Friday, 18 December 2009

Darn it to heck...

Or more precisely, damn you Ashridge Trees!

I recieved a phone call yesterday telling me that the six "Sweet Alfords" we'd ordered from Ashridge Trees wouldn't be arriving on Monday after all. No, nothing to do with Santa or the current "heavy snow" (yeah, right. When I was a lad... etc. etc.). Not even Rudolf having a blow-out. No. Apparently "...the packer has made a mistake..."

So even though they'd been on order since June/July with my credit card details, they have disappeared into the ether due to some technical error of the human-counting / not-enough-fingers kind. Maybe they've found a new home somewhere in sunnier climes. Maybe they got a better offer. Maybe my order for six little trees wasn't important enough. Who knows. So now I'm wondering: do I hunt elsewhere for six little Malus Domestica Sweet Alford or just call it quits until next planting season...?

Friday, 11 December 2009

We are on-line...

No not the trees! Doesn't look like there are 53 trees in those two trenches does it? Popped up to the plot yesterday to paint the concrete floor of the shed and put a lick of preservative on the woodwork. Why? Because for the first time in what seems like ages, it wasn't raining or even cloudy - the sun shone, the sky was blue and it was lovely and pleasant to be out.
Not like today: frosty, cold, foggy first them misty and damp all day. So I've spent most of today trying to put a website together for Torkard Cider. And I did, and I have and we are all-systems go:

We have lift-off, green for throttle up, etc. etc. etc.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Cooking with Cider

Delia: Look away now...
Gordon: Don't even f****** go there!

Following our annual pilgrimage to Somerset to visit some of the many pukka cider-makers down there, we always return with a goodly selection of ciders in an assortment of containers. And unfortunately we often end up with a drop or two which are past their best; so these are used in cooking.

My cooking is based on the: if-it's-there-bung-it-in approach and frequent tasting.

This week I have mostly been using the slow-cooker: every lazy cook's dream...

Note that our slow-cooker is a 3-litre job, so provides at least four generous servings.

Cider braised vegetables
Gail came home with some venison sausages, so as these cook quickly, we used the slow-cooker to cook the veg ready for the evening meal. Our slow-cooker has the facility to be used on high or low heat, so I turned it to High, put a pat of garlic and herb butter in the crock and added about 1 pint / 500 ml of dry real cider. I suppose any dry or even medium cider would do at a push... I then added a bay leaf and plenty of black pepper, followed by a crumbled chicken stock cube. While the cider was heating through and the garlic butter melting, I sliced up some leeks, mushrooms, and potatoes (leaving the skins on), and diced some sweet-potato, carrots and swede. Any root veg will do really, though I tend to shy away from parsnips as their flavour can be a bit over-powering at times; for my tastes anyway. After stirring the cider and making sure the stock-cube had dissolved (a chopstick is great for this) the veg were tipped in, the lid added, the heat set to Low and left to it's own devices for around 8 hours - apart from the odd gentle swirl with the chopstick, that is. When the goode wyffe had returned from the office, the sausages were popped under the grill and as they cooked, a little blended cornflour and cider was stirred into the veg and cooking liquid to thicken it a little. The veg were lifted onto the plate with a slotted spoon, followed by the cooked sausages and some of the veg cooking liquor spooned over the top.

Spicy Cidery Beef
I can take or leave meat cooked in red wine. So when we picked up some diced beef during a recent shopping trip, I decided to experiment... In a large freezer bag, I placed four tablespoons of plain flour followed by two tablespoons each of mustard powder and ground dried ginger. This was topped off with a good pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. The bag was closed up and given a good shake to mix up the dry ingredients, then opened and the 450 g of diced beef tipped in. The whole lot was then given a very good shake to ensure the beef was well and truly coated with the spicy flour mix. In a large heavy pan I heated a knob of butter and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, lifted the floured beef out of the bag onto a plate and then tipped the beef into the hot pan, tossing and turning until lightly browned. I added a couple of sliced onions, then tossed and turned the lot frequently until the onions were just starting to caramelise. I sprinkled over a little more of the left-over spicy flour mix from the bag, stirred and cooked this for a minute or so, then turned the lot out into the pre-warmed crock of the slow-cooker, which was set to Low. I put the pan back on the heat and in a little more olive oil, sweated a couple of fat peeled and crushed garlic cloves from the garden. I then added about a pint and half of dry cider and used this to de-glaze the pan, scraping any of the beef and onion cooking residue and flour mixture from the base and sides of the pan. After bringing the cider to the boil, the pan contents were added to the beef and onion in the slow-cooker, and thoroughly stirred in. This was followed by sliced leeks, carrots, parsnips and mushrooms, covered and left for 8 hours or so. After a thorough stir and checking the seasoning, we served the spicy cidery beef with mashed potatoes. It goes equally well with rice, or spooned over a jacket potato - we had this two nights on the trot. Comfort food. Yum.

