It's been unexpectedly busy this weekend at Rockingham Forest Cider. The business of picking and pressing for the 2011 vintage is well and truly upon us, and once again, it's come a little earlier than we'd have liked.
There's no excuses really. It's been widely reported that the cider apple harvest is up to a month earlier than ususal. But in our case, it's not cider apples that have kept us busy all weekend, it's perry pears, Malvern Hills perry pears to be precise. Somehow we'd assumed that venerable old trees like these are rather more set in their ways than feckless faddy young cider apple trees. We were wrong!
We've come to expect the Malvern Hills pears (more correctly known as Moorcroft, or indeed Stinking Bishop) to ripen around the third weekend of September, which is a very convenient weekend to be in the Three Counties area as it coincides with the Hartpury Perry Pear Day in Gloucestershire. I'd pencilled in the weekend just gone for final preperations in the ciderhouse, in readiness for the Malvern Hills harvest next weekend. It therefore came as a bit of a shock when John contacted me to say the pears were already falling, and since we know that Malvern Hills pears rot within days of ripening, we were going to have to drop everything and high-tail it to the orchard or miss the lot. Worse still, the pears would need pressing immediately we got home! Bye-bye relaxing weekend, hello hard orchard graft!
It was an eventful and exhausting day in the orchard. We managed to harvest around twice as many pears as last year, this despite several major Panking Pole failures and a couple of broken branches along the way. John had already warned us that quite a few branches had come down in the orchard recently, probably down to the very dry conditions making the wood less flexible in the wind. These Malvern Hills trees are very old indeed, and it grieves me to damage them in any way, but this variety of pear simply must be shaken from the tree, so no matter how careful we are with the Panking Pole, some damage seems inevitable.
So that was the Friday of what has now become known as Malvern Hills Weekend. More on the new, and innovative (for us) Saturday processing later...