Wednesday, 28 October 2009
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
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
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
Sunday, 18 October 2009
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
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
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.
Monday, 12 October 2009
The Rockingham Forest Cider Stall
Apple Identification by the Northern Fruit Group
Friday, 9 October 2009
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.
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
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
Monday, 5 October 2009
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
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...