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 DesiSounds, 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...