Set the oven timer, wrap up warm and hit the road. Your local pub needs you now more than ever. It's almost time for the traditional Pre-Dinner Snifter...

Saturday, 5 December 2009

# 'Deck the Halls with Cider & Perry, Tra-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-lah'

Wine recommendations come thick and fast in the build up to Christmas. The weekend colour supplements and top-shelf foody mags are full of festive wine talk ahead of the big day, though quite what's so 'Christmassy' about any of the recommend wines is rarely explained. Wine seems to be the only currency the UK media are happy to deal in, particularly during the festive season when you'd be forgiven for thinking that no other alcoholic drink merits a place at the Christmas table. The well-worn path from Champagne to White to Red, with a fortified and a distilled grape-based drink to finish is hardly original, so why do we get the same dull formula year on year!

Beer rarely if ever gets a look in on these 'Festive Lists', this despite the fact that dozens, if not hundreds of Yuletide special beers make their appearance at this time of the year, both in bottle and on draught. Do wine writers drink nothing other than wine? Assuming they do, why on earth don't they write about it? A warming Winter Ale can be a real joy at Christmas, add in a crackling log fire and the buzz of your local at lunchtime on Christmas Day, and we're talking an essential part of the Yuletide experience. I can only assume that wine writers and foody journos rarely visit pubs. It's probably the lack of spittoons!

Which brings me to the most ignored of all alcoholic drinks, whether at Christmas or any time of year for that matter. Outside of the main Autumn cidermaking months, Cider and Perry are well and truly off the radar as far as the mainstream media are concerned, yet most Cider and Perry is consumed throughout the Summer months. Cider and Perry does perhaps suffer from the lack of range available in the larger retail outlets, but this is a Chicken and Egg situation. The more that drinks writers venture out of their cosy comfort zones in the Home Counties, search out fantastic artisan drinks producers in the wild scary countryside, and write positively about them, the more demand there's likely to be for drinks which originate closer to home than Stellenbosch and Hawkes Bay. Greater demand might just encourage supermarket buyers to increase their meagre range of ciders and perrys, thereby giving the drinks writers more to write about.... Instead we get the usual 'Ooh-arr, Scrumpy' press trotted out in October, predictably littered with 'hilarious' Wurzel references, and that's it for the year. Great!

So in the interest of greater balance, over the next few days I'll be presenting my own Cider Recommendations for Christmas Day. Six great ciders and perrys, all chosen to match critical moments on the big day. From the early morning Breakfast Pint, something Rich and Classy for the Queens Speech, through to a final 'Wafer-Thin' digestif to help the latest Harry Potter movie go down. So polish up your best glassware and throw the corkscrew out*. It's going to be a Cider & Perry-tastic Christmas this year, and you're all invited... To your own homes that is. Not round here, we haven't got the room!

*Actually, don't throw the corkscrew out. That would be very wasteful, and besides, you might need it on Boxing Day!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Tree O'Clock

Tomorrow (Dec 5th) for one hour only (11am -12 noon) it's Tree O'Clock, a world record attempt to plant the most trees in one hour. A worthy project, and part of the wider National Tree Week which aims to promote the planting of trees in the UK, and the appreciation of trees in general. If you were thinking of planting a tree this Winter, it's not too late to buy one now and make a pledge to plant it tomorrow on the website. Don't forget to take a picture of the planting though, or it won't count towards the record attempt.

Sadly I won't have time to plant a tree tomorrow, I've made a little pledge of my own to Karen... The Christmas shopping has been put off for far too long, and a trip to the pretty market town of Stamford is apparently 'non-negotiable'. If you happen to be in Stamford tomorrow and spot a sulky looking middle-aged tramp in a wax jacket and bushman's hat being dragged around the M&S gift dept... that's me that is... Bah-Humbug!

Ok, so we won't be part of the record attempt, but that hasn't stopped us planting a couple of trees today instead. Of course the planting of a tree itself is the important bit, world record attempts!... well they come and go. I was once a record holder... along with the rest of the pupillage at our secondary school way back in the early 80's. The Dying Fly was all the rage back then, made popular by the mighty Tiswas team, and we proudly held the world record for this somewhat dubious practice for maybe a week at most... Inevitably, another school out-flyed us, the gimlet-eye of fame moved on to another star-struck secondary modern, and that was that! I don't think we even made it into the Big-Book itself. Such is life.

But I digress. It's tree planting time, the moment our grafted apple trees have been waiting for all Summer long. First in was the Calville Rouge D'Hiver, a dual purpose apple variety, originally from France where it's still found in some gardens. Calville is a name given in France to a range of apples which exhibit a heavily ribbed, crowned shape, and the flavour of this apple is described in the New Book of Apples (Joan Morgan & Alison Richards) as being 'Sweet, fruity with little richness, almost aromatic; soft, white flesh'. It also cooks to a 'lemon puree...' which sounds nice. This tree is on a semi-vigorous rootstock, MM106, which will eventually give a fair size tree, so I've used it to replace the Birch tree which outgrew it's welcome near the house.

