Friday, 31 October 2008

Busy, busy, busy!

The lasy couple of days of "Teacher's Rest" have been very hectic.

Thursday we journeyed north to the Hempsall Heritage Orchard to collect the windfalls from a good proportion of the 300 varieties of apple trees that form the orchard. John Hempsall has planted at least two of each variety, the aim being to preserve some of the old and not-so-old apple varieties that have fallen foul of the fickle demands of supermarket-buyers and the fashion-dictates of the buying public. We crawled around under the trees for around three hours in a biting northerly wind, with something that was part-sleet, part-rain stinging our faces and freezing our hands.

But it was worth it, to end up with a trailer-full of such a wide variety of apple types. All the trees are labelled, so we focused on finding dessert or dual-purpose varieties with copious windfalls at their feet. Some of the varieties date back to the 1600's; some are from Canada and America, some from France, many old and forgotten UK apples. I was pleased to find many types of russetts and in particular, a lovely little apple called "Golden Pippin". I am very curious to see what they will taste like in our cider. We are hoping to get enough fruit to produce an orchard-specific "Heritage" cider.

We travelled East to the land of the Iceni and the North Folk, and in particular, to the secret base of Whin Hill Cider. Our mission was to present Jim and Pete of Whin Hill with a CAMRA "Cider of the Festival" certificate for their "Brown's Apple" cider which was ever so popular during our 2008 Mansfield Beer & Cider Festival.

Jim and Pete kindly had a break from pressing their 2008 apples to pose for a photograph with Gail; they are two really nice guys who are passionate about cider, perry and real ale. They have been making some cracking ciders and perries over the past 14 years that Whin Hill Cider has been in existence - we first came across it in 1996 at the "Three Horseshoes" at Warham in North Norfolk (great pub!) and have been fans ever since.

After the presentation, Jim (on the left) had to return to manning the Voran belt-press, while Pete very kindly gave us a tour of the orchard, chaperoned by Fred, their chocolate-Labrador dog. Fred pointed out and barked at many a pheasant during the tour, while Pete explained their planting strategy and how they were grafting over a number of their trees to varieties that suit their style of ciders, and the local climate and soil conditions. They have planted a number of perry-pear trees and unlike some parts of the country, have had a good crop this year.

For more information on Whin Hill, check out their website:

After leaving Jim and Pete, we travelled further East to the little village of South Creake, where a lady we have known for some years had sent us a postcard asking if we would like her cider apples...? Dierdrie had planted a few apple trees and after talking to us some years ago, had decided to plant a couple of cider-apple trees, sourced from "Keepers Nursery" in Kent. One of the two trees was covered in medium-sized green apples, obviously of a "jersey" shape, which have a sweet, slightly sharp taste - quite good for eating. The other tree had very little fruit left on it, but bless her, Dierdrie had saved all the fruit and put it into boxes for us. These small, spherical apples have a red-flush on a green background and are rich in tannins - quite mouth-puckeringly dry. Unfortunately, Dierdrie had "mislaid" the names of the apples, so what they are is a mistery at the moment. Anyway, we filled five large sacks with apples and totally filled the boot - a good result.

From then on, it was pure hedonism as we headed on into Wells-next-the-Sea and went straight to French's fish & chip shop for the best fish & chips we know of!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008


Winter bites...?
The first really cold and frosty day brought a few challenges to our cider-making... The sun was up and a bright day was in store when Gail asked me what the fountain was that was spouting forth from the middle of the garden? Looking up, I saw a myriad of drops of water glistening in the new-born sun... Very pretty.

Bugger! I'd left the spray-head attached to the hoze and the frost had frozen the water inside the spray-head, which of course had expanded and cracked the body. Gail was dispatched to fetch a new one, while I set about washing and milling the load of apples left soaking overnight. Well, I would have done - but first I had to break through the ice which had formed around the apples. I had to grit my teeth to plunge my hands into the freezing water. Such are the joys of cider-making in the open air at the end of October. Undaunted, the Shark was set running and fed a mixture of dessert, dual-purpose and a couple of containers full of our own cider apples.
Upon Gail's return, she donned some suitable warm clothing and took over the milling while I prepared the presses. We now have the two presses running side-by-side: the Mark II Homemade Press and the Rockingham Forest cast-off Vigo Rack & Cloth Press. Gail can quickly fill enough 5-gallon tubs for a days pressing, so I can work inside the "Cider Shed" to keep the presses fed.

As 'Machine Mart' had one of their "VAT-Free" days recently, we decided to buy a few hand-tools for the proto-orchard and also invest in a larger capacity hydraulic jack to power the Mark II handmade press. Moving from a 6-tonne press to a 10-tonne press has certainly made the job physically easier, but as far as I can ascertain, has had very little impact on efficiency; it still runs at about 1 gallon of juice per cheese. To get this figure, I used the frame supplied with the Vigo press to make the cheeses, so giving a direct comparison between the two cider presses. Both produced just under 1 gallon of juice per cheese using the same pulp; in fact the Vigo only manages just over 5 gallons for 6 cheeses, while my "Mark II Homemade Press with 10-Tonne Hydraulic Power" produces a fraction under 4 gallons from four cheeses. So each "tandem pressing" results in about 9 gallons of juice. I need to make another rack or two so that I can increase the capacity of my homemade press.

