Saturday, 25 December 2010

Christmas Greetings....

...from all at Rockingham Forest Cider (with a little 'Easy-Listening' help from the legendary Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra). This rotating nativity scene is a bit like our fermentations. Reluctant to start. Liable to grind to a halt at any given time!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Fun in Brum

In the bleak midwinter there's nothing I like more than standing knee-deep in snow, inadequately dressed for the weather, nursing an ice-cold Weissbier in frost-bitten, gloveless hands. Sounds a treat doesn't it? Did I mention Birmingham as the venue? Mmmm!

I like Birmingham. It's really come on in recent years. A little bit London only a little bit friendlier. Full of Brummies rather than Londoners... I'll say no more. I like Frankfurt too, though sadly I've never had the opportunity to go there yet, so I'm basing my view of Frankfurt on Birmingham. Naturally!

Throughout the month of December, Birmingham does a pretty passable impression of Germanys fifth largest city, decking itself out in Singing Mooses and Rotating Santas at its annual Frankfurt Christmas Market (the clue's in the name). Possibly the best German Christmas Market outside of Germany itself, certainly better than the lame or non-existent offerings I've visited in other Midlands cities recently (you know who you are...).

This was my first visit to the Birmingham event, and probably the first time it's been forced to close early due to a totally expected heavy snowfall. Apparently things got pretty treacherous later in the day, but there's no doubt the sub-zero temperatures and thick carpet of fluffy snow made it a very Christmassy Christmas Market. It also made Mulled Cider the drink of choice (or at least one of the drinks of choice) for cold toes and chilly noses. One of the big attractions of this Christmas Market is the numerous speciality bars set up around the site. Plenty of German Beer to be sure, Gluwhein for those that like it, but also real ales from Woods Brewery, and excellent cider and perry from Hogan's of Warwickshire, and Orchard Pig of Somerset.

The Orchard Pig Cider Bar had their award-winning draught cider, cockle-warming mulled cider, and a selection of snow-covered barrels to stand around. Concentrate really hard, and it's almost like standing in a Somerset cider barn on a hot Summer day... well, almost. Top Somerset Cider nevertheless, if we can just persuade them to come to Leicester next year...

Warwickshire was slightly easier to visualise at the small, but perfectly formed Hogan's Cider Bar. More of that lovely Mulled Cider was available, plus bottles of the outstanding Hogan's Perry for those who needed cooling down. More snow-topped barrels to stand around, and by now the the silly animal hats were starting to make an appearance. Well done Hogan's, and well done too Birmingham Wetherspoon for helping out with the necessary comfort breaks.

It was getting really, really cold by now, so off to the K├Âlsch Bar for an ice-cold Schwarzbier. Brrr! It was slightly warmer at the back of the hut, but by now a group of lively Brummie gentlemen had started singing, so we headed next door for a chilled Weissbier at the sign of the Singing Moose..... outside!..... in the snow!.... Why!

It was time to beat a retreat to one of the city's noted hostelries. The cider selection at the Wellington was disappointing, but the Wye Valley HPA was in superb condition, and more importantly, not ice-cold. We'd thawed enough by now for the short trip to the palatial splendour of the Old Joint Stock, for some top quality London beer... oh well, can't win 'em all.

I'll skirt quickly over the 'Total and Utter Shambles of Disorganised Chaos at Birmingham New Street Station', and say what a great day out it was, in jolly good company, with a jolly good Bratwurst to finish too. Recommended.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

...and they're off... at last!

Early days I know, but it's already becoming clear that the 2010 cidermaking season will be remembered by many cidermakers for its Apple Lollipops, Pomace Slushies and Torpid Fermentations.

Here at Rockingham Forest Cider, we managed to avoid the misery and potential frostbite of Pressing during the big freeze, but the recent cold spell has played havoc with the performance of our delicate Wild Yeasts. All the later pressings of Yarlington Mill, Dabinett etc. have been extremely reluctant to show signs of life in the chilly ciderhouse. On one memorable early morning, we recorded a garden temperature of -11C, and though it's unlikely to have been this cold in the ciderhouse, I'm guessing the temperature will have hovered either side of freezing for the last few weeks. It would take a pretty hardy microbe to rouse itself for fermentation in these conditions, and so it's hardly surprising that none of them did. Bad Yeasts!

This ongoing lack of fermentation is a worrying thing for a cidermaker, so it came as a bit of a relief when last weekend's lull in the freezing conditions helped kick-start the last few malingerers into life. I'm now pleased to announce that it's a lot noisier in the ciderhouse, with all 25 fermenters finally fizzing and glopping away like ....err... big fizzy gloppy things.

The imminent return of freezing conditions shouldn't be anything to worry about. Once a fermentation gets going, the process by which the yeasts convert sugar to alcohol (and CO2), also generates a little bit of heat, hopefully just enough to keep things ticking over. Even this little demijohn of Green Horse Perry (right) continued to ferment throughout the Nov/Dec freeze. Notice the strange 'alien' gloop floating on the top of this perry, a common occurrence with high tannin perrys, something to do with 'Polymeric Perry Tannins'... or something!

With everything now as it should be in the ciderhouse, it's high time we turned our attention to the serious business of Unbridled Christmas Pleasure. More of which later...