The other tree which I've 'planted' is Scarlet Crofton, a dessert apple with a 'Striking dark red flush, under network of russet' and a 'Sweet, almost scented taste'. This apple is possibly of Irish origin, a tip of the hat to my ancestry. The tree itself was grafted onto M27 rootstock, a very dwarfing rootstock, perhaps only really suitable for pot-grown trees which is where this one has been planted. It will need staking for it's entire life, and cropping will be relatively small, but hopefully we'll end up with an attractive specimen for the patio in a few years time.

There are other trees to plant out, including a Dabinett which I'm hoping to train as an Espalier against a stone wall, but these can wait a few weeks until the Christmas rush is over. With the cidermaking finished, racking of the ciders not until January, and the latest round of pruning still later, the month of December brings a welcome break in the cidermaking year. From now until Christmas, we're getting festive, and this blog aims to be less about cidermaking, and much more about cider drinking. Wah-Hay!

Friday, 27 November 2009

End of Season Report

Well, that's it for another year. The elbow-length rubber gloves have been peeled off for the last time, everything thoroughly washed down, and the press now sits dismantled in the corner of the ciderhouse until next years harvest.

It's been a longer season than usual, starting with the Malvern Hills perry pears we picked way back in September, and finally finishing last Monday with the last batch of Vilberie cider apples. We've ended up with almost 500 gallons of cider and perry, and the only thing which stopped us making more was a lack of space and eventually running out of fermenters! Here's what we've made this year (the variety shown in bold makes up the major part of the blend):

  • Bulmers Norman/Unknown Bittersweet and Sweets/Bramley (250 litres) - S.G 1.052
  • Yarlington Mill/Dabinett/Harry Masters' Jersey/Blenheim Orange (250 litres) - S.G 1.058
  • Yarlington Mill/Blenheim Orange (190 litres) - S.G 1.060
  • Yarlington Mill/Bramley (130 litres) - S.G 1.058
  • Mixed Dessert/Culinary (possible Welland Valley Special) (130 litres) - S.G 1.054
  • Vilberie/Unknown Dessert/Bramley (560 litres) - S.G 1.049
  • Malvern Hills/Blakeney Red (130 litres) - S.G 1.066
  • Blakeney Red 1.050 (250 litres) - S.G 1.050
  • Mixed Unknown Perry Pears (130 litres) - S.G 1.046
  • Green Horse/Unknown Perry Pears (130 litres) - S.G 1.050
  • Single Variety Uknown Perry Pear (60 litres) - S.G 1.060

Sugar levels (the Specific Gravity reading at the end) are up across the board this year, and therefore final alcohol levels will be up significantly too. It's also likely that the general quality of the ciders and perrys will be higher as a result. The higher percentage of bittersweet cider apples in the ciders this year should result in a fuller, richer flavour to our Rockingham Forest Cider, which will be a blend of the three main batches, ie. Bulmers Norman, Yarlington Mill, and Vilberie. Some of the individual pressings may be left unblended if they prove to be of sufficient quality.

I'm particularly pleased with the amount of perry we've made this year, though it could have been much greater given a little more time and a longer 'panking pole'. The perrys will probably remain unblended and sold under their varietal names where known.

So, what have we learnt this year? As usual, quite a lot. The learning curve is as seep as ever, which is as it should be. If we're not learning new things every year, we're obviously not trying hard enough! This year we've learned:

  1. The difference between 'ripe' and 'mature' fruit, particularly in the case of cider apples and perry pears. Cider apples are generally ripe when they fall, or can be shaken easily from the tree, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are fully mature and ready to press. Some further time may be needed before the fruit has fully developed it's flavour, and pressing too early can lead to a lower quality cider or perry.
  2. That a good rule of thumb when pressing full bittersweet cider apples is to blend with approximately one third sharp apples to achieve the correct level of acidity. By chance this is what we did with the Vilberie, pressing one sack of sharper apples for every two bittersweets. The ideal acidity level for a balanced cider is considered to be between 5 and 6 parts per thousand Malic Acid, so we were particularly pleased that when we tested our Vilberie blend, it came out at 5.6ppt.
  3. That we need a bigger ciderhouse, and more hours in the day!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Harvest Home

The final harvest of the 2009 season is in. 48 sacks of Vilberie cider apples, plus 22 sacks of unknown yellow sharp apples and a few cookers to blend in. That's about a ton, and I've got my work cut out to press them over the next two days...

Once again the weather in the orchard was wonderful, more late Summer than early Winter. I was helped on this visit by my sister-in-law Susan, who's hard graft ensured we had plenty of time for a lunchtime refresher at the terrific Crown & Trumpet, a local CAMRA award winner. The Crown & Trumpet is what Karen refers to as 'a proper pub', and it is too. Great ales from Stanway Brewery (and decent Hogans Cider), a real fire, real friendly locals, and festooned with old Flowers Brewery memorabilia to add interest. Another good reason to visit this part of the Cotswolds.