Creamy Cidery Green Beans with Leeks
I love runner beans. I could eat them three-times-a-day between meals... However, the goode wyffe prefers more variety, so another experiment ensued. After preparing and slicing the runner beans as usual, they were tipped into a hot oily wok and tossed to coat them in oil. After a couple of minutes stir frying, a good splash of dry cider was added to the hot wok followed by some finely sliced leeks and more cider. As the cider evaporates, more is added to prevent any of the veg browning, the veg cooking through the steam of the cider rather than actually frying in oil. After a couple of minutes a few finely sliced mushrooms were added and, after a little more cider and stirring, the heat was reduced. When the veg were cooked through but still had a little bite, a small pot of soured cream was stirred in along with freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. If required more cider can be added. These piquant creamy cidery green beans with leeks were served up with some oven-roasted belly pork slices which had been sprinkled with 5-Spice powder. Mmmmmm.

Heel, boy, heel!

Get 'em in...

The weekend was spent digging a couple of long trenches on our plot so that we could heel-in the apple trees, along with the two Denniston's Superb gage and two Merryweather damson trees. We hoped to get it done in one day, but the twitch and briar roots made it very heavy going, so we had to split the task into two sessions.

I wish now that I had saved some of the briar stumps for seasoning and carving - I well remember my brother in his smoking days having a Peterson pipe with a briar bowl. I bought it him for Christmas when he was about 19 or so and he liked the "Sherlock Holmes" style and image of pipe. Mind you, with the amount of briars still to be dug out, I think I'll have plenty to choose from... I can also remember the fascination of being introduced to such terms as "Whisky Flake", "Ready Rubbed" and "Rough Shag"... Ooo-err! Not Finnbarr Saunders, but of course terms used for types of tinned pipe tobacco. I still have some of Mike's old tobacco tins, full of rusting fishing tackle.

So I wielded the spade and dug the earth out onto a plastic sheet, while Gail forked through the solid blocks of black, root-locked soil and teased out the masses of briar, nettle and dock roots. We then placed the young trees into the trench at an angle of about 45 degrees to the leeward and sifted the soil over the bare roots of the saplings. We didn't have to water the plants in - the teeming rain did that for us. Oh, the joys...

Next-door plot tenant and good-old-boy Charlie came round to see what we were up to and had kindly bought us half-a-dozen fresh eggs from his chickens as a thank-you for the many bags of spent apple pomace or apple-cake we had dropped off for him. His chickens like to root around in it and he is composting some of the rest. Charlie had also spotted something in the hedgerow of our plot and asked if he could help himself...? He came back a few minutes later with a handful of Lepista Nuda - Wood Blewits or Blewies to you and I.

In fact, our plot is covered with fungi of all sorts and I'd not spotted the Blewies. I have often toyed with the idea of joining a mushroom foraging group - I've got a few books about identifying, collecting and cooking with muzzers, but I think you need to be out with an expert or three to know what you are doing. Wouldn't do to inadvertently pick an Amanita such as Death's Cap or Destroying Angel. No no.

So the next task is to attack the remaining areas of the plot now that the briars, nettles, willows, birch and other assorted undergrowth are dying back. The forecast is for a few good frosts, so hopefully this will expedite matters. We spent some time on Sunday deciding which existing trees will need pollarding to open up the canopy and to allow us to set about improving the remaining two hedges and boundaries. We also need to sort out the two large, old apple trees; one definitely needs a hair-cut, whereas the other needs the removal of a large bough which has grown out over the plot. A "Hucknall Chainsaw Massacre" is imminent.