Friday, 26 November 2010

Mincing About in the Kitchen

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in the Welland Valley. Due in large part to the good folk of Rockingham Castle, who've jumped the gun somewhat and decked their expansive halls with many-a bough of holly. A little early you might think, but it's all part of their annual Victorian Christmas event, and for us humble flood-plane dwellers, a good opportunity for a nosey around the 'Big House' on the hill.

Here at Rockingham Forest Cider HQ, I'll be sticking rigidly with time-honoured tradition. No trees will be erected, Tinsel hung, or Baubles polished, until I'm jolly well told to by 'She Who Must Be Obeyed At Christmas... and beyond'. This is Karens time, and she'll be running our 'Christmas Season' with military precision, and dishing out military-style punishment to those that step out of line. I made the mistake of using my initiative one Christmas. It won't happen again!

That's not to say that the Christmas spirit is entirely absent. Regular readers will know that the Christmas Pudding has already been cooked, and is now being force fed regular tots of weapons-grade Calvados. The Christmas Cake has also now been baked, and will meet a similar boozy fate between now and the big day. I've also made a small experimental batch of Rockingham Forest Slider Mincemeat, in a vain attempt to feed the voracious appetite of 'She Who Can't Stop Baking Mince Pies'. There's much more to this super-rich mincemeat that the Slider though, so for adventurous bakers, here's the recipe :

200ml Slider (or a Sweetish Cider)
200g Soft Dark Brown Sugar
200g Currants
200g Raisins
750g Cooking Apples (Peeled, Cored, Chopped quite finely)
60g Dried Figs, Dates, or Prunes (I used Prunes, you decide)
60g Nuts (I used Walnuts)
60g Damsons (or Plums)
Grated Zest and Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 tsp Mixed Spice
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
A good Tot of Cider Brandy or Calvados

Heat the Slider and Sugar gently in a pan until the sugar has melted. Add everything else, having chopped anything big into a smallish dice. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for half an hour. Spoon into sterilised jars, and pour a little brandy on the top to help preserve the Mincemeat before sealing. Ideally, store for a couple of weeks to mature before use, but to be honest, we'll be making some pies with it tomorrow...

Spending time in the cosy comfort of the kitchen has made me realise just how lucky we've been with the cidermaking this year. I'm giving thanks on an hourly basis to whichever deity it was that decided 2010 would be an 'off' year for Vilberie cider apples. Vilberie are a very late variety, not ready to be pressed until well into December. Now we'll do whatever it takes to fill the fermenters, but cidermaking in December is just a squeeze too far for me. To those friends and colleagues of ours still toiling over Mill & Press in icy Winter conditions, I salute you.... with a steaming mug of tea and a nice warm Mince Pie. Cheers!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Winding Down & Stirring Up

So the ciderhouse has now been thoroughly cleaned and put to bed for another year. With the press partially dismantled, there's now quite a bit more room in there to move about and fret over the fermenters and fermentation. A man needs a bit of space to fret properly you see! I'll be fretting all the way through the Winter, topping up, checking the progress of fermentation, before eventually racking off and blending most of the ciders and perrys early in the new year.

Sunday has been a day of rest, but even so I decided to set myself three challenging but achievable goals: 1. Cook a Rabbit in Mustard & Cider, 2. Make the Christmas Pudding (because it's Stir Up Sunday and I must), 3. Spend the whole day in my Dressing Gown. I'm pleased to report that all three goals have been effortlessly achieved, this despite having to regularly retrieve Molly (our current Houdini-Hen) from her adventures in the dangerous 'world outside the garden'. How she keeps getting out is a Cock-a-Doodle mystery, security couldn't be tighter here at Stalag Apfelwein. Perhaps we need to up the raisin and porridge rations...

The Rabbit casserole is the first stage on the road to a batch of Boozy Bunny Pasties. When Karen 'The-Pastry-Queen' returns from her own adventures in Cheltenham, I'll bore you with the details of these wild crimped delicacies... Meanwhile, the Christmas Pudding was 'Stirred-Up' to the same delicious recipe as last year, and merely awaits the addition of some top quality Calvados, liberally applied over the coming weeks. It's already benefited from a good slosh of Rockingham Forest Cider, as indeed have I, because I'm worth it...

Friday, 19 November 2010

End of Term Report

The 2010 pressing has finally come to an end for us here at Rockingham Forest Cider. The final day went well, a little too well in fact, and we had to rummage around our old homebrew equipment to find enough fermenting capacity for the juice we pressed. In total we've pressed around three and a half tons of fruit, giving a little under 2500 litres of juice. This is what we've got:

Malvern Hills (130 litres) 1.060
Blakeney Red (260 litres) 1.050
Green Horse (260 litres) 1.050
Unknown (70 litres) 1.064

Welland Valley Festival Special Cider (200 litres) 1.058
Mixed Bittersweet/Sweet Alford/Sharps (130 litres) 1.059
Kingston Black (70 litres) 1.055
Kingston Black/Sweet Alford/Sharps (400 litres) 1.056
Yarlington Mill/Dabinett/Sweets/Sharps (840 litres) 1.055
Sweet Alford/Sharps (130 litres) 1.047

Most of the ciders and perrys are now gently fermenting away, with only those pressed over the last week or so showing no signs of life yet. The wild yeasts have been slow to get going this year, possibly due to the slightly later pressing time which has meant colder conditions. Meanwhile, it's time we put our feet up for a bit. We've been picking, panking, and pressing almost every spare day for two months now, and whilst we enjoy most aspects of the work, there comes a time when it's nice to just.... well... Stop!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

End Game

As the 2010 cidermaking season draws (slightly painfully) to a conclusion, with just one more day of pressing to go, I thought I'd post a few of Karen's pics of the weekend action. If I look half asleep in these photos, it's because I was, though sufficiently alert to operate dangerous machinery safely.... obviously!!!

