Saturday, 26 September 2009

Apple Day 2009

Apple Day, the annual celebration of Apples, Orchards, and of course Cider and Perry, is almost upon us. Although centred around the 21st of October, some Apple Day events have already taken place, and there are many more to come throughout October.

A listing of Apple Day events can be found on the Common Ground Website, though even this extensive listing is not likely to be complete. This year we'll not only be visiting one of the events, but also taking part by offering samples and sales of our cider at Brocks Hill Country Park in Oadby, Leicestershire (11th October, 11-4pm). This will be our last event of the season, given that we have now virtually sold out of cider.

We've written about Brocks Hill before on this blog, in particular the wonderful Community Orchard which forms a centre point to the extensive parklands. Presumably, many of the trees will still be in fruit, which is something I look forward to exploring on the day.

We hope to have a small display of cider and perry fruit, and some nice images to help explain the cidermaking process right through from orchard to glass. We'll also have a small selection of our friend Diana Fegredo's lovely fruit themed cards for sale, an example of which is shown here. Look out too for Nigel Deacon and Mel Wilson of the Leicestershire Heritage Apple Project, who will be there to explain about rare local apples and why we need to conserve them.

Grape Expectations

Evidence that 2009 may turn out to be a 'Vintage' year for fruit continues to grow. We've already seen exceptional sugar levels in the perry pears we pressed a couple of weeks ago, and heard of similarly high levels in fruit pressed elsewhere in the East Midlands.

Last year we made wine for the first time from our three vines, but the cool, wet 2008 season produced a less than vintage crop of grapes. Sugar levels were pretty low, and we were forced to add quite a bit of sugar to the juice to help achieve the alcohol levels required for a wine which would keep well.

This years crop is slightly smaller than the bumper 2008 harvest, not helped by the problems we had earlier in the year with Wasps. Most of the crop has come from the slightly later ripening Regent variety, the Rondo being particularly badly hit by Wasp damage. But whilst yields are certainly down, the good news is that the all important sugar levels are proving to be much higher. This years grape juice is showing a specific gravity of 1080, and should only need a small addition of sugar to help boost the finished alcohol level to the 12% required for red wine.

We'll be harvesting cider apples, perry pears and local fruit over the next few weeks, and I'm really looking forward to dipping my hydrometer into some more juice as the pressing season continues. After the last few poor Summers, we're long overdue a truly 'Vintage' season for our ciders and perrys, and the signs are looking good that this year could be a very good one indeed.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

It's Only Natural

This picture shows the first signs of yeast growth and fermentation on the surface of our recently pressed Moorcroft Perry Pear juice. Whilst it's only been five days since we pressed this batch of juice, it always seems much longer when you're waiting for the fermentation to get going.

Following pressing, we added a small dose of Sulphite to prevent spoilage organisms turning the precious juice into perry vinegar or worse. For the first time this season, we plan to ferment all our ciders and perrys without the addition of a single strain cultured yeast. Instead we're relying on the natural yeasts present in the fruit, and those which have built up through successive seasons on our cidermaking equipment. Although this can be slightly more risky, there are definite advantages to natural yeast fermentations.

The early part of a natural fermentation is with a range of low alcohol-tolerant yeasts which can give an added complexity to the finished cider/perry. When these yeasts have done their job, the fermentation is taken over by the more robust Saccharomyces strains of yeast which tend to build up in the ciderhouse and cidermaking equipment over successive years of milling and pressing.

In previous years, the fermentation resulting from the addition of a cultured yeast has been rather too quick for our liking, and usually continues until all the sugars have been converted to alcohol resulting in quite a dry cider/perry. Natural yeasts tend to ferment the juice more slowly over the course of several months, giving ciders and perrys with a better, often sweeter flavour, and with less tendency to produce 'off' flavours such as Hydrogen Sulphide. For us it's all about fine tuning and aiming to improve our ciders and perrys, something all small-scale producers should aim to do in our opinion.

Monday, 21 September 2009

A Vintage Year For Perry?

The new cidermaking season has started a little earlier than usual, though it's not Cider we've been making, but Perry.