Once again we were lucky to have the loan of Johns mighty Land Rover. The orchard is getting pretty muddy at this time of the year, no place for a man with a white van. All four wheels needed to be engaged to get to the top of the orchard without mishap, though unfortunately the day was not entirely free of misfortune...

The Vilberie apples have now fully ripened, as judged by their flavour, waxy skin, and the fact that most of the apples had now fallen to the orchard floor. This was a bit of a shame for Sue and myself, since harvesting apples from the grassy floor is so much harder than when shaken down onto a tarpaulin, and additionally the fruit will need more thorough washing prior to milling and pressing. What a difference a week makes, the apples were still clinging to the trees last weekend, though very easily shaken down, but the blustery weather of the last week beat us to it, and very little fruit was left for us to shake down this weekend.

The good news is the amount of sharper fruit we've managed to harvest at this late stage in the season. The Vilberie is a very good quality bittersweet cider apple, that is to say it is high in tannin and sugar but low in acidity. I've been a little concerned at this lack of acidity, so I'm very pleased at the 2:1 ratio we've achieved of bittersweets to more acidic fruit.

So what of the misfortune? Well that's a painful story! Throughout this year's long harvest, from early October right through to late November, we've avoided any serious mishap in the orchard. No injuries, no major strains, nothing much to get the Health & Safety people in a froth. So it was particularly disappointing that on the very last turn around the orchard, when all the harvest was in, and all that was required was to transport the apples down to the van, I managed to get stung by a not-so-sleepy Wasp hiding in an old rag in the Land Rover! Needless to say, it's been entered into the Rockingham Forest Cider accident book, so we can all have a laugh about it in years to come...

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Rain (almost) Stops Play

The final cider apple harvest of the season very nearly didn't happen this weekend. Friday arrived along with severe weather warnings, and a mild dose of 'Sore Throat & Sniffles'. I'm not very good at being ill, particularly when there's work to be done, so Karen and myself retreated to the Red Lion for restorative pints of Welland Valley Mild round the cosy log fire. Nice, but not getting the cider made.

I must say, we've been very lucky with the weather this year (and our health for that matter). It was only a matter of time before a proper bit of Autumn weather came along and put the dampers on things. I'm sure a time will come when the whole cidermaking season will be nothing more than a freezing, windy, washout. Proper hard work...

A break in the weather on Sunday meant an unfeasibly early 6am start to get to the orchard for daybreak, and what a day. It was as if the Autumn had been rolled back again for one last warm(ish), sunny day. I really love the peacefulness of the orchard at this time of year, with most of the trees now bare of fruit and leaves, and nothing but Woodpeckers, Buzzards and the occasional sleepy Wasp for company. It's been very hard work harvesting the fruit this year, but I'm going to miss being in this orchard when the season finally comes to an end.

Meanwhile. there's an awful lot of Vilberie cider apples to harvest, plus a few Bramleys and some mystery yellow apples which will hopefully add a bit of balancing sharpness to the blend. There are five Vilberie trees in the orchard, I managed to harvest two of them, leaving a fair bit to do next Friday when I plan to make the final visit of the year to this beautiful corner of rural Worcestershire (weather permitting!). John kindly loaned me the use of his old Land Rover, saving me the job of lugging 30+ sacks of apples down to the car through a wet and muddy orchard, and whatever happens now, there's apples to be pressed, and fermenters to be filled next weekend.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Red Lion gets a taste of Somerset

Thanks to our friends in the North, Ray & Gail of the Hucknall Cider Co, real Somerset cider will soon be making a guest appearance at the Red Lion, Middleton. Just as soon as the last few pints of our own Rockingham Forest Cider have been sold, two new ciders from family cidermakers Hecks will be on tap in the run up to Christmas.

The Hecks family have been making their award-winning ciders and perrys in the village of Street for six generations, and are notable not only for the consistently good quality of their produce, but also the wide range of blended and single variety ciders and perrys they make. A visit to the atmospheric farm shop, situated in the very heart of the village, is rewarded with a bewildering array of draught and bottled ciders and perrys to sample and buy.

The ciders which Ray & Gail have brought back for us are an easy-drinking Medium/Dry blend (perhaps more Medium to my taste), and a single variety Tremlett's Bitter, properly Dry and a little more tannic than the blended cider.

We have a rule here at Rockingham Forest Cider, that when one of our own ciders has been delivered to the Red Lion, we don't bring it back home, one pint at a time! Needless to say, this rule doesn't apply to 'Guest Ciders', particularly those we have a particular fondness for.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

A Round of Real Ciders

What's this picture all about then? Well to be honest it's just an excuse to feature an interesting old cider tray from Barry Lount's extensive collection of Breweriana (Cideriana?), much of which is on display at Barry & Liz's award winning pub, the Cow & Plough in Oadby. As you can see, it's well decorated with ciders from the dozen or so available at this weekends Bonfire Beer Festival, though disappointingly a beery impostor has been sneaked onto the tray too.