We've been pressing our main Rockingham Forest Cider blend this weekend, consisting of mostly Yarlington Mill, some Dabinett and unknown Sweet cider apples, plus various Sharps to help balance the pH. We should end up with around 170 gallons of this blend, which we may blend in turn with the 100 gallons or so of Kingston Black which we pressed earlier in the month.

The specific gravity of the Yarlington Mill juice was 1.056, which is a little below last years figures. This reflects the sugar levels we've been getting across all of our apple and pear juices this year, which are generally very good, though not quite at the 'Vintage' levels of 2009. The blend itself is averaging out at 1.054, which should give an alcohol level of around 6.9% if fermented to dry.

Traditionally, the spent pomace (apple pulp) which remains from pressing would have either been spread on the land as a low-grade fertilizer, or fed to local livestock. We've a fair size garden, but it's certainly not big enough to deal with a ton or so of dryish apple pulp. As for livestock, the Rockingham Forest Cider Hens will have a peck at most things, but there's a limit to how much a flock of four can consume before the poor little cluckers develop the Chicken equivalent of IBS! I'd like to think they'd give it their best shot though, and it's probably worth a small experiment if only to see how good the eggs would taste!

Luckily for us, our friends Adam & Serena of Keythorpe Valley Farm have a real passion for Pomace. Actually it's their rare breed pigs that have the passion, in fact they go wild for the stuff. By close of play next weekend, these pampered porkers will have snouted out over a ton of pomace, and if you want to know what apple-fed pork tastes like, you know where to go. The latest load of pomace was picked up by Adam & Serena last night, and we were delighted to receive a Brace of Leicestershire's finest feathered game in return. I plan to hang these handsome beasts for a few days yet, which will give me ample time to 'pluck' up the courage for the messy business of dressing the birds. I think they'd benefit from some time spent in a pot, possibly with something sweet and alcoholic. Any excuse to open a bottle of cider.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Rain Doesn't Stop Play

I was quite concerned about the weather today. It was certainly cold, though the sun poked its head out for a brief spell, but the promised downpour around 3pm never happened, and I managed to get everything pressed and cleaned down in good time. It was a pleasure to be pressing perry pears again, awesome yield, and no clogging of cloths. The local dessert apples pressed pretty well too, possibly thanks to a slightly different pressing regime. Instead of firing up the press and waiting until the gauge reaches the maximum 320psi, I decided to apply a little pressure, turn the press off and wait a while for the juice to stop flowing, before repeating several times. The result was a good juice yield, and no pulp oozing out of the cloths. Result!

So it's back to work for a couple of days rest, before attempting to scale the foothills of the Yarlington Mill mountain next weekend.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Harvest Home

Yesterday was the final apple picking session of this years cidermaking season. Fittingly the orchard was bathed in Autumn sunshine, and whilst not exactly warm, it wasn't a bad way to finish things off considering the way the weather has turned today. It was a day of high emotion for me. I'll certainly miss the time we've spent in the orchard this year and I don't mind admitting that a small tear rolled down my cheek as the day progressed. That's stinging nettles for you! When exactly do these devils stop stinging?

Karen and Paul helped things along nicely, which was just as well really, as it turned out to be a very hard weekend's work. Recent gales had shaken virtually all the ripe apples down onto the ground. Not normally a total disaster, but the mild weather has encouraged the grass to continue growing, covering the (mostly greenish!) fruit and making the job several degrees harder. Oh, our aching backs & arms.... and knees & toes!

The haul included around half a ton of Yarlington Mill, some Dabinett, Sweet Alford, assorted Sweets and Sharps for blending, and enough late-season Perry Pears to fill the press one more time. The fruit is in very good condition, but rather too full of grass and leaves for my liking. This will make an already difficult job that much harder as we hand wash all the fruit which goes into our ciders and perrys. Sleepy Middleton will once again ring with the sound of loudly cursing cidermakers. It's becoming a bit of a tradition actually...

It wasn't all work, though to be fair, it mostly was! There was time for a spot of R&R, shopping for the ladies, refreshing lunchtime pints for the menfolk. I even found the time for a quick trip over the border to Gloucestershire for an old favourite, the New Inn at nearby Willersey. This is a Donnington Brewery pub, perhaps not the most exciting ales in the world, but the tied pubs are generally unspoilt classics, and rarely disappoint for local charm. The New Inn is no exception, buzzing with Sunday lunchtime trade, including the wellys'n'tweed of the local shoot. Donnington B.B. was pleasant enough, and a Cotswold-tastic £2.35 a pint, no wonder the place was heaving!