This season has turned out to be a bumper one for pears, and Perry Pears in particular. We managed to press a relatively small quantity of Blakeney Red Perry Pears last year, but this year looks like being a 'Vintage' one for perry, with huge crops of very good quality pears reported throughout the Three Counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Gloucestershire. The Worcestershire orchard we have access to has a number of huge, mature perry pear trees, including Red Longdon, Green Horse, Blakeney Red, and Moorcroft, and it's the latter we've been pressing.

Moorcroft (known locally as Malvern Hills) is a very difficult pear to make perry from. Not from a technical perry-making perspective, but simply because they have a tendency to rot and become useless within a few days of ripening. When we had the call from John, the owner of the orchard, we knew it would be a race against time to harvest and press the fruit before it was fit only for the compost heap. It was a race we very nearly lost.

Unlike apples, pears rot from the inside out, which can make it difficult to judge their ripeness. One thing we've learned this year is that when Moorcroft pears turn yellow, normally a good sign of ripeness, much of the fruit will have already started to rot. These pears need harvesting at just the point when they are turning from green to yellow, and this can be in a matter of only a couple of days. As it turned out, we managed to harvest just 7 or 8 sacks-full after rejecting the many over-ripe pears, before whisking them home to be pressed that day in the fading light.

Not a great result, but there was a much more positive end to the day when we checked the sugar levels of the juice. Lat season the average Specific Gravity of the various apples and pears we pressed came out at around 1048, giving a final alcohol level of around 6.4% following blending. This Moorcroft pear juice has come out at a whopping 1070, which could give a final alcohol level of over 9.0% if it ferments to dry. Let's hope it doesn't, since this is above the legal alcohol level for cider and perry, and we really wouldn't want to have to water it down!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Brigstock Beer Festival

Someone on the Brigstock Beer Festival organising committee must have struck a bargain with the devil himself to have bagged such fine weather for this years event. Late Summer sun helped to create a great atmosphere at this years festival, but the rest of the attractions were solely the result of the organisers hard work. A well deserved success.

We've been to this excellent local event before, but this was our first time supplying cider to the festival. Alongside a barrel of Cromwell Cider from Huntingdon, the Rockingham Forest and Sulgrave Orchard ciders had all sold out by around 8pm in the evening. This has been the theme of the year at virtually all the events we have supplied cider to, and the popularity of real ciders and perrys like ours shows no sign of fading.

We really enjoyed the entertainment, even though the Morris Men had to cancel due to illness. The surprise highlight was the Ukelele duo, who entertained with unusual arrangements of popular songs, played with some skill on their diminutive instruments.

We hope to be back at Brigstock next year, with perhaps a little more cider in reserve. These Brigstock folk seem to like their cider!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Comfort Food

I can be terribly unadventurous when it comes to cooking. I've cooked Fillet of Pork many times over the years, along with Belly it's one of our favourite porky cuts, but I always cook it the same way....

Perhaps it's because I can't think of a better way to keep a delicate fillet of pork tender and juicy than by dousing it in generous quantities of Cider Brandy and Cream. Perhaps it's because it's a pointless exercise trying to better a classic, perfect recipe. Or perhaps it's because my limited culinary skills were honed at the Bone-Idle school of cooking! Comfort Food from deep within my Comfort Zone. Yes, that's probably it...

Fillet of Pork - Yummy Basque Style

Cut the Pork Fillet into 4-6 chunky medallions and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Into a pan with them to brown in a little Butter. Not too hot or the butter will burn.

When both sides are browned, remove to a bowl and keep warm. Add more butter if necessary and throw in a couple of peeled, cored and thickly sliced Dessert Apples, we used James Grieves from the orchard. These need browning a little too. Return the Pork to the pan.

At this point it's worth pre-warning your partner/guests about what you're about to do...

Add a good slosh of Cider Brandy to the hot pan, and with a steady hand and nerves of steel, set the whole sizzling caboodle on fire! Stand well back to avoid singed eyebrows, shake the pan vigorously emitting loud comedy evil laughter.

When the flames have died down, add another slosh of a sweetish West-Country cider. Cook this hard until reduced to not very much. By now your tub of cream will be quivering in anticipation, so don't delay and add as much as your arteries can handle. Finally, add a good tablespoon of an appropriate chopped herb (we used Thyme, but Parsley is probably better if yours hasn't gone to seed like ours has!).