We are still milling and pressing, and with the arrival of our new Vigo press, we are now much more efficient at turning fruit into juice. I am hoping to go and pick up some Vilberie bittersweet cider apples from good friends Mark and Karen at Rockingham Forest Cider which we are going to ferment separately and blend to add some tannin to some of our cider. Vilberies are a French variety that mature very late and are rich in tannin to help give body, and the dry-mouth finish so often found in real ciders.

We have been very surprised by our results so far this season, some of our juice has the potential of producing an ABV of over 9% - and remember this is without the addition of any sugar or anything else, just the product of the natural pure apple juice. Better keep that a secret from the Tory knee-jerk reactionists who are planning to raise the tax on anything over 5.5% ABV to stop "binge-drinking" and alcohol abuse by teenagers, and the under-age. What about the rest of us who don't binge-drink and are not under 18?

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Queen's Head, Watnall, Nottingham (-ish)

Just thought I'd better mention the "Beer in the Tent" festival being held at The Queen's Head, Watnall, from the 10th to the 13th December, 2009.

This will see almost the last of our 2008 ciders: "Floppy Tabs" and "Heritage Orchard" available to the general public. We have supplied F.T. as a medium-dry and back-sweetened H.O. to a medium-ish taste. I really like the Heritage Orchard now, it has matured into a crystal-clear tangy and tasty cider with many subtle flavour levels. OK, I'll stop "doing a Jilly" and I know it's not-on to compliment your own stuff, but... well I am reluctant to let it go!

Click here for a link to the Queen's Head website and full details of the festival. You can find the Queen's Head at: 40, Main Road, Watnall, Nottingham NG16 1HT, at the side of the B600.

Tree planting time...

Here we go, here we go, here we go....

Santa has come early this year (though the Tooth-fairy was late for my Birthday), but not in time for us to take part in the "Tree O Clock" planting today. Probably more due to my forgetting when it was... treeoclock

Anyway, pictured above are the parcels that Santa dropped off on his way to the North Pole to finish pressy-wrapping. In those parcels are:

6 x Foxwhelp

6 x Kingston Black

6 x Brown's Apple

6 x Major

6 x Herefordshire Redstreak

6 x Tommy Rodford

3 x Sops in Wine

3 x Hangy Down

3 x Katy

3 x Tom Putt

and 1 x Tremlett's Bitter (to replace a casualty...)

There are also two Dennsiton's Superb Gage trees and two Merryweather Damson trees = pies!!!

So although we have missed the Tree O Clock planting record, we hope to show that we are holding our end up. However it doesn't end there, as we are awaiting to hear if our order for 6 x Sweet Alfords will bear fruit, but we don't expect to hear news from that until later this month or into January 2010. We also have the 6 x Dabinetts that have been happily growing-on in pots to take to their new home.

So if my maths is correct, we have at least 59 - and a maximum of 65 - trees to plant. Phew! First though we are going to heel them all in so that we can lift and position at our leisure, as we still have more than half of the plot to clear of brambles, willows, birch and nettles.

Talking of leisure, it will be something I am likely to have a lot of in the future as I am in the process of leaving the teaching profession after 29-odd years at The Chalk Face, man and boy. Our new shed is up, and the barbecue, table and chairs are already in - I am a great believer in priorities! - so I am likely to be spending a lot of time there from now on while Gail remains at work keeping me in the manner to which I have become accustomed.

All I need now is a puppy, so that man and dog can sit munching sausage sarnies while gazing out over the growing apple trees...

Saturday, 19 September 2009


Where did the summer go?

More likely, I didn't realise it was so long since I last posted anything on here! Holidays, working full-time, and building and planting have so occupied our time that writing anything on here has been low on my "list of things to do"...

Anyway, a quick update on the past two months:

France. Cidre. Spain. Sidra. Planting trees. Weedkilling. Mowing. Moorgreen Show. Cider-Shed altering. Cider-Shed adapting. Environmental Health. Local Council. Spending lots of money we don't have... Installing permanent water supply. Installing electricity supply. Stainless steel. Planting more trees. Radio Mansfield 103.2. Interviews. A & GCSE Results. OFSTED. More pressure. More stress. Harvesting. Pressing.

Phew! I'll go into detail later when I have time (Yeah! Right! As if!!!). Mind you, I am enrolled on a Retirement Planning course in a couple of months time, so who knows?

