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...

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Hydrometer Envy

Just take a long, lingering look at this thing of beauty. Twelve and a half inches of pure German precision testing equipment. Truly it's the Aston Martin of Hydrometers, complete with classy go-deeper stripes and a crappy Mexican Trial Jar.

I've been muddling along with the Fiat Punto of Hydrometers, much the same as most small-scale cidermakers, for far too long. So when the missus asked me what I wanted for my Birthday, well there really was no competition. Needless to say, she wouldn't buy me the Voran Apple Washing & Milling Elevator, so a fancy new Hydrometer had to suffice, and what a Hydrometer it is. Here's the Spec:
  • Measurement range from 1.000 - 1.070.
  • 2.5 times more accurate than standard homebrew instrument.
  • Certificate of Conformance guarantees accuracy.
  • Lead Shot and Red Resin look more professional.
  • err... It's bigger, so it must be better.
So there you have it. I'm just itching to dip this sleek instrument into my juice, and if you listen carefully you'll hear the unmistakable sound of Craft Cidermakers the length and breadth of the country, turning quite literally Green with Envy at the thought.

'Something Fruity for the Weekend Sir?'

The Bramley Apples are ripening up nicely, which means weekends have now been reclassified as: Baking Saturdays, and Preserving Sundays. The least scabby apples will be carefully boxed up and stored in the shed for the mice to enjoy, whilst the rest will need skillful processing of one sort or another.

Apple Pies and Crumbles are certainly popular in this household. On any given weekend Karen the Crumble (as she's known round here) vies with her arch nemesis Scone-Bread-Pie Mark for ascendancy in the kitchen. Karen the Crumble usually wins of course...

They're both classics of baking simplicity, Apples & Sugar, topped off with something Arable, and a Dairy component of your choice. Simples! The rules are that no other fruits or spices are allowed to spoil the pure appley flavours on show, other than Vanilla of course, in the form of that ultimate dream-topping, Custard.

You can have too much of a good thing though. Sometimes we like to 'Ring The Baking Changes', or indeed add a 'New Twist' to our Bramley Apple offering. So in a radical departure from the well ploughed furrow of Pie & Crumble with Custard, we thought we'd try something straight out of the 'Fusion' school of modern baking, an Apple & Custard Cake.

The inspiration for this delicious cake came from the risible BBC Good Food Magazine, via the lovely Rhi's Foodie World Blog. A Rhubarb & Custard Cake would probably have tasted even better, but our Rhubarb is now well past its best, and we like to Eat the Seasons whenever we can.

So, I par-cooked around 500g of Sliced Bramley Apples in the merest splash of water, with a good Dessert Spoon of Sugar. Meanwhile I hand whisked 250g Butter with 250g Sugar, 5 Small-Medium Molly Maid Eggs, a Tsp of Vanilla Extract, and 100g or so of Custard which I'd made up earlier. I gradually added 250g of Self Raising Flour with 1/2 tsp Baking Powder, whisking furiously until smooth, and very achey in the elbow area.

I then poured a third of the mix into a well-greased, loose bottomed (or spring-form) cake tin. Dotted the mix with a third of the Apple Slices and a few dollops of Custard. Then repeated, finishing with a lovely display of Apple and Custard on top and a sprinkle of Sugar for added crunch. I baked at 180C (160c Fan Oven) for 40 mins, then forgot to cover with foil before baking for another 20 mins. It tasted exactly how I'd imagined it would... Delicious.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Reaching the Pears Others Can't Reach...

The new cidermaking season has started in much the same way as it did last season. 10 sacks of Malvern Hills Perry Pears, harvested at just the right level of ripeness, whisked home and pressed within 48 hours of being picked. This variety of perry pear has a tendency to rot within days of becoming properly ripe, and the fruit will often rot on the tree before falling. Speed is therefore of the essence lest we lose the whole lot to the compost heap.

The Malvern Hills crop was a little less impressive this year, requiring just a little more effort to harvest enough pears for a large fermenter of pressed juice. This meant bringing our all-new Mega-Panker* into use so as to reach those tricksy just-out-of-reach pears right at the top of the tree. These perry pear trees are huge specimens, believed to have been planted by the monks of Pershore Abbey around 250 years ago. It's particularly pleasing to be using fruit from trees which have such a long, largely unbroken history of usage. I'm sure the monks would be envious if only they knew.

Sugar levels are good, giving an Original Gravity of 1.060, which is around 7.5% potential alcohol. Not quite as good as last years monster sugar levels, but more than respectable all the same. This lower sugar level is not really surprising, the back-end of the Summer has hardly been one to write home about, and it remains to be seen whether this years more modest vintage is reflected across the rest of the harvest of cider apples and perry pears.

The juice has now been lightly sulphited, and we hope that a natural yeast fermentation will take hold within a week or two. That's two large fermenters of Malvern Hills Perry we'll have in the ciderhouse. One ready to start fermenting, whilst last years perry is now finally ready to barrel up for sale.

