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?