So that's it for another year. Nowt but pressing to do, and quite a lot of that to be sure. As raindrops freeze on the brim of my hat, and the cold seeps ever deeper into boots and gloves over the next few weeks, I'll be able to think back to warm sunshine, and cool English ales, in Gods Very Own Country, the glorious Cotswolds.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Thursday, 4 November 2010

(someone else's) Ciderhouse News...

Our friends in the north Ray & t'Gail of Torkard Cider have hit the headlines in a big way recently. Everything from the Skegness Bugle, to the mighty BBC East Midlands Today programme are falling over themselves for a piece of Torkard Ass at the moment. All I can say is they must have done something very bad to warrant this kind of attention...

The blanket media coverage has got so bad recently that Wayne Rooney himself is apparently '... a bit miffed...' with the Hucknall Headline-Grabbers. There simply isn't enough bandwidth available on this blog to list every piece of Press, Radio and Television coverage the 'Hucknall Two' have appeared in, so here's a link to the latest offering. Two and a half minutes of hardcore Hucknall cidermaking, presided over by Nottinghamshire's answer to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall... in the bath! View from 16.10 minutes.

Coming soon: Ray & Gail host their own television series: 'Drink Up T'Cider Me-Duck'

Monday, 1 November 2010

Things That Go Tump in the Night...

We're sticklers for tradition here at Rockingham Forest Cider, particularly when it comes to work in the orchard. Not for us the rattle and cough of petrol-driven apple harvesting machinery, or new-fangled tractor operated tree shakers. No, it's a good old fashioned panking pole, and hand-raulic picking and bagging-up for us, and don't our aching bodies know it!

John's trusty Series 3 Landrover assists with the removal of fruit from the muddy orchard, but that's about as high-tech as it gets. We'd happily use a Horse for the job if we could persuade one to work for Windfalls & Beer like Paul & Sue do, but they're a bit fussy these 'Orses...

Anyway, we were forced to get really old-fashioned this weekend when someone (who shall for the time being remain nameless, pending her cooking the dinner tonight...) skimped on the carrot sacks when she packed the car, and left us with a bit of a fruity dilemma. An afternoon spent shaking and picking in Worcestershire, apples everywhere, and not a single bag to receive the rosy harvest. We had a choice. Give up the job and retire early to the pub (verrrrry tempting I must say), or resort to the old Ciderland practice of forming an Apple Tump in the orchard, and bag it all up another day.

A Tump it was, and what a beautiful Tump it is if I do say so myself. The bigger pile of rosy apples are Dabinetts, a very high quality bittersweet cider apple which I spent most of the afternoon digging out of the long grass. The yellow apples are sharp, possibly bittersharp, and there to help lower the pH of the Yarlington Mill and Dabinett apples we'll be pressing in a week or two's time. Forming a Tump like this was a traditional way of 'sweating' the apples ahead of their journey to the ciderhouse. A week or two piled up in the orchard like this helped to ensure the apples were fully mature and ready for the press, with perhaps some moisture lost along the way to help ensure higher sugar levels in the juice.

Ours won't be there for long, and we've covered them over to protect from weather, wildlife and inquisitive walkers on the nearby Cotswold Way. We aim to collect them this Friday, and I've already posted a traditional Post-it note on the back door.... 'DON'T FORGET THE CARROT SACKS MISSUS'

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Fruit Salad Days

The bloomin' hard graft of cidermaking could become something of a chore at this time of year. Picking, washing, milling, pressing.... cleaning, picking, washing, milling, sleeping.....picking.... I think you get the idea.

Panking cider apples. Nothing but fun!

That it doesn't is largely down to everything that's peripheral to the work itself. For example, we share the orchard work with all sorts of entertaining wildlife. Green and Spotted Woodpeckers, Buzzards and Bugs. Rabbits and Ramblers of all shapes and sizes. We also share the orchard with the slightly tamer life of our picking & panking helpers Paul & Sue. It all helps make for a pleasant day in the orchard. A lunchtime trip to a nearby pub is also a great help...

Work in the ciderhouse can be a bit monotonous to be honest. There's a limit to how much raw excitement we can squeeze from washing apples, shovelling apple pulp, and err... well that's it really. We relish our tea-breaks, and take great pleasure in the odd escaped-hen-incident.... It really is that exciting. Vital signs are maintained by the all-important Ciderhouse Radio, a constant aural companion in a barren sea of largely silent fruit. A Leicester Tigers rugby match is (usually) a highlight, but in the absence of sporting excellence we often have to rely on the holy trinity of Radio's 3, 4 and the BBC Asian Network. I recently spent a delightful afternoon in the ciderhouse listening to an exotic, if slightly baffling series of top Desi Sounds, broadcast to help celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid. The clatter of the hydraulic mill and the hypnotic rhythm of the Tabla combined to create a (somewhat Avant-garde!) party atmosphere in the ciderhouse. Radio 3 brings a calmer mood, just the job when the fatigue sets in. Radio 4... when all else fails, Libby Purves!

