Monday, 24 August 2009

Lamb Tales

I can't say I'm a big fan of Test-Match Cricket. Even an Ashes series is something I find difficult to concentrate on for more than a few minutes at a time. At best a five-day cricket match provides good background interest to the real business of the day, a few pints of Wot's Occuring at our local the Red Lion in Middleton, and a bit of non-competitive skittling tuition from licensee Kevin Barby. A hopeless task I know, but fair play to Kev for persevering.

Of course the real business of a long, lazy Sunday afternoon is the enjoyment of a lovingly prepared Sunday lunch. In this case, a brace of Ashley Herb Farm Lamb Shanks, slow-cooked until meltingly tender in a pint of our own cider.

The recipe was 'borrowed' and adapted slightly from the 'well-homely' Discuss Cooking website, and originates from Scottish forum user Ishbel, who certainly knows her Lamb Shanks with Cider and Rosemary.

We used our own James Grieve apples, fresh from the tree, and a tin of Butter Beans rather than Cannellini, fresh from the pantry! The cider was a fairly robust Rockingham Forest Cider, but any good quality dry cider made from rich West-country cider apples would do.

The Lamb was accompanied by Runners Beans, Carrots, and Potatoes, all home grown and bursting with flavour, but unfortunately the Parsnips came from a local market stall and tasted of absolutely nothing! A timely reminder to stick to seasonal produce wherever possible.

Cider is of course 'in season' all year round, though the way things have gone this year our season is rapidly coming to an end. Other than supplies for the Red Lion, and the last few events listed on the right-hand side of this blog, we have now effectively sold-out. Lazy Sundays will soon be a distant memory, it's nearly time to start filling the fermenters again...

Lamb Shank on Foodista

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The Sunday Post

In the traditional lull between the Summer cider drinking months and the impending cidermaking season, the only cidery news of note is that we've been drinking quite a bit of it recently! So in the absence of any real news, here are some current affairs pictures, with accompanying Sir Trevor McDonald style headlines:

GRAPES OF WRATH - It's curtains for this years grape harvest as Wasps Nest is found in orchard. Chutney-making is on hold awaiting late night 'sting' operation. Stay tuned for the latest buzz...

PIPISTRELLE PARTY POOPERS - Tell-tale droppings at back door announce return of Bats to Summer roost. Karen, all in a flap, was reported as saying 'I don't like it'. BREAKING NEWS: Bats have now gone!

HEN-MONGOUS EGG - Golden Hen, and top Rockingham Forest Cider layer 'Sminky' is the 'cluck of the flock' after laying an unnaturally large double-yolker. It was out with the frying pan, and in with the Full English, as Sminky declared herself 'sore' but happy.

And Finally...

CAPTION COMPETITION - Win a bottle of Rockingham Forest Cider if you can guess what Fiona was saying to Kevin at Karens recent birthday party....

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Blog Power Rating

Eagle-eyed subscribers may have noticed a new badge at the bottom of the Gadget zone. Now we've never been in this blogging game for the plaudits (which is just as well really), but it gives me great pleasure to announce that our worldwide Wikio Blog Ranking (for Wine & Beer) currently sits at an impressive '48'! .....Woo-hoo!

Yes, you read it right, that's '48' worldwide....

That's right, we're ranked 48th out of literally the whole world of blogs!...

Ok, so the list of Wine & Beer blogs only extends as far as 56, but hey! It's not too bad considering we're in a category that doesn't even mention Cider.... or perhaps that gives us an advantage....

Oh well, room for improvement I think.

Monday, 10 August 2009

The Future's Pear Shaped

Excitement is building as the new cidermaking season approaches. We don't aim to start pressing until late September at the earliest, but in the spirit of 'forearmed is for forewarned', last week we went to have a look at the Worcestershire orchard we'll be harvesting our cider and perry fruit from. This also gave us an opportunity to drop off a couple of bottles of last years cider and perry for the owner, John.

It's very hard to judge how the apple and pear crop of a distant orchard is likely to be without getting up close and personal with the trees. The micro-climate here in the Welland Valley is totally different to that of the Cotswolds, and whilst we may have been basking in a fair bit of Springtime sunshine here, the Worcestershire orchard could have been sitting in a nasty frost pocket. Pear blossom comes particularly early, and is quite short lived, a sharp snap of frost or a spell of wet weather is often all it takes to damage the blossom or prevent insects from doing the all important work of pollination.

