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!

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