It's the little things, you see. Biting into an apple with so much tannin it quite literally sucks your front teeth out brings a smile to my face. Pressing apples with such a high sugar level, the hydrometer refuses to settle in the juice and bobbles about on the surface with unbridled glee. The satisfying creak of the suspension on a tonner van as we relieve it of a ton and a half of prime cider apples (only joking Mr Van Hire Man. We absolutely never overload the van....honest!).

This weekends orchard work and pressing has already delivered a few small pleasures, not least of which was the non-arrival of the rain promised by last weekends Countryfile Weather Forecast. Thanks to Karen being the designated driver for the day, I had a rare opportunity to visit almost all of Broadways pub stock yesterday. It was an interesting and slightly exhausting experience, not one I'd necessarily want to repeat! Strangely enough, Karen described the journey home in similar terms... Pick of the bunch was once again the Crown & Trumpet (Stanway Wizards Brew), with the Horse & Hound (Purity Pure UBU) a close second.

I also had the opportunity to bring home a small cache of bottled ciders, and a particularly good perry. Once Upon a Tree's excellent single variety Dabinett Cider has already featured on this blog, but what of Badgers Bottom Cider from nearby Cheltenham! I'm looking forward to trying this, along with Allan Hogan's lovely Vintage Perry.

I also managed to secure a half-dozen more Quince fruit from the terrific Broadway Deli, supplied by a local villager, and sold by the shop for charity. They're beauties. Ripe, aromatic, and perfect for drowning in cheap Brandy. Today being a rest-day, I've made a few litres of Damson Vodka, and a rare bottle of Quince Brandy. I cored and chopped the Quince, then stuffed the chunks into a kilner jar with a bottle of Spanish Brandy, a teaspoon of Vanilla Sugar, two more of Caster Sugar, a couple of Star Anise, and a small piece of Cinnamon Bark. I'll be shaking the whole lot on a regular basis for the next few weeks, before decanting into the prettiest bottle I can find, or a glass, whichever is more convenient.

Kettle primed. Radio tuned. It's pressing time again tomorrow...

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Membrillo On My Mind

Lorne Gray of Northamptonshire foody blog Graze & Guzzle has recently put into words something that's been on my mind for some time. When exactly am I going to pinch some of our neighbours rapidly ripening Quince fruits.... Ok, that's not exactly what Lorne said, but his recent post on Membrillo certainly helped focus my mind on the our chronic 'Lack of Quince' situation.

It's a 'lack' that's been bothering me ever since we combined the Quincy loveliness of Membrillo, with a few thin slices of mature Manchego in a Barcelona tapas bar way back in the 90's. We don't grow Quince you see, and it's very rare to find Quince for sale in this country, so if you want to experience the fragrant loveliness of this strange fruit, you're jolly well going to have to find someone else who grows it. Even then you're going to have to talk them out of the fruit, unless of course they don't know what they've got...

My source of Quince fruit is a lovely, generous lady in nearby Medbourne, and she knows exactly what she's got! Luckily for me, this generous benefactor had already processed quite as much fruit as she could bear for one year, and I was welcome to take the remnants. Yay!

There are several things you can do with a handful of Quince. Simplest of all is to put them in a pretty bowl on a sunny windowsill and wait for the fruit to release their unique fragrance. Actually, this is probably a very good idea for the Quince novice. If you find the fragrance agreeable, you're ready to progress to the more advanced level of creating something edible from your fruit.

A few slices of Quince are likely to enhance any apple or pear based dessert, but if you really want to experience Quince Heaven, then Membrillo, or Quince Jam/Jelly is the fruits true vocation. I took Lornes recipe as a starting point, then largely ignored it.... sorry Lorne.

1.5 kg Ripe Quince (peeled, cored & sliced to give around 1kg of Quince flesh)
1 Lemon
1 large Bramley Apple (peeled, cored & sliced)
1 pint Dry Perry (or enough to barely cover the fruit)
1 kg Sugar

Slice the fruit into a pan containing the lemon juice to prevent browning (very tedious work, I really should add a Radio to the ingredients list). Add the perry and cook for 20 mins or so until reduced to pulpiness. Stir in the sugar and cook for a further 30 mins until well thickened and darkened to light golden.

Quince contains a lot of Pectin, so should almost certainly set well, but if you're concerned add a drop to a chilled dish to test the set as you would with jam. The Membrillo may taste a little too sharp at this stage, but rest assured that it will taste much more mellow when cooled.

Whilst hot, transfer to sterilised jam jars. This should keep for a good 6 months or more, and is excellent with strong cheese.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Ciderhouse is Buzzin'

Here's another mystery apple from the orchard in Worcestershire. The single tree that these orangey, speckled and striped apples come from is now mostly rootstock, producing a sharpish, green, ribbed apple of little value to us for cidermaking.

The original grafted variety produces a reasonable crop of early bittersweet cider apples, most of which have already dropped by early October. Once they've hit the ground, they have a tendency to rot, so we pressed them today along with some of our own home-grown bittersweets, the Sweets we harvested last weekend, and a few sharps to help lower the pH.

My best guess on these is Ashton Bitter, an early bittersweet usually grown alongside Dabinett as a pollinator. This tree is in the same part of the orchard as the Dabinetts.