Cook until the cream has reduced a little and the pork is cooked right through. Serve with Mash, Vegetables, and a cool glass of the remaining cider.

The Cider Brandy we used was Saizar Sagardoz, from the Basque region of Northern Spain. Not easy to find in the UK, but Calvados is a good choice too, or you could be patriotic and use some of Julian Temperleys excellent Somerset Cider Brandy.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Life in the Sloe Lane

September is 'Homecrafts' month in the Rockingham Forest Cider household. Today we turned our Runner Bean and Courgette glut into a batch of vibrant yellow Picalilli, pickled a few stray onions, and spent a pleasant half hour picking berries for this years Sloe Gin.

In common with much of this years fruit harvest, Sloes appear to have ripened quite early, but unlike most fruits it can be quite difficult to tell whether a Sloe berry is properly ripe from its taste. The old rule of thumb is to wait until the first frost before picking your Sloes, but the recent trend for warmer weather in Autumn can make for very late frosts, and therefore this rule can't be relied on if you want to get your Sloes harvested before the Blackbirds do!

Despite this being a very poor year for Sloes in the village, we managed to pick a couple of pound of berries, the purply-blue bloom, and soft texture being our clue to ripeness. Kevin at the Red Lion bravely chewed on a berry and pronounced them ripe and ready for the Gin. He's been picking Sloes a good deal longer than us, so his judgment was good enough for me.

Should you be lucky enough to have some Sloes this year, here's the recipe we use for our Sloe Gin. Adjust the sugar up or down to taste (up quite a bit in Karens case), and feel free to add a little Vanilla Essence should the mood take you:
  • Take 1lb of Sloes, prick them all over with a pin, and remove any
    stalks if necessary
  • Place in a sealable glass jar with 4oz sugar
  • Add a 70cl bottle of Gin
  • Seal and give a shake every day until all the sugar has dissolved
  • Leave until Christmas, shaking occasionally, then strain into attractive
    bottles and label
  • Enjoy...

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Hinckley Beer Festival

We've heard good things about the Hinckley Beer Festival. The cider list looks very nice, though you'll notice our ciders are not included. So why are we blogging about it?

Well this is just a thank you to festival organiser Bill Smith, and his team of CAMRA volunteers, for helping us source a sack full of 2 pint containers for our stall at the Brocks Hill Apple Day event in October. Great people all round, and thoroughly deserving of our support.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Perry - The Facts!

We make Perry.

It's a bit like Cider but made from Pears not Apples.

It's not a Cider, because Cider is made from Apples.

We don't make Pear Cider, although the Kettering Evening Telegraph seem to think we do (see right).

So, in conclusion:
  • Cider is made from Apples (We make some of this)
  • Perry is made from Pears (We also make some of this)
  • Pear Cider is a bit like renaming Beer a 'Malt & Hop Wine' for the benefit of wine drinkers who might not understand what it is. Ridiculous! (We don't make any of this)

Friday, 4 September 2009

Take One Wild Wabbit...

Home alone again, which means another opportunity to indulge in culinary forbidden fruit!

Now Rabbit is something Karen objects to eating on many levels. The main one being it's a Rabbit! Fluffy, twitchy-nosed, droopy eared, 'Bright Eyes', you know what I'm saying. She also claims to not like the taste of Rabbit....Hmm!

Now don't get me wrong. It's not a question of disbelief on this issue. If Karen says she doesn't like the taste of Rabbit, then clearly she doesn't like the taste of Rabbit, and it would be very wrong of me to think otherwise.

Yes, just plain wrong... and even wronger to try and pass off said Rabbit meat as, say, Chicken in the hope of maybe tripping the girl up so to speak..... Yes, that would be very, very wrong..... although....!

Anyway, Karen's away for the weekend, relieving me of any moral dilemma surrounding the cooking of a tasty wild Rabbit purloined from the wonderful Ashley Herb Farm. The recipe I used was adapted from one by Simon Imrie of the highly regarded Pembury Tavern in Hackney, and which features in the recently published CAMRA book 'Cider'. Rabbit Braised with Cider is Simons bit, the additional Garlic, Cream and Mustard are mine.