* The Mega-Panker is simply a fibreglass, sectional 'flag pole', of the sort seen frequently at festivals and outdoor shows. I had to remove a few feet of very thin pole at the tip before firmly taping a 'U' bend of copper piping to the top for hooking around branches. It's a little bit ungainly in use, but once it's up there I can happily shake fruit from trees of really quite enormous height. Of course shaking hard apples and pears from such a height brings its own risks, and as you can see in this short video, a hard hat is mandatory when in use.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Ciderhouse News - September

It's been a Mop and Bucket kind of a weekend. The ciderhouse has received a full top-to-bottom clean ahead of the first pressing of the season, which will hopefully be next weekend if we can catch the Malvern Hills perry pears in time. Word is that some pears have already fallen, so I'm just hoping that the high winds we're experiencing this week haven't brought the lot down before I manage to get to the orchard on Friday.

I'm combining the trip with a visit to the Orchard Centre at Hartpury in Gloucestershire, which is hosting a day In Praise of the Perry Pear on Saturday. I'll be taking along a few of our own perrys to get feedback and advice from the experts, and hopefully a few of the unknown perry pears from the orchard for identification purposes. Around 50 perry pear varieties will be on display, so I'm hoping I can match up one or two of our own on the day. There will also be perrys available to sample and buy on the day, so I'll be sampling and buying too. It would be rude not to.

We still have cider and perry available at the Red Lion Middleton and Wing Hall Cafe Bar and Shop, and there are one or two events still to come where our cider and perry will be available. We'll be sending a box of our most recent perry to the Billesdon Local Food Lunch (3rd Oct), for which tickets are required, and will have cider and perry to sample and buy at the forthcoming Brocks Hill Apple Day (10th Oct). We'd like to thank David Bates of Welland Valley Vineyard for sorting out the licencing for this years event. David will have bottles of his own excellent Roundhead Cider available to buy on the day too.

In other news, the Rockingham Forest Cider Flock has increased again with the arrival of 'Molly Maid' our beautiful new Maran Hybrid. She'll be company for 'Chucky-Egg' who despite repeated efforts to sidle up to the 'Big Hens', has so far failed to find an acceptable place in the existing pecking order. Bad Girls! Young Chucky is laying small brown eggs at the moment, but has still managed to squeeze out this delicious 'double-yolker'. Good Girl!

In related news, the ever dwindling grape harvest has now been officially cancelled... Very tasty eggs though!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Brigstock Beer Festival 2010

Beer, Cider, Perry or Pimms. The choice is yours at this years mighty Brigstock Beer Festival (Sat 18th Sept). In addition to all the beer, music, stalls, and yes, Pimms Bar, there will be a choice of local-ish ciders from Churchill of Huntingdon, Jollydale of Stamford, and most local of all, our very own Rockingham Forest Cider. There will also be a brand new, never tasted elsewhere barrel of Rockingham Forest Perry. It's a limited edition of only two and a half barrels, so get it while you can.

This particular perry has become known as the 'Mystery Perry' on account of it not appearing on any of my extensive records. A lost and lonely fermenter, languishing unloved in a dark recess at the back of the ciderhouse. Poor thing. I've reason to believe that it was made from a late harvest of assorted perry pears, possibly including some Red Longdon, possibly not!

Now perry being such an unpredictable drink to make, you never quite know what you're going to get until you lift the lid as it were. On lifting the lid on this one last weekend I was met with the sight of a strange, rubbery mass floating on the surface. Strange indeed, though not necessarily a bad thing. I've seen this sort of thing before, and it seems to be quite common with perry, but even so, it was quite a surprise. After I'd managed to carefully remove the offending 'pancake', the perry lying below turned out to be crystal clear. Even stranger still was the almost total lack of sediment at the bottom of the fermenter. It seems all the yeasty residue which would normally settle on the bottom, had floated to the surface... and stayed there!

So there you have it. It's a tasty perry for sure, and will only be available at the Brigstock Beer Festival.... and Billesdon Local Food Lunch.... and maybe Brocks Hill Apple Day if there's any left. Never fear if you do miss it, there's still the Malvern Hills to come, and that's a stunner, though lacking the pancake on top!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Looking Good Naked

New cider book alert. The terrific Naked Guide to Cider is available now direct from Tangent Books, or you can wait a few days when it goes on general release.

It's jam-packed with all kinds of cidery stuff, including a neat little Q&A from the head cidermaker at Rockingham Forest Cider... whoever that might be.

A snip at £9.95. We commend it to the (cider)house.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Apples, and a Right Pair

The Leicester Mercury have cornered us in the orchard again. They just won't take no for an answer. It doesn't help that we come over all Pavlovian and grin like silly idiots whenever a photographer gets us in his sights.

The strong of stomach can read-all-about-it here (you may wish to disable 'images' on your browser before clicking this link):

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Red Lion Beer & Cider Festival

The bar at the Red Lion in Middleton, is reaching a kind of critical beer-mass ahead of this weekends Beer & Cider Festival (3rd-5th Sept). Handpumps are at a premium, so there will also be a neat pile of casks, and a selection of boxes to help make up the numbers. We've delivered the last of the Red Kite Yarlington Mill and Welland Valley Festival Special ciders, as well as Blakeney Red and Green Horse perrys. The weather is set fare, and resident Tattooed Love God Neil has been tasked with erecting the canvas ready for tomorrows Live Music and Saturday Barn Dance. I may also have a bottle of our new-season Slider available for tasting. Stop me and try one...