"Floppy Tabs" has been our best seller and is very popular; we finally were presented with our fourth CAMRA "Cider of the Festival" certificate for Mansfield Beer & Cider Festival where FT received almost as many votes as the winning beer! Ha! We were well chuffed. At Moorgreen Show, our ciders were the first to sell out: FT first, followed by our "Heritage Orchard" single-orchard cider.

On a parallel note, due to some difficulties in obtaining what we wanted for the Cider & Perry bar at Moorgreen Show and some slight hiccups with the order, we ended up with mainly Dry and Medium-Dry ciders and perries. We only had 3 out of the total of 20 which came anywhere near Medium-Sweet, and nothing really Sweet at all. Did that stop folks enjoying their ciders and perries? Not at all!!! We managed to find something to suit everyone and had totally sold-out by closing time on Bank Holiday Monday. Don't let anyone tell you that folks young and old will only drink sweet ciders - utter codswallop! And don't forget that this was a mainly Horticultural show, with a very wide mix of folks - not a cider-tickers CAMRA festival.

We pressed our first fruit of the year (season?) last weekend, a mixed bag of our own Tom Putts and windfalls, plus a couple of carrier bags of Conference pears from Mark at work, and a bag of John Downie crabs from our friends Paul and Julia. The juice was absolutely wonderful and fragrant, and had less acidity and a higher Gravity than I expected (Ph 3.1; SG 1052). I have long been tempted to let the fermentation naturally run it's course without adding anything at all - so with just 5 gallons of juice, I thought why not?

The photo above shows the surface of the juice after just four days: a fine mousse of froth showing that something is happening... The smell is still fresh and fruity so I am hoping that the fermentation that I am seeing is due to the desireable strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast) that live on apples and produce fruity and cidery-type flavours.

If not, I could be in trouble...

We have also started our 2009 "Damson Vodka" off, with a few litre "Kilner" jars slowly filling with lovely ruby-red juice. It's been a great year for Damsons. I have also just bottled some Damson Vodka, Raspberry Vodka and my special Damson & Clove Vodka that has been maturing in the cool and dark for the last few years - at least 5 years we reckon (forgot to label it...). Whatever, it is super stuff and really smooth. Ready for long cold nights by the log burner...

Our autumn-fruiting raspberries are loaded this year, many going to the wasps or falling to the floor before we can pick them. More Raspberry Vodka perhaps...? Hmmm... My mum came up to see me earlier in the month and we went up to our plot to pick Blackberries - another fruit that has done really well this year. We picked about 10lbs between the two of us (and throwing the ball for the dog - the eponymous "Floppy Tabs" AKA: Shambles.)

The hedges around our plot were groaning with big juicy blackberries; I must plant some damsons, we already have Sloes (Blackthorn) but I've had to hack them back this year to bring the hedges under control. We have two old trees on the plot which we inherited: one is very ancient and at some point has been grafted over to 3 different varieties, while the other is some form of wilding. The 3-in-1 has Bramleys plus some other unknown cooker and an unknown eater, while the wilding may well prove very interesting... more on that later.

Whatever, my mum went home with bags of windfalls from the two trees to make Apple and Blackberry pies and lots of apple-sauce.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The Cider Workshop...

Will the real: The Cider Workshop please stand up?

As you trawl round the internet, you can come across all sorts of domain names and titles for websites, groups, etc. etc. Sometimes the websites are real and as expected, but sometimes they are devious traps set by the calculating to catch out the unwary. Occasionally they are there to trick you into parting with your hard-earned money and are therefore blatantly illegal.

However, there are some folks who go out of their way to trick you into logging-on to their site just for getting hits and to stop you accessing the site you may want to get to. I'm not talking about porn or major crime here - just cider. Maybe it's driven by fear or something to hide. Or from having made a mistake but not being prepared to admit it. Or maybe being totally wrong but being unable to see anyone else's point of view?

Some months ago, a few like-minded and democratic cider-makers got together after being blocked from and effectively kicked-out of the on-line cider group they belonged to. They were ex-communicated by the group and websites owner, Andrew Roberts, because they stood up for one another, dared to speak their minds, believed in open and free-speech - and believed that campaigning and fighting for real cider and real perry was best carried out on a variety of fronts. Well the latter is fine in a democracy or where you think you have a voice and a say, but not in an autocracy where one person thinks their word is the only way: a despot.