We also pressed a small trial batch of Kingston Black today, finding very few rotten fruits, and giving a respectable gravity of 1.055. It will be interesting to see how this variety develops over the coming weeks. I'm hopeful that we may get closer to 1.060, and maybe improve the flavour if we can leave them a little closer to December.

The Kingston Black apples are producing the most wonderful candy-apple aroma as they mature, and the fragrance in the ciderhouse today has been quite heady. The Wasps find it very attractive too, and I had to fish several out of the juice as the afternoon wore on. Look carefully and you'll see a couple buzzing around the cheese on this short video of today's pressing.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Sweet Not Sour

We had another successful day in the Worcestershire orchard yesterday, which was pleasant enough when the sun finally cleared the treeline, but real Winter work for most of the morning. Susan came along to help out, taunting me with her sensible warm coat and cosy mittens. I'll remember to dress sensibly one day...

We came home with a half ton or so of greenish 'Sharps' and yellowish 'Sweets'. The Sharp apples are a bit of a mystery. Hard, very sweet, but with a clean, sherbety acidity which should help balance the bittersweets whenever they deign to fall for us. It's quite probable that these are dessert apples of some description, but we'd much rather use these for our acidity than plain old Bramleys, which bring plenty of acid, but very little flavour to the cider. The Sweets on the other hand are genuine cider apples as far as we can tell. So what distinguishes a Sweet cider apple from a sweet dessert apple?

In common with most cider fruit, these sweets have a chewy texture, more suited to pressing than eating. They're also very low in acidity, such that the flavour, whilst being pleasantly sweet, is not particularly interesting when eaten raw. It's this low acidity which is the main distinction between dessert apples and sweet cider apples. Sweet cider apples are useful in a blend for adding their own unique flavour, but without adding too much acidity. They can also be used to tone down a blend which contains too much 'hard' tannin. This will be useful for us when we press the Tremlett's Bitter cider apples later in the month, since the tannin in these is quite hard and bitter (the clue is in the name I guess).

When we explained to John where we'd been working in the orchard, he suggested the apples were probably Sweet Coppin, a widely planted sweet cider variety which I've pressed before. Another possibility, and one I'm a little more convinced of, is Sweet Alford, a vintage quality sweet cider apple, occasionally mildly bittersweet in character. Susan spent a good few minutes comparing the fruit to the images and descriptions in Liz Copas excellent reference book 'A Somerset Pomona - The Cider Apples of Someset', and agreed that Sweet Alford is a slightly better match.

Either way, we now have well over a ton of fruit to press, with plenty more on the way. Saturday looks like being a washout, so the pressure's on to get as much fruit pressed tomorrow, which means yet another early, frosty start to the day. Brrrr!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Malvern Hills Perry

The long wait is finally over. A full thirteen months after it was pressed, our Malvern Hills Perry is finally ready for release.

It's a beautifully clear perry, light golden in colour, and has a lovely soft fruitiness which is enhanced by a hint of residual sweetness. There's also some tongue-drying tannin, and it's a grown-up drink at 8.0% abv.

Most of this perry has already been pre-sold, but we hope to have some available locally over the next few weeks, so keep an eye on this blog for details. We're also holding a barrel back for next years Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival, along with a barrel of our Vilberie Cider.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Ciderhouse News - Mid October

The weekend cidermaking started earlier than usual this week. On Thursday I collected the Kingston Black cider apples and Green Horse perry pears from Worcestershire, delivering them back to Rockingham Forest Cider HQ ready for pressing. The Kingston Blacks will be left to fully mature for a few weeks more before pressing, but the perry pears had already stood for a week following harvest, and were on the cusp of being overripe. We also pressed the apples and pears from Rockingham which will form this seasons Welland Valley Festival Special.

It was a long, hard day in the ciderhouse, but we were rewarded for our efforts with around 300 litres of cider and perry. The Green Horse pears have pressed with a similar sugar level to last years crop, giving a Specific Gravity of 1.050 (as measured with my shiny new German Hydrometer). This will produce a perry of around 6.4% abv, although only around 100 litres will actually be sold as a single variety perry. The rest will be used for blending with other perrys for our Rockingham Forest Perry.

The local Rockingham fruit had been left to mature slightly longer than absolutely necessary, resulting in a fair few apples and pears not making the grade due to rot. Not an ideal situation, but nevertheless I had high hopes for this fruit. There were four different varieties, all dessert fruit. An early, soft-fleshed apple with a lovely fragrance, though no great keeping quality; a crisp, sharpish eater, only just ripe at harvest; a probable Conference pear; and a greenish/golden russeted apple, almost certainly Egremont Russet. The russets made up the bulk of the fruit, and I'm expecting a soft tannin from them to add a welcome complexity to the blend. All that waiting around will have helped the sugar levels, and I was pleased to record a Specific Gravity of 1.058, giving a potential abv of 7.4%.

Once again we are relying on wild yeasts to get fermentation under way, and I'm pleased to say that after a worryingly slow start, it's all systems go with the Malvern Hills and Blakeney Red perrys. Phew! Fermentation is very slow in these perrys, possibly due to the extremely low nutrient levels in this very old, largely unmanaged orchard. Slow fermentation is considered a good thing for flavour, just so long as it remains slowly ticking over, and not stopped entirely. No sooner has one fermenter got fermenting, than the wait begins for another to get going. Green Horse is at the starting gate and ready for the off...