One thing that is painfully clear though: having my homemade press mounted in a "workmate" certainly saves my back! A priority must be to make myself a custom base for the Vigo press to raise the press-bed to an ergonomically suitable and less painful height!
We've still got plenty of fruit left on our trees so are now going to visit some of the kind folks who contacted us ages ago about collecting their un-wanted apples so that we can blend them all together. We're still after a "Nottinghamshire Cider Taste" but are not really certain what that should be... What is for certain though, is that it will not be an imitation of a West Country cider.

This Yarlington Mill grown on an espalier still has about a third of it's fruit left on it. There are also lots of Royal Somersets, Stoke Reds, and a few Harry Master's Jerseys and Dabinetts still to pick.
Andy Dowson from Chesterfield CAMRA popped over in the afternoon to pick up a box of cider for the Chesterfield Market Festival which is taking place this weekend (31st Oct - 2nd November). This is the last of our 2007 cider, bar a box for The Arkwright Arms at Long Duckmanton (East Midlands CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year 2008). Now just one lone 30 litre container is all that remains of 2007's fruit - I think we'll drink that!

Sunday, 26 October 2008


Having a full-time day job as an evil destroyer of young minds (well that's what the kids think anyway...), means that term-time makes it a bit difficult to keep-up to date on here. Plus we have had a "Quality Assurance" inspection (like a three-week OFSTED) which in my view is not only a waste of time and resources, it also came at a very bad time of year for a cider-maker...

Still the apples will only wait for so long, so once we had cleared the crap we were able to start. Unfortunately, many of our existing and new contacts for apples had assumed we weren't bothered this year, so we have lost out on a lot of fruit. Fortunately, Liz still had plenty of apples left, so we headed up the A1 to load up; it's a pity that Bramleys don't make a particularly good cider, as Liz's plot is covered in them. Still, we got a good mix of dessert, dual-use and wildings, about half-a-tonne or so in total, filling our trailer. When we mixed them with our Tom Putts and windfalls, we ended up with 50-odd gallons of juice, but the Specific Gravity is quite low, as expected after the wet summer; we reckon we'll end with something around 5.5% - 6.0% ABV.

On Saturday 25th October, we popped down to "The Dumbles" to relieve Helena and Dean of their apples. The weather was grim - rain and gale-force winds - which were slamming into the slope of the hill where the apple trees stand. Gail was volunteered to climb the trees for a good shake-down and we quite quickly filled all our sacks and the car - with loads of apples still left on the trees. We may need to make a return visit! Surprisingly, the apples were only just ripening on the whole, much different to last year, but then so was the weather. We dropped off a 10 litre box of "Dumbles Special" cider for Helena and Dean as a thank you; hope they like it...

When the skies had cleared on the Sunday, we headed north to Hempsall's Heritage Orchard and spent a few hours wandering up and down the rows of apple trees marvelling at the variety of shapes, colours and sizes of the fruit. There are around 300 different apple varieties, covering a wide range of flavours and tastes; tasting is free and you can buy what you want for a cover-all price of £1.30 a Kilo. The place really is a revelation. We came across an apple labelled "Vicar of Beighton" which was large, pale-yellow in colour, sweet and had a distinct taste of aniseed - much to our surprise! However, according to my web searches, "Vicar of Beighton" is described as a cooker and the photos show it as a red apple with some russett. Confusing.

Today we hope to start milling and pressing the sacks of apples littering the driveway. Plus we have our own cider apples ankle-deep on the garden following the winds this week. There are still many Yarlington mills, Dabinetts, Harry Master's Jerseys, Stoke Reds and Royal Somersets still on the trees, but we'll probably pick and mill the lot this week to clear the garden.

We also want to try to get over to Norfolk at some point soon, having received a postcard from a friend informing us that their cider-apple trees are loaded with fruit and do we want the apples...? A long way for a load of apples but it will give us a chance to visit Whin Hill Cider in Wells-next-the-Sea and also pig-out on fish and chips from French's chippy on the quayside. Yum!

We also plan to lay a new deep-bed screed on the concrete floor in the Cider Shed, so that we can paint it to meet Environmental Health requirements. Then we can complete kitting the shed out, including purchasing some 120 litre containers for blending. We may also be getting some nearly-new IBC's to check over that have been used for food stuffs; they are used for one trip only to carry ingredients to Thornton's the chocolate people. Whether we take them will depend on what they've been used for of course. Chocolate-flavoured cider anyone?