We didn't venture far into the extensive orchards, it was raining quite hard, and it wasn't long before we'd seen all we needed to. There were a fair few apple trees with good crops, though the Tremlett's Bitter trees which provided much of our tannin last season are having an 'off' year. Tremlett's are described by Liz Copas in her excellent 'A Somerset Pomona' as being 'very biennial in their cropping', which means that they have a tendency to crop very heavily one year, then carry virtually nothing the next. We benefited from a heavy crop last year so the lack of fruit this year is to be expected.

The biggest surprise of all was the profusion of Pears clinging to the huge Perry Pear trees. Last year we barely had enough pears to make 3 barrels of perry, most of the fruit coming from two or three sparsely cropping old trees. This year there are several more trees in crop, and the weight of fruit on each tree is substantial. This is great news, as we were keen to repeat our experiment with Perry making this year, and should have enough fruit for maybe a couple of hundred gallons!

All we need now is a man on the ground who can keep a close eye on the ripening fruit, which is where our friend John comes in. Perry pears come to ripeness over a very short period of time, maybe as little as a week between turning ripe and starting to rot. The situation is complicated by the fact that there are at least two different varieties of Perry Pear in the orchard. We know for example that the Moorcroft and Blakeney Red pears ripen a few weeks apart, so we're looking at two trips at least to harvest all the pears that we can. If we should miss either harvest by more than a week, it could be that all that glorious fruit will go to waste. Now that really would be letting things go 'Pear-shaped'.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Feeling a bit 'Waspish'

It's rare for things to go entirely smoothly in the orchard, and this season is no exception. The warm, wet weather we're experiencing this Summer has increased the prevalence of Scab on the smaller than average Bramley Apple crop. This being the tallest tree in the orchard, there are also secondary incidences of scab on some of the cider apple trees nearby. A few spots of Scab on the cider fruit isn't too much of a problem, but the chances of getting any big sun-ripened cooking apples for Winter storage seem pretty slim this year.

The village orchard seems to be carrying a lighter crop of cooking apples this year, although the big pear tree has a reasonable crop. I'll be scouring the valley over the next few weeks to assess the fruit for the new season Welland Valley Special Cider which we'd like to make a lot more of if possible. So in general, it's looking like a modest year for apple crops, though a few good sunny days into the Autumn would at least help give 2009 more of a 'Vintage' quality.

Worst of all is the potential of our small grape harvest, which was looking slightly smaller than last year even before something started eating them! The Rockingham Forest Hens can usually be relied on to poke their beaks in where least wanted, but can't take the blame this year as they're fenced off from the grapes. The finger of blame was being pointed in the direction of the local Blackbird population, and I was all set to string up some netting, which is very effective in stopping bird damage, when the identity of the real culprits became clear.

Red wine grapes such as the Regent and Rondo varieties we grow, can sometimes be very susceptible to attack from Wasps, something we haven't experienced before due to the Wasp population taking a bit of a knock this last two Summers. As soon as the grapes start to colour up they become very attractive to a Wasp, and word of the sweet bounty soon gets round in Wasp-ville! I counted maybe a couple of dozen Wasps feasting around the vines today, and I doubt we'll get enough grapes for even a gallon of wine. Is there an effective way of stopping Wasp damage to grapes I wonder? How much more precious our six bottles of Rockingham Forest Red 2008 now seem.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Read all about it...

Our cidery scribblings on this year's Welland Valley Beer Festival are in the latest edition of Northants CAMRA's newsletter 'Over the Barrel'. Read it here: Over the Barrel - Aug - Oct 2009

Monday, 3 August 2009

Vegetable Test Won...

...but not enough to win the Cup.

Not exactly cider related I know, but we're rather proud of this, our best haul yet at the Uppingham Flower & Produce Show. Four Firsts, including the hotly contested 'Five Scones on a Plate' class, three Seconds and another four Thirds. We didn't enter our cider in the 'Homemade Beverage in a Bottle' class, that would probably be considered cheating, but our Blackberry Whisky did well with a Second. Another grand day out, and not a bad result for a bunch of 'Incomers'. We're not resting on our laurels though, and won't be happy until the prestigous GB Generator Cup (Salad Vegetables) and/or the Garden Hotel Cup (Home Produce) have pride of place in our display cabinet.