Pushing this uncomfortable (yet slightly exciting) fact to the back of my mind, the Aylestone Panking Team and myself ventured down the A46 to John's orchard in Worcestershire, with a view to checking out the potential for this season's crop. Steady rain advancing across the country didn't bode well for a man who'd forgotten to bring any waterproof clothing, but luckily the weather stayed fine for the duration of our visit.
The first section of the orchard has a mixed-bag of pear and apple trees, including a stand of three very old Malvern Hills perry pear trees. These cropped fairly well last year, and I was expecting little or no fruit on them. As it is, the crop is fairly modest, but I'm still hopeful that with the help of our new patented Extra Long Panking Pole, we may get enough for a pressing or two. This is good news as the Malvern Hills perry we made last year is now tasting absolutely superb, probably our best perry so far, so I'm keen to make more this year.
The next part of the orchard has a few small Dabinett cider apple trees, all carrying a reasonable crop, and three large Blakeney Red perry pears. Another modest crop, but definitely worth picking. The Blakeneys are already well coloured, presumably the result of the fine weather we've been having, so all being well we could be in for good sugar levels this year. Further on we get to one of the stars of the season. Just past the Yarlington Mill trees, which are cropping reasonably well though nowhere near as good as last year, are the two Tremlett's Bitters. These are strongly biennial and had barely an apple on them last season. This year they're cropping heavily, and it looks as if this variety will be the most important for the tannic 'backbone' of our Rockingham Forest Cider in 2011.
The next section of the orchard contains the Vilberie, which are resting after last year's mammoth crop, and a few perry pear trees which are carrying just about enough to make a harvest worthwhile. There are also a couple of very large trees which produce a pure sweet apple, useful for blending, and cropping very well after an 'off' year in 2009.
The final part of the orchard is the largest, and has an open aspect with some very large old trees, widely spaced. A few modestly cropping perry pears can be found here, including a much better than expected crop of Green Horse. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the day was the very respectable crop of apples on the Kingston Black tree, which until now has yielded little more than a bucketful of fruit. There may be enough fruit on this tree to produce a single variety Kingston Black cider, and at worst it will contribute a good flavour to our blend.
In conclusion, I think there's sufficient fruit available to make an interesting range of ciders and perrys this season, though all depends on getting to the orchard at the right time to harvest what appears to be a more widely spread crop. All we need now is a bit more rain, and a good deal of warm sunshine throughout August and September.