So one by one, all the free-thinking and long-standing members of this cider group - which claims to be (quote) "...the main body representing real cider enthusiasts and small producers in the UK..." (unquote) - left because of their own frustrations at seeing free-speech crushed and fellow cider enthusiasts ejected from the group just for mentioning other groups with similar and roughly parallel aims. It soon became clear that Andrew Roberts lives in a virtual world - not a real one - when it comes to talking about, having knowledge of, and campaigning for real cider and real perry. He doesn't make the stuff, just drinks it and pontificates about it.

So the free-thinking cider-makers and enthusiasts got together and set-up their own group. It was democratic from the start, involving a small group of people from across the globe who not only drank real cider and perry but most importantly, made it. This small group quickly flourished and soon encompassed a wide range of very expert and knowledgeable people, often because they had also been blocked from ukcider - for that is what the old, dying group was called - for flirting with or daring to join the new kid on the block: The Cider Workshop.

Now it is quite common for a number of on-line groups to exist side-by-side and share membership and knowledge - car clubs for instance. The Cider Workshop hoped to do just that and collaborate with ukcider - but unfortunately Andrew Roberts was having none of this and so started a "Cider Workshop" war. Someone has joined the Cider Workshop discussion google group under the false and misleading name of "CiderWorkshop" - originally it was "Wokshop" but we won't hold that against him - and is using the false email address of: Now who would do that if they didn't have something to hide? This person has been asked to use a username which cannot be confused with the real admin side of the real and genuine The Cider Workshop - but they have refused. Now why is that? Who could want to cause mischief by pretending they are something that they are not? Some have suggested that it must be Mr Andrew Roberts, but that remains to be proved. But their actions are certainly devious and, most suspect, ultimately malicious. The posts which emanate from this character are also bizarre.

It gets worse... If you google "ciderworkshop" you'll will get lots and lots of hits that lead you back to... yes, you've guessed it: ukcider or, surprisingly Mr Andrew Roberts; he even uses a photo of himself alongside the name "Cider Workshop" on sites like the knol and edocr. Now why is that when he has nothing whatsoever to do with The Cider Workshop - unless it is intentional of course.

Andrew Roberts also uses "CiderWorkshop" on twitter - why, when "his" website is ukcider? Unless he is out to deliberately deceive and undermine any attempts to get a truly democratic and friendly cider discussion group and cider resource site, up and running? Some may claim that Mr Roberts is afraid of any competition whatsoever. I'm sure that deep inside he is so concerned with promoting real cider and real perry in the UK, that he is more than happy to let ukcider stand on it's own without trying to prop it up with false domain names and false links to lead all searches to ukcider.

Oh, I mentioned edocr earlier. I hear on the grapevine (not sure whether it is true or not) that my good friend Rose Grant is very unhappy that Andrew Roberts appears to have lifted some of her work from her own blog without permission in order to post it elsewhere in connection with his name and links to ukcider? (Alongside tags falsely leading to "ciderworkshop" of course. By falsely, read "to ukcider"). I do understand though that Rose's argument is over moral and intellectual rights seeing as she wrote the blog herself in her own style. Is nothing sacred? Plagiarism is a very low act indeed.

But plagiarism and cloning are exactly what you will find on ukcider's wiki it seems. Many folks tried to remove their work when leaving the group, deleting it en masse - but it has miraculously reappeared it seems. There has been the odd clumsy attempt to re-write stuff, but unfortunately the names of the recently departed are still to be seen attached to articles which they thought they'd deleted. It is very easy to spot re-written articles when they are re-written by someone who personally seems to know very little about the subject in hand.

Allegedly a number of providers and web owners have removed some of these false links set up by Andrew Roberts to ukcider which purported to be links to The Cider Workshop group and website. Likewise, someone hiding behind the logo of ukcider has been attempting to get permission to use photographs from the flickr website under the false user name of "Cider Workshop". Now who could that be...? Answers on a postcard to....

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Cider Workshop goes live...

Well, sort of...