The cider range was very good for a pub beer festival, exclusively West Country, Three Counties and Welsh ciders. My personal favourite was the Swallowfield Cider from Herefordshire. No perry, perhaps not surprising considering last years very poor perry pear crop. I'd be surprised if any Three Counties cidermakers have any 2008 perry left by now.

The image on the right is included to give an indication of just how varied the colour of ciders can be. These are all made from individual blends of various cider apples, yet range from deep golden to pale yellow.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Something Fruity for the Weekend

The excellent Cow & Plough in Oadby, Leics, is hosting a Bonfire Beer Festival this weekend (5th-7th Nov). Now beer we can take or leave, there's generally enough good ale at our local the Red Lion to make a trip over the border to Leicestershire a rare treat these days, but the award-winning team at the Cow & Plough are also serving up a very good range of ciders at this festival. Rather too good to miss in fact, so we'll be toasting this season's vintage apple and pear harvest on Saturday lunchtime. Here's the cider menu:


Sunday, 1 November 2009

October Wrapped Up

We completed the last pressing of October yesterday, bringing our main cidermaking month to an exhausting conclusion. It's nothing but rest and recuperation from now until the Vilberie are ready later in November.

I'm getting a bit nervous about the Vilberie for all kinds of reasons. I've nothing much to blend in to up the acidity of these bittersweet apples, and may have to order a little Malic Acid for the job. I'm also concerned for the condition of the trees, which are already in quite a poor state. When we last visited the orchard, one tree had lost a large branch due to the weight of crop it was carrying, and the crown on another tree has split for the second time. High winds over the next few days could wreak even more damage before we get back to the orchard, and I'm expecting to find most of the crop on the ground. It's much harder work scratching around in the grass for apples, particularly when they're quite small like Vilberies.

Good news: A neighbour let us take all the crop from their mature Bramley Apple trees, not a massive quantity, but a useful bit of sharp juice for the pressing yesterday. We even managed to find enough local apples to fill a couple of small fermenters of Welland Valley Special, including a few pears and some huge yellow apples from down the road in Rockingham village.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

A Question of Balance

Tannin. Where would we be without it? The picture on the right shows the juice of the Yarlington Mill cider apples we've been pressing recently, the rich tannins oxidising to a deep orangey-brown as the juice come off the press.

If we couldn't get hold of a supply of tannin-rich bittersweet cider apples like these, we'd likely be making a lighter, sharper, perhaps fruitier style of cider from dessert and culinary apples. A cider perhaps more representative of the Eastern Counties cidermaking tradition we're geographically closer to, than the fuller flavoured, spicy, rich ciders of the West-Country and Three Counties areas. Some people express a preference for one style over the other, but we like to make both, and have found that our customers are pretty evenly split in their preference for the different styles.

In truth, the ciders we make from one year to the next are largely determined by what fruit we can get. Last year we made a fruity, sharp cider from a large batch of organic dessert apples, as well as a richer Three Counties style cider from an assortment of mostly bittersweet cider apples. This year we're pressing what's available, and the mix is turning out rather differently.

Almost half the fruit we've pressed this year has been Perry Pears, a real departure from previous years when perry pears have been at such a premium. It would be nice to think we could make this quantity of perry every year, but sadly it's almost inevitable that the trees which have given us such a bumper crop will be taking a well earned rest next year, and the crop will therefore be very much smaller. The rest of the fruit we've pressed has been almost exclusively high quality bittersweet cider apples, and there's plenty more to come when the Vilberie ripens fully in November. On the face of it a very good season so far, many people struggle to get hold of good cider fruit, and we've been very lucky with both the quantity and quality of our cider apples this year. There is a small but important problem however...

Fruiting in the various local orchards and gardens we harvest from, has been so poor this year that we may struggle to make even a small batch of our Welland Valley Special Cider. The shortage of local apples is so acute that we're even struggling for Bramleys, something I never thought would happen. The village orchard has four Bramley trees, our own and the one next door bringing the total to six. We've never been short of Bramleys, in fact most of the crop usually falls before we have a chance to harvest it, which is very good news for the Blackbirds. This year I've taken maybe 30kg of fruit off the whole lot, and other trees in the valley are carrying a similarly modest crop (see pic right).

Now Bramleys are not exactly the best apples for making cider. A pure Bramley cider is quite thin, lacking in body, and often mouth-puckeringly sharp. It's this intense sharpness that makes Bramley Apples unwelcome in excess, yet very useful in a blend lacking in acidity. Bittersweet cider apples are characterised by being high in tannin and sugars, but lacking the acidity needed to produce a balanced drink on their own. In addition, a lack of acidity can often lead to ciders developing 'off' flavours during fermentation or later storage. The Malic Acid which a few Bramley Apples bring to a blend can be an important contributor to both flavour, and the kind of chemical balance needed for a cider to keep well throughout the season.