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Tom Putt? Flower of the Town? - You Decide

One of the major attractions of an Apple Day event, is the chance to meet an apple 'expert', who may be able to positively identify your mystery garden fruit for you. It's a two-way service, with occasional rarities, or even 'lost' varieties coming to light, which is just about as exciting as it's possible to get for a pomologist I guess.

If you're lucky, you may be able to match up your specimen with one of the many examples on display, otherwise there's likely to be a small library of illustrated books on hand to help the identification process. Even then, a positive ID may be difficult, and there's always the chance your fruit will turn out to be a 'wilding' variety from a unique pip-grown tree. Apple identification is a fascinating, yet fiendishly difficult pastime. I know, I've tried it and failed on numerous occasions.

Which brings me to an apple which has been foxing me for a few years now. It's an aromatic, sharp, early apple, growing in the far corner of the orchard in Worcestershire. A rather pretty apple I think, with its green/yellow skin, and profusion of red stripes. Given that this is a mixed orchard, containing dessert, culinary, cider and perry varieties, we've tentatively classified this apple as Tom Putt, a dual purpose variety, often used for cider in it's native Devon. It certainly matches the description in Liz Copas 'A Somerset Pomona - The Cider Apples of Somerset', though less so the accompanying photograph it has to be said.

The fruit expert who attended the Brocks Hill Apple Day, was from the Northern Fruit Group, and he confidently identified these specimens as Flower of the Town, a native apple of Yorkshire. I have to say I'm not convinced of this, and I'm even less persuaded having seen the beautiful watercolour of a Tom Putt in the recently re-published 'The Apple Book' by Rosie Sanders. The resemblance is really quite striking, and it just seems more likely to me that a West Country dual purpose/cider apple would be planted in a Worcestershire orchard, than a Yorkshire dessert apple. So until proven otherwise, Tom Putt it is...

The Apple Book comes highly recommended. The watercolours really are stunning, and you can view a fascinating video of the work in progress on this YouTube Channel.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Happy Apple Day

Apple Day events are now in full swing ahead of the traditional 21st of October peak. We had our day in the sun yesterday, at Brocks Hill Visitors Centre in Leicestershire. After the hard graft of the orchard, it was a welcome opportunity to sit back, relax, and talk cider and perry with visitors to the event.

It really was a day in the sun too, with a lovely bit of late Summer sunshine to bring out the crowds. We had a good day, offering many samples, and selling a few gallons too. Diana Fegredo's beautiful cards were well received, and our small display of cider apples and perry pears made a nice change from the wide range of dessert and culinary fruit on show.

Our best sellers were the Medium Rockingham Forest Cider blend, and our last box of Mystery Perry. This picture shows the innovative box-tilting method we employed as the cider and perry got low towards the end of the day.

I'd like to say a big thank you to my Sister-in-Law Susan, who helped with the smooth running of the stall, organiser Helen Gregory for her great enthusiasm and hard work putting on the event, and David Bates of Welland Valley Vineyard for sorting out the licence. Let's hope that government funding cuts don't put paid to this and other important community events in future years.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Worcester Sauce

Now isn't that a beautiful sight. Classy, stylish, fully at home in the orchard, and truly up for the job in hand. She's a real looker for sure, but underneath, a real powerhouse, never shirking from the hard graft of the Autumn harvest. I take my hat off to the old girl, truly I couldn't have done the job without her.

Yes, the Series 3 Landrover really is a mechanical marvel, and just what's needed when it's a little soft underfoot and there's the best part of a ton of fruit to be delivered to the orchard gate. I only wish it was mine, but orchard owner John covets his Landrovers, and why wouldn't he!

Karen was a star too. Here you can see her modelling half a ton of Kingston Black cider apples, stylishly accessorised with a quarter ton of Green Horse perry pears. I think they really suit her don't you? Apparently it's the 'Worcestershire Look'. Windswept, slightly horsey, a little bit Ooh-Arr, Ooh Arr.

Anyway, it's been a great weekend of picking and bagging-up, with time made for light refreshment at the terrific Crown & Trumpet in Broadway. Stanway Brewery Ales for me, Hogans Cider for the missus, all washed down with a generous helping of Skip & Tinkle from Adlington Morris. Man cannot live on food alone.

So off home, accordion music ringing in our ears, but not before a brief stop at the Wayside Farm Shop for its Cider & Cheese tasting. Highlight of the tasting was the excellent Rous Cider, from just up the road in Evesham. This batch was apparently made from a blend of Dessert Apples, and Kingston Black cider apples, which is the very same variety we've picked this weekend. The benchmark has been set.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A Day in the Sun

There's a slight lull in the cider and perry making, so I thought I'd post a few pics from the recent Day in Praise of the Perry Pear at the Orchard Centre in Gloucestershire.

It was a fine day, characterised by lovely late Summer sunshine, and a good crowd of interested visitors, and interesting exhibits. Sadly, Jim Chapman, the resident Perry Pear expert who I was hoping would help identify my own pears, had taken ill and was forced to miss the day. It must have been a huge disappointment for Jim, and I wish him a speedy recovery.

Blue skies, good crowds.