At long last a cider site which is free and caring-and-sharing has come on-line. No hang-ups, no dictator-ish blocking of posts and posters, and no paranoid personalities to split a once-friendly bunch into a schism. Just a bunch of folks who want to be free to discuss real cider, how to make it, where to drink it, how to improve it, what apples to grow, etc. etc. etc.

This very friendly co-operative group of like minded individuals goes under the title of The Cider Workshop and is the brainchild of an evil genius who was dismayed to see folks with passion drifting away from a common cause. He single-handed (well, almost) brought the throng together to give life to a simple shed next to an apple tree or two...

Come along and join us if you have an interest in apples, pears, apple trees, pear trees, cider, perry, or any combination of the six...

Monday, 25 May 2009

What more could a girl ask for?

The ideal start to wedded life...

The day after we got married, we (ie: I...) decided that we really needed to get up onto our plot to tidy up a little and carry out some weed maintenance. Due to going away for our honeymoon imminently and the poor wet weather we've been having recently, the plot would be left to it's own devices for longer than I cared for.

I was also very keen to try out our new petrol mower, with the biggest diameter cut I could get my hands on that wasn't a ride-on mower. To be honest, I'd been hanging my nose over ride-on mowers and little tractors for some months - but then I thought about my waistline and my doctors advice regarding exercise, and thought the extra exercise of walking behind a mower would be good for me. Never mind the £700-odd saving we would make on our new wee beastie.

It was good to see everything green, but the nettles had grown at an amazing pace. Gail was let loose with the Ryobi Expand-It with the hedge -trimmer attachment first to trim the Hawthorn hedge, while I got the McCulloch mower off the trailer and fired it up for the first time. The mower has a 3-in-1 feature which means it can be used with a large grass box, as a mulching mower or with the side-eject chute which I chose to use.
I was very conscious of losing all of the goodness contained in the green vegetable matter that I was mowing so I think the side-eject chute will be its normal mode of operation. With it on its highest setting, I was soon making short work of the grass and weeds. Gail converted the Ryobi to Brush-Cutter mode and started to attack the bigger stands of nettles while I moved onto the grass lane outside to mow our "patch" and mulch up the cuttings that Gail's hedge trimming activities had left behind. Everything started to look pretty tidy quite quickly. I met up with plot neighbours Charlie and Judy while chugging up and down the green lane, and they were far more interested in whether we had consummated the marriage yet rather than how well the day had gone...

A more serious task to be undertaken was another assault on the Japanese Knotweed that we had inherited with the plot. It has already cost us quite a few pounds in weedkillers, mainly Glyphosate-based types and the effect of these was slowly making itself apparent. However, we have heard on the grapevine that some people are taking an active interest in the Knotweed - surprisingly no one seemed bothered about it until we took the plot over... - so we are feeling the pressure to get rid of this alien monster before it has any chance of spreading. Not that we aren't working on the problem already, of course! As usual, I just wish folks would come and talk to us about what we are already doing and have done, rather than spreading gossip and panic about this Triffid-like invader of our shores.
It was time to start playing Dr. Death - or Dr. Kildare - take your pick... I'd bought some Ammonium Sulphate systemic weedkiller that targets the roots in a similar way to the Glyphosate-based products. We've used this stuff before and it is very effective, but you need to get it inside the plant to be really effective. I mixed up a very strong solution of the weedkiller, suitably protected with surgical gloves, and then loaded up the syringe.

As the stems of Knotweed are hollow, the theory is that you inject a strong solution of a systemic weedkiller directly into one of these stem chambers. The problem I quickly found was that the pressure build-up inside the chamber is quite considerable! To overcome this, I first pushed the needle all the way through the stem and then pulled it back halfway; the stream of air-bubbles followed by weedkiller emerging from the far side of the stem told me when the chamber was full - or there abouts. The larger diameter stems would quickly take all 20ml that the syringe would hold without any sign of being full. The downside to my Dr. Death machinations was the sheer number of stems. Within an hour I was longing for one of the mass-inoculation kits that vets and farmers use on livestock, or better still one of the high-tech versions as demonstrated on Star Trek...

While injecting away like it was going out of fashion, I came across a number of stems clearly affected by our previous treatments; the walls of the stems were very thin and soft, and the new leaf growth was much smaller, very distorted and sickly-looking. I hope that when we return from our short break there will be much greater evidence of this.