So, we're short of Bramleys! What to do? We're pressing the last of the Yarlington Mill bittersweet cider apples on Saturday, so I'll be 'Scouring the Shire' for whatever sharp apples I can find to blend in with this low acid fruit. Bumper crops of cider apples and perry pears are all well and good, but sometimes there's a need for something less exotic when it comes to cidermaking. The word is out, we need Bramleys...

PS. 2009 marks the bicentenary of the mighty Bramley Apple, with events marking this pomological milestone occuring throughout the year. Visit the Bramley Apple website for more details.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Cider We Like - Once Upon A Tree

It's not often I'm moved to write glowingly about a bottled cider. By and large the better supermarket offerings taste all too similar to me, pleasant enough but created for mass appeal with little in the way of a real unique character. Even the smaller traditional cider producers are forced to smooth out any rough edges if they want a supermarket listing, and it's for this reason I very rarely buy anything from their shelves now.

Take a step away from the national chains, and seek out farmshops, deli's and the like, and there are some gems to be found. Broadway Deli is one such place, and though the range of ciders on offer is small, they've thankfully avoided the usual suspects and gone for something truly special.

Once Upon A Tree are a Herefordshire based company, and relative newcomers to the cider scene. They've already achieved an enviable reputation for the quality of their ciders with several top awards under their belt. Cidermaker Simon Day comes from a background in winemaking, and it's this new approach, unencumbered by the sometimes unscientific traditions of cidermaking, which leads to ciders of such exceptional quality.

I tried the Marcle Ridge Dry Cider, made from a blend of Ellis Bitter, Brown's Apple, and Dabinett. The Brown's is a 'Vintage Quality' sharp cider apple, and an important contributor of acidity to the blend as well as bringing an aromatic quality to the cider. The cider is still, and properly dry, a rarity amongst the more commercial bottled ciders where a 'dry' is almost always medium or medium/dry at best. Apparently people don't like truly dry cider! I wonder how many people have actually had the opportunity to try a proper dry cider!

The Marcle Ridge is quite full flavoured with plenty of spicy tannins, and a decent dollop of acidity to balance the fullness and make for a very drinkable cider. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of this cider for myself is just how similar it tastes to our own 2008 vintage of Rockingham Forest Cider. If I was given this blind I'd probably guess it was our own, albeit polished up a little.

Lovely stuff, Karen liked it too, and there's a bottle of their single variety Dabinett waiting in the dark recesses of the pantry for another day.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Scale of the Job...

This is what we're pressing at the moment. Mostly Yarlington Mill, but also a few Dabinett, Harry Masters' Jersey, Kingston Black, and Blenheim Orange for acidity. The Yarlington Mills are coming out at a very pleasing gravity of 1.060, which is much better than we've had before and with the potential for around 8% alcohol.

There's also a small quantity of unknown Perry Pears, enough to fill a 60 litre fermenter, and also giving a gravity of 1.060. The tree these pears came from is adjacent to a well used footpath, and I was asked on three separate occasions what I was doing, and what the strange fruit I was bagging up was. Perhaps not surprising really, perry pears are quite small, and often not very pear shaped. What continues to surprise me though, is that nobody I talked to seemed to have any idea what Perry is! A reminder of just how rare this ancient drink has now become, and how important it is for people like us to continue making perry whenever we get the opportunity. Thanks to this year's bumper crop of perry pears, we've now made nearly ten times as much perry as we made last year. The sad thing is we could have made ten times more given more time...

Monday, 19 October 2009

An Orchard Sunset

Here we have a lovely Autumn sunset as a backdrop to some of our young cider apple trees. The right-hand tree is a struggling Harry Masters' Jersey which bore no fruit again this year. It's struggling due to being planted in the poorest soil in the orchard, sandy, very free-draining, and desperately in need of a mulch if we can keep the hens from scratching it all away. This tree was also hit badly by Rosy Apple Aphid in its first season, and is only just recovering.

The healthier specimens to the left of the Harry Masters' are Yarlington Mill. In common with the rest of the orchard, we're training these trees to give a strong centre leader with evenly spaced fruiting laterals. The strong upright growth of the laterals on these trees could make it hard to maintain the dominanace of the centre leader. Come the new year they'll need some careful Winter pruning , as well as tieing down of the laterals when the sap rises in the Spring. This should promote the formation of fruiting buds on the laterals, and in turn help reduce the vigour of the tree as a whole.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

2009 Picking & Panking* Team

Pictured here, getting down and dirty amongst the cider apples in Worcestershire, are this years crack orchard team Paul & Sue (Note: Only one of the above seem to be taking the safety wear policy seriously. Clue: It's not Paul!). They're smiling here because it's nearly time to go to the Horse & Hounds for a lunchtime pint...