The Perry Pear Display, later to appear at the Malvern Autumn Show.

Peter Mitchell of the Orchard Centre demonstrates the revolutionary Goodnature Press. It still looked pretty hard work to me.

Out of the Orchard is the brand name for ciders and perrys produced at the Orchard Centre.

Albert Rixen brought his beautifully restored Workman Press to demonstrate perry making the old-fashioned way. This mill and press are displayed and demonstrated by Albert and Eric Freeman at shows and events throughout the Summer.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Ciderhouse News - October

Apple & Pear trees continue to be shaken, and the fruit thereof continues to be pressed. It's exhausting work, but we're committed to getting the harvest in and making as much cider and perry as we possibly can. Because you're worth it...

This Sunday we'll be offering samples and sales of our Cider and Perry at the Brocks Hill Apple Day event in Oadby, Leicestershire. All being well, we'll have a good range of Cider Apples and Perry Pears to display, as well as a few examples from our small collection of stoneware cider jars, just so long as the table can take the weight! We also hope to have a selection of beautiful fruity cards from our friend Diana Fegredo.

Also in attendance will be Mel and Nigel of the Leicestershire Heritage Apple Project, and David Bates of Welland Valley Vineyard will be bringing along his wines and cider to try and to buy. There will also be an apple identification service, and best of all it's a free event. Apple Day events are occurring throughout the country, and you can find out what's what, when and where, on this handy website: Apple Day Events

Congratulations are in order for Kevin & Fiona at the Red Lion, Middleton for retaining their coveted position in the latest CAMRA Good Beer Guide. The 2011 edition of the guide is now available from good bookshops, but you won't need it to gain admission to 'The Red'. A good appreciation of fine ales, cider and perry is all that's required, though some skill at the skittles table would be helpful. Rockingham Forest Perry is currently available at the Red Lion.

...and finally, here's a picture of a three handled cider mug, or Tyg as they're better known, that I couldn't resist buying recently. It was made by Leonard Stockley of Weymouth, and features three handles (as is the custom), and the word 'Cider' written thrice around the mug, presumably so you don't forget what it's for. Lovely!

Virtual Cider House

Four days of persistent rain, hard graft in assorted orchards, and the washing & pressing of a third of a ton of Blakeney Red Perry Pears, has finally taken its toll. Today (Sunday) has been designated a rest day.

Limbs aching, and fuzzy-headed with tiredness, the only thing we're good for today is a trip to the Red Lion for a pint and a snooze on the comfy sofas. I'll be enjoying the Great Oakley Welland Valley Mild, Karen the Wot's Occuring, but we could equally enjoy a pint or two of the recently delivered Rockingham Forest Perry. This is the mystery perry which will also be going to Brocks Hill Apple Day, and very nice it is too.

For those of you who can't make it to a pub today, here's a virtual version for you to relax with. Pour yourself a pint of beer of cider, surround yourselves with the Sunday papers, sit back and warm yourselves at the Fleece Inn, Breforton's cosy open fire:

Friday, 1 October 2010

It's Raining Pears (and Rain!)

When I asked Karen if she'd like to join me for a day picking perry pears in Worcestershire, well.... let's just say the response was somewhat less than enthusiastic. Heavy rain, high winds, and a whole lot more of that heavy rain didn't help my pitch. The girl seemed set on a weekend of Grazia, Grape Juice, and Girly Television. It was time to play my joker...

One hour and thirteen minutes of undiluted shopping pleasure in Broadway certainly grabbed her attention. A budget bar snack at the Fleece Inn, Bretforton sealed the deal. Our bodies liberally greased for the very worst the Cotswold Weather could throw at us, we set forth to pick Blakeney Red Perry Pears, armed with nothing more than a Tarpaulin, several Builders Buckets and the mighty, mighty Rockingham Forest Cider Mega Panker.

Several changes of clothing later, we left the orchard wet-through, but fully satisfied. Something like a half ton of top quality Blakeney Red perry pears had fallen to our Prodding & Panking. It now only remains for us to Mill & Press these juicy pears to within an inch of their lives.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Thanks to a tip-off from a friend in the village, I've spent the last two evening picking dessert apples and pears in a nearby country house orchard. There are around four different varieties of apple, at least half of which are Russets of some description. There are also a few cooking apple trees bearing very large green apples (Lord Derby at a guess), but we won't be using these in the cider. The russets are a bonus since they are widely regarded as being excellent for cidermaking purposes. If I can keep a few specimens in good condition, I'll be taking examples of all the varieties to the forthcoming Brocks Hill Apple Day event (10th Oct) in the hope that the resident apple experts can identify them for me.

All in all we've got maybe a quarter of a ton of fruit to press. This will form the core of our 2011 Welland Valley Festival Special Cider, along with the fruit from various other trees dotted around the village which are a few weeks off ripening yet.

My pleasure at spending time in this lovely old orchard was seriously tempered by the knowledge that it almost certainly won't be there next year. Sadly there are plans to build on the land, and the orchard will be grubbed up in due course. Such a shame.

Here are a few photos I took this evening. Unfortunately the light wasn't very good, and the heavy rain created a few problems too, but hopefully you'll get an idea of what we'll soon be missing...