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.