Todays haul amounted to the best part of 3/4 of a ton of Yarlington Mill apples, a vintage quality cider apple variety which will form the backbone of this years Rockingham Forest Cider. We may even make a small quantity of single variety Yarlington Mill cider.

Another excellent day in the orchard, our luck with the weather continues, and a tremendous effort from Paul & Sue to harvest this bumper crop of apples.

*Panking: The shaking or knocking down of ripe apples or pears from a tree, often involving the use of a long 'Panking Pole'

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Snouts in the Trough

We've been pressing Perry Pears again, this time a mixed bag of Green Horse, Red Longdon, and an assortment of unknown pears from the Worcestershire orchard. Four pressings filled two of our 120 litre fermenters, leaving seven sacks of spent pomace to dispose of.

Most of the cider apples we press give good juice extraction, and leave pomace behind which is pretty dry, but even with the full force of our hydraulic press it's often possible to squeeze a little bit of juice from the spent pomace between thumb and finger. The pomace left behind from pressing perry pears tends to be very dry indeed, almost cardboard like, and therefore the juice extraction is perhaps even better, one reason we love pressing perry pears. No matter what the state of the pomace following pressing, it's guaranteed a great reception in the piggery at Keythorpe Rare Breeds.

Once again Adam & Serena are helping us out with our small but unavoidable pomace problem, a happy situation for all concerned. The pigs love the pomace, Adam & Serena appreciate the slightly reduced feed bill at this time of year, and we get to avoid the headache of disposing of upwards of a ton of high quality apple and pear pulp. High quality! Well since all of our apples and pears come from unsprayed old orchards, the pomace can rightly be considered to be Organic in all but name.

Pick of the Crop

This picture records our bountiful harvest of cider apples this year. This represents around half of the total crop, we've been gathering and pressing the fallen apples for a few weeks now. The striped green/red apples at the bottom are Dabinett, the more pinky/orange ones at the top are Harry Masters' Jersey. The handful of Yarlington Mill and Tremlett's Bitter apples have already been juiced.

Not a huge crop on the face of it, but considering our total harvest last year amounted to four apples, we're very pleased with the way our young orchard is developing.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Triple Crown for the Red Lion

Our local pub, and regular outlet for Rockingham Forest Ciders, the Red Lion in Middleton, has recently achieved the full compliment of CAMRA honours.

LocAle accreditation comes on the back of licensees Kevin & Fiona's strong commitment to serving beers from local Northamptonshire breweries, Great Oakley Brewery in particular. The LocAle sticker guarantees there will always be a real ale from a local brewery on offer at the bar of the Red Lion.

Kevin's attention to detail in the cellar has already been recognised by the local Northants CAMRA branch with the award of Pub of the Season earlier this year. Now the Red Lion has achieved the ultimate accolade for the quality of its real ales by appearing in the 2010 edition of CAMRA'S Good Beer Guide.

Completing the set is a new initiative from CAMRA, with accreditation for pubs which regularly sell real ciders as well as real ale. The Red Lion is now one of the first pubs in the UK to sport a 'Real Cider Sold Here' sticker. Throughout the Winter, and until our new season ciders and perrys are ready in the Spring, we aim to source quality ciders and perrys from throughout the country to make sure a real cider is always on offer at the Red Lion.

Brocks Hill Apple Day Pt.2

We'd like to thank Helen Gregory, Countryside and Biodiversity Officer for Oadby and Wigston Borough Council, who organised the Apple Day event at Brocks Hill Country Park on Sunday. We were both pleasantly surprised at the quality of the many stalls she had assembled for the day, including some fantastic displays of rare and local apples.

We were happy to offer samples of our two ciders, which many people enjoyed enough to purchase a two pint takeaway. Our friend Diana Fegredo's beautiful cards attracted a lot of attention, as did our small display of cider apples and perry pears. It was pleasing how many people took an interest in our cidermaking, with several keen to give the craft a go themselves.

We were not the only cidermakers there, with David Bates of Welland Valley Vineyard offering tasters of his Roundhead Cider. We thought the Medium cider was outstanding, well done David. There was also a selection of bottled ciders from Pawley Farm of Kent.

Our stall was snuggled up next to the Leicestershire Heritage Apple Project. Mel, Nigel, and Michael seemed to be having a very successful day, their homemade press was also a great attraction for budding cidermakers.

All in all, a great day out, and one we hope to attend again.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Brocks Hill Apple Day

I'll post a better description of the 2009 Brocks Hill Apple Day when I've got more time, but here's a couple of pics to give a flavour of the day...

The Rockingham Forest Cider Stall

Apple Identification by the Northern Fruit Group

Friday, 9 October 2009

All Shapes and Sizes... and Colours!