After two hours of injecting, I began to realise I should have brought a can of spray-paint with me to mark the stems treated. Its amazing how the stems all look alike. Once you've seen one...

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Everythings coming up... green?

1st Movement...

I am very pleased that after a couple of months of worry and sleepless nights, that a couple of projects appear to be nearing fruition. In the front garden, the half-standard Dabinett has finally started to show signs of life with fresh green growth bursting out of the once-dormant buds.

The Dabinetts that have been resident in the back garden for some years now have finished blossoming and so we were starting to worry a little about our new baby. However, the new Dabinett whips that we potted up are also very slow in coming forward, in fact they are only just starting to show signs of life. I wondered whether it was the soil or lack of sunshine - or even if the roots had drowned in all the rain...

2nd Movement...

Eureka! For the first time ever, I attempted to graft something. Phill from South Wales sent me three cuttings that he had spare, to have a go at grafting myself.

I had a few self-sets of apple tree seedlings coming up in various places around the garden, from some of the spent pomace that got scattered around, so these would provide my rootstocks for this venture. Unfortunately, either the hated neighbour's cats or the even-more-hated pigeons seem to have dealt a death blow to the Frederick graft, which I found separated into two parts on the ground. So it was up to the Pig Aderyn or the Cummy Norman to spark into life to prove that I could actually create a chimera... Frankenstien has nothing on me!

I am happy to report that the Cummy Norman has sprouted, as can be seen in the above photo. Yes! I'm glad it did, for it's name as much as anything! The Pig Aderyn unfortunately is still showing no real sign of life, though one of the buds remains swollen and glossy. Time will tell, but I feel like an expectant father.

Yummy yum yum yum! May I introduce you to our Wedding Cake?

Yep today is the day that Gail and I are getting married - it is also Gail's birthday, so a double celebration. This is the mother of all wedding cakes for two chocoholics who also make and drink cider!

We knew that we didn't want a traditional wedding cake and had always joked that we would have a chocolate one. So I had a word with Helen, one of our technicians at work who makes cakes in her spare time, to see if she could help us out? We left her pretty much with free reigns, the only thing we wanted was one layer to be dark and bitter chocolate for Gail and I to pig out on, and a second layer to be a sweeter milk chocolate layer for all the others...

So this superb piece of culinary artistry is the result. Is that a cake or is that a cake?

The little apples are marzipan, the stalks are cloves; feel free to decide upon your own variety of apple that they represent. What more could you wish for, for a cider makers wedding cake?

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Rail Ale

A bus man's holiday...

We had a good time yesterday at the Rail Ale Festival at Barrow Hill Roundhouse, near Chesterfield. Travelling by train from home via Nottingham was fine, but the free bus service from Chesterfield train station to Barrow Hill was overloaded - I don't think they quite expected the numbers who turned up. A couple of blokes behind us in the very long queue for the bus mentioned getting a taxi but were concerned about the cost - so we volunteered to split the cost with them. £2 each for a quick comfy trip and to save us standing in the cold wind and rain for another hour was a bargain!

A couple of the ciders had already sold out by the time we arrived at about 12.45pm, so we started off by going for the ones we really wanted to try - or those with a high ABV as these are usually the ones to go first. What is it about ABV-tickers? After two or three to set my palate, I always like to try our own when it is on. This might seem strange but when we are blending our ciders, it is sometimes difficult to judge it in isolation, so a taste comparison with a range of other ciders is always worth it. Plus we have to check that it has travelled well - Quality Control and Quality Assurance and all that...

We needn't have worried as our "Floppy Tabs" blend stood up very well against the others. It was also selling very fast. In fact we were surprised by just how many folks were drinking cider and perry; not in a get-it-down-yer-neck way, but clearly discussing and enjoying what was on offer. As the afternoon wore on, the sky cleared and the sun came out so we migrated out into the sun. We met up with our friends Paul and Julia, Carl and David, and later Andy and Julie, though Andy had a shift to work behind the bars.

I enjoyed the Green Valley "Rum Tiddly Tum" rum-cask cider (very rum-my), the Orchard Pig Dry and the Westcroft "Janet's Jungle Juice" - the latter also being really dry for once. Hurrah! We are fans of Westcroft ciders and like to visit when in Somerset, but at festivals J's J.J. is nearly always medium-sweet or sweet, rarely medium and we've never come across it dry unless we fetch it ourselves. It's a great pity as it is best appreciated dry when it's depth of flavour and subtle apple notes can shine through. Yum yum.

