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'