Identifying unknown varieties of apple is a tricksy business perhaps best left to the experts. The kind of pomological knowledge required to positively identify one variety of apple from maybe a dozen others which look almost identical, can only be gained through many years of working with orchard fruit.

There are certainly enough variables in an apple to help come to a reasonably positive conclusion, but unfortunately the biggest variable is often where, and how the fruit has been grown. Size of fruit can vary enormously depending on soil, climate, age of tree, and perhaps most importantly, whether the tree is carrying a heavy or light crop. The colouring of the fruit is determined as much by weather conditions and the position of the fruit on the tree with regard to the sun. In addition, an apple may only achieve it's true varietal colouring when truly ripe, a condition which can sometimes be hard to judge.

There are one or two good books available to help with apple identification. We use Liz Copas 'A Somerset Pomona - The Cider Apples of Somerset', which lists most of the more common cider apple varieties. Of course it's of little use when trying to identify an apple not native to Somerset, and even this excellent publication features photographs which don't quite tally with known specimens we've pressed. It's those variables again!

Perhaps the best chance of getting a positive identification of an unknown variety of apple is at a local Apple Day event. They frequently feature one of these 'apple experts', indeed there will be Apple Identification at the Brocks Hill event we are attending this Sunday (11th Oct).

The fruit we've been pressing this year comes from an old orchard in Worcestershire. The orchards owner John can name many of the varieties, but even he doesn't know the identity of all the trees. Some were planted by his Grandfather over 100 years ago, indeed some of the perry pear trees are probably nearer 200 years old, so it's no surprise that some of the knowledge has become a little hazy. It doesn't help when a certain tree is known only by a unique 'local' name, though for me this does add colour to the whole story. One perry pear tree for example, is known by the name Bell Pear due to it's distinctively shaped fruit, but I can't find a reference to this variety anywhere. Luckily for us, we don't really need to know the identity of every apple which goes into our cider, so long as the taste is right, and in this we're guided by our tongues!

So here's a picture of the cider apples we've pressed so far this year. The fruits are quite distinctive, and we know for sure what most are, but there are one or two mystery apples. If you know what they might be, do let us know.

From top left to bottom right:

  • Unknown early bittersweet - These apples had all fallen by early October, and our best guess on these waxy skinned, scabby green/yellow fruits is Bulmers Norman, which we've pressed before.
  • Kingston Black - From a windswept smallish tree which rarely produces much. The skin is very dark red at the nose, and the flesh is hard, chewy and classically bittersharp. Wish we had a few more of these!
  • Dabinett - Homegrown on our very young trees. Large apples for Dabinett
  • Dabinett - Believe it or not, these are the same variety as above, but from a heavily cropping mature tree in the Worcestershire orchard.
  • Unknown Sweet - Conical, scabby but attractive apple. This is a pure sweet, that is it has low acidity distinguishing it from a dessert apple.
  • Harry Masters' Jersey - Homegrown, from a heavily cropping young tree. Harry Masters' is distinguished by a pinky/orange colouring.
  • Yarlington Mill - Homegrown, and again very large for the variety due to a young tree carrying a small crop. These yarly's are deep red, with a pointed nose and distinctive ribbing.
  • Unknown Bittersweet - Small, round and dullish green. These are mid season apples from a single tree in Johns orchard. Full bittersweet, Michelin? Who knows!
  • Unknown Sharp - These had mostly all fallen at Johns orchard in Worcs. The skin is striped orangey red, and the apple is heavily ribbed. A very attractive fruit with a wonderful aromatic flavour which reminded me of the sharp cider variety Brown's Apple.

Birds Everywhere

I've never seen so many birds in the garden. Half a dozen Sparrows fighting for territory with a similar number of Bullfinches. A sizeable family of Blue Tits flitting between the trees, a Green Woodpecker pecking at Ants on the lawn, and a solitary Robin sitting on the fence watching it all.

We must be doing something right in the garden, perhaps it's this years 'less tidy' approach to gardening. All we need now is the return of the Blackbirds. Where do all the Blackbirds go at this time of year?

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Pressing (Contains Graphic Images)

It's been a very busy few days, and I'm too tired to blog about it tonight. Until tomorrow, here's a short 'superior' video showing all the action from todays pressing. It's 'superior' because I don't speak over it! Enjoy.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

It's Raining Pears...

Harvesting Red Longdon Perry Pears in Worcestershire.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Perry Making

It's nice when a plan comes together. When the niggles and obstacles are few, your system works, and everything is smoothness and efficiency itself. It's particularly nice as it so rarely seems to happen!

Yesterday was one such day, and it came on the back of several preceding days of smooth efficiency in the orchard. Up at the crack of dawn, and up to our elbows in Perry Pears and water. The Blakeney Reds were in very good condition, very few rots, and since they were mostly shaken down onto a tarpaulin, not too dirty either. I was helped with the washing for an hour or so by Colin Bates, a chap from nearby Great Oakley with a surplus of apples and a desire to learn how to make cider from them. He brought along a friend who gamely set-to with the washing up.

