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 ForestSlider 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
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!