I put a Jointed Rabbit into a small casserole with half a pint of our Med/Dry Cider, half a pint of Chicken Stock, sprigs of Rosemary and Thyme, two Bay Leaves, a couple of crushed Garlic Cloves. and a good grind of Black Pepper. I then popped the lid on, bunged it in the oven at 180C/350F/GM4, and went to the Red Lion for a couple of hours to try the new beer from Great Oakley Brewery. On my return I found the kitchen had filled with a meaty, herby, aromatic loveliness, to which I added a dollop of Double Cream, and a teaspoon of Wholegrain Mustard. I served half the Rabbit with homegrown Potato Mash and French Beans, and a bottle of Sheppy's Dabinett Cider. The other half will go in the freezer for another day, and perhaps another person...

End of Season Sales

2009 has been another vintage year for cider sales. We've sold twice as much cider as we did last year, and could easily have sold much more had we been able to supply cider to some of the events we are now having to turn down. We can only apologise to the various people who have contacted us over the last few weeks requesting cider for their festivals and Apple Day events. We always aim to make more each year, but with time in such short supply we never seem to be able to make as much as we'd like.

The last few events of the year are nearly upon us, and today we delivered Sulgrave Orchard and Rockingham Forest ciders to the inaugural Raunds Town Cricket Club Beer Festival. I hope the four barrels which were all we could spare will last the weekend, and that everyone enjoys what appears to be a very well organised event.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The Rockingham Forest Pomona

Some of our cider apple trees are carrying quite a good crop this year. The Harry Masters' and Dabinetts are the most well established, and around half are cropping heavily. The Yarlington Mills are carrying a few apples, and even the Tremlett's Bitters which we probably shouldn't have allowed to crop at all, have an apple or two to show for their lovely blossom in the Spring.

I am of course biased, but I do think that some varieties of apple are very attractive to the eye. Since this is the first year when we have good specimens of all four of our cider varieties, this blog entry represents a pictorial record of our hobby cider orchard. All the varieties we grow are classified as Bittersweet, and considered to be of 'Vintage Quality', that is to say they are rich in Tannin, and low in acid, and additionally contribute an excellent cidery flavour to the finished cider. Of course this 'Vintage Quality' is derived from fruit grown under ideal conditions, traditional 'Standard' orchards in the West Country for example. Whether our semi-dwarfing trees will produce fruit of Vintage Quality remains to be seen.

It should be noted that none of these varieties are fully ripe, and the colouring will probably change slightly as the apples ripen throughout September and into October.


A classic in current cidermaking circles, Dabinett is a good, annual cropper, relatively disease resistant, and gives a juice of excellent quality. The tannins in Dabinett are 'soft' rather than 'hard' and astringent, and with the addition of a smaller percentage of a sharper apple juice can produce a very pleasant 'Single Variety' cider.

Harry Master' Jersey (also known as Port Wine)

Similar performance to Dabinett, though perhaps a slightly less regular cropper. Our Harry Masters' are cropping heavily this year (see pic at the head of this blog entry), and it will be interesting to see how they perform next season. This image shows the typical conical 'Jersey' shape of this variety very well.

Tremlett's Bitter

Other than when affected by scab, of which Tremlett's are very susceptible, these bright red, conical fruits are very attractive, and highly distinctive in an orchard setting. This is one of the few cider apple varieties I can usually identify with any kind of confidence. Tremlett's are strongly biennial (crop heavily only on alternate years), and quite vigorous. Our trees are growing away very well, putting on a tremendous amount of growth. The juice is a 'hard' full bittersweet, best used in a blend with less astringent fruit.

Yarlington Mill

Another conical 'Jersey' apple, ours are showing a fair bit of ridging around the pointed nose. Yarlington Mill is considered one of the best for cidermaking, and is frequently presented as a single variety cider, though in common with most (all?) bittersweets, is at it's best in a blend. This is a heavy cropper, which may need regular thinning to help prevent biennialism. Our trees have been quite slow to establish, not helped by being sited in perhaps the poorest part of the orchard, with free-draining, and relatively thin soil. The fruit shown here is suffering a little from Scab.