The pears pressed very dry indeed, and released around 250 litres of juice with a thoroughly respectable specific gravity of 1.050. Not exactly a 'vintage' sugar level, but still better than last years Blakeneys which were 1.048. We were all finished, everything cleaned down, and ready for a relaxing bath when Serena & Adam of Keythorpe Rare Breeds arrived to whisk the dry pomace off for the delight of their pigs. Not only did they arrive with impeccable timing, but brought with them a wedge of unbelievably creamy Lemon Cheesecake. We sent them home with our thanks and a bottle of Rockingham Forest Cider, and still feel we got the better end of the deal!

Tomorrow it's back to the orchard with my brother Paul as a willing (?) volunteer. We've our sites set on apples this time. This perry making is all good fun when it goes well, but it's high time we made a bit of cider!

Nice Orchard Blog

We like to litter our blog with as many pretty pictures of orchards as possible. Why wouldn't we? Orchards are at the very heart of what we do. They're beautiful places to spend time in whatever the season, and of course we couldn't make cider and perry without them.

Orchards are also incredibly fragile places, often neglected, and of little commercial value to their owners. You only have to take note of the many 'Orchard Closes', and 'The Old Orchard' housing developments to see what we've already lost of this precious heritage.

By writing about orchards, and also by providing a market for the fruit through our cidermaking, I hope we're doing a little bit to help preserve some of this orchard heritage. A more hands-on approach is being taken by Henry Johnson, who is busy restoring a couple of old Bramley and Plum orchards in Gloucestershire. He writes far more eloquently on the subject than we do on his excellent Charingworth Orchard Trust blog, and the pictures are much more impressive than ours too!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Orchard Rambling

We've had a great day at the orchard in Worcestershire today. Orchard owner John very kindly helped out for an hour or so in the morning, and we managed to bag-up maybe a quarter of a ton of Blakeney Red perry pears. It was pretty hard going, but very satisfying working in such a tranquil environment.

I say tranquil, but the RAF fly very low round these parts! Other than that it was the resident Woodpeckers a-rattling, Pheasants crah-crah-ing, and the distinctive cry of a Buzzard circling overhead. I tried to video the Buzzard, but by the time I'd wound the camera up, it had gone. Instead I did a really bad video blog, which you can view below. Rest assured, I'll be quicker and catch the Buzzard next time...

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Perry Pears - Raising a Stink

Perry Pears are unusual things. Small, hard, sometimes very quick to rot, and absolutely horrible to taste when eaten raw.

The unpleasant taste is the result of very high tannin levels in perry pears, sometimes so high that the fruit needs to be milled a few days before pressing to help the tannins 'soften' through oxidisation (known as Maceration). Of course it's the tannins which make perry such a fine drink, and the reason why 'ordinary' dessert pears are not nearly so good for perry making.

The perry pears we pressed a couple of weeks ago were pretty tannic, though not so high that they needed to be 'macerated' to reduce the tannin. These Moorcroft pears are renowned for producing an excellent perry, though it's a difficult pear to make perry from owing to the very short time between ripening and the fruit rotting. In common with many varieties of perry pear and cider apple, Moorcroft pears go by several names depending on where they're grown. When grown in Worcestershire they tend to go by the name Malvern Hills or Malvern Pear for obvious reasons. Choke Pear is another name which perhaps reflects the tannic nature of this variety of perry pear.

Another less common name which has come to greater prominence in recent years, is Stinking Bishop, also the name of a highly regarded artisan cheese made by Charles Martell in Gloucestershire. If you've ever come across this rare soft cheese, you'll know the reason for it's unusual name. During the ripening period, the individual cheeses are regularly washed in perry made from the Stinking Bishop pear. This gives the cheese a unique 'sweaty socks' aroma which certainly lives up to it's unusual name. On the face of it, perhaps not a great advert for Moorcroft Perry, but strangely enough the perry itself is light, floral, and perhaps one of the finest you're likely to come across. So whither the pong?

The quantity of Moorcroft pears we pressed was not that great, and the resulting dry pomace was only sufficient to fill two small sacks. We normally send our pomace off to Keythorpe Rare Breeds as feed for their lucky free-range pigs, but this batch was a little too small for the journey and therefore sat for a few days outside waiting to be disposed of with the green waste. After a couple of days in the sun, the Stinking Bishop moniker started to become all too clear. The smell was overpowering, even the vinegar flys were avoiding the sacks. I dread to think what the bin-men were thinking when they emptied our green bin this week!

We're off to Worcestershire again this weekend in search of Blakeney Red perry pears. Another great pear variety, with the potential to make really excellent perry, though formerly used to dye soldiers uniforms Khaki.... Hmm!.... At least it won't smell so bad.