A disappointment was the Prinknash cider dated at 2004 - how would a cider stored for 5 years stand up? Not very well and I found finishing the half quite a challenge. It had a strange mouldy-mushroom taste that was not pleasant and I guess this meant it had not been aged in stainless steel, but had been aged in wood and possibly not a sterile barrel at that. There was also a distinct nose and after-taste of acetaldehyde - the sort of smell you associate with sherry - which pointed to a level of contact with air. Oh well, least I can say I've tried it.

Our "Heritage Orchard" blend was also on, but it was tucked under the bottom shelf being held back. About 4.30pm, I got a text from Carl saying that the Heritage Orchard was being put on, that folks were queuing up for it and that it was "flying out". This was the first time we'd let any of the Heritage Orchard out, so I was eager to see how it stacked up against "the opposition". I needn't have worried, as it was very good indeed - so I had another... Sounds a little incestuous, but I had tasted everything else that was left.

After a few more repeat ciders and trying some of the best pork scratchings I've ever had, it was time to go to get the bus to the station and the train home. Carl had bought us a bag of pork scartchings as an early wedding present! As we walked past the cider and perry bar, there was hardly anything left so we were glad we had chosen the Saturday afternoon slot again. The bar staff were having to tip our box up, so we knew that wouldn't last long either. I doubt there would be any cider or perry left for the evening session.

Back in Nottingham, we had 55 minutes to wait for the train home so decided to take the tram and stop off at The Lion at Basford. Nice pub, interesting decor and a nice mix of folks inside. However, we were disappointed to find the only cider on offer was Black Rat, a Thatcher's clone, not a patch on the old Mole's version but still tasty enough and better than many real ciders you'll find on a bar. The real ale selection was much better and though I was tempted with one at 10% ABV, I decided to be safe and go with a Castle Rock Harvest Pale, while Gail had the Black Rat.

Saturday, 16 May 2009


Death becomes you...

Pretty sinister title and image - and what the hell has this got to do with cider?

Well, we are currently having a battle with the dreaded Japanese Knotweed which was present on our proto-orchard when we took it over, in three large clumps and is busily spreading itself around, even though it is costing us an arm-and-a-leg in weedkiller to try to kill it off... I don't particularly like using lots of weedkiller so we have had to look for alternative methods. The law with what you can and can't do when you have this stuff on "your" land is pretty tough and tight, so we have to act before it spreads onto anyone elses plot.

Reading up on t'interweb, I came across an explanation of how some folks have found injecting weedkiller directly into the fat fleshy stems of Fallopia japonica is a very good method of destroying it and of course, limits both the spread of and contamination caused by the weedkiller. Hence the syringe and hypodermic needle. I'll have to be careful with this though, don't want any accidents...

The needle is actually blunt and we use them at work for applying solvent cements to bond plastics such as PMMA (Acrylic) together.

This will have to wait though, as we are off to catch the train to Nottingham and hence to Chesterfield for the Rail Ale Festival at Barrow Hill. The cider and perry list is very good - but so is the beer list! Decisions, decisions...

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Dabinett shows it's colours

Could it finally be...?
Yes, I think it is! The new Dabinett in the front has finally started to show a little bit of green growth. To be honest, I had a hard job finding it, but it is definitely there so I can stop worrying so much. All I need to do now is ensure that some pesky caterpillar doesn't nibble it off or that the ants don't shepherd a herd of grazing aphids along to bleed it to death.

Bob update...
Bob has flown the nest with his brood. Awww. Sad to see them go as I'll miss the cheeky chappy chuntering at me as I plodded around the garden. Mayhaps he'll be back with Bobess to start another brood before the summer's out?

Linking up...
Just got a private message from a guy on the forum (for SEAT car owners btw) whose name is Matt, who also makes cider and wants some advice. I'm not the only loony on the SEAT owners site then... Must remember to get back to him, though things are terribly busy at the moment, both at'mill and back at the ranch.

Need to get off to The Arkwright Arms tonight to drop off four boxes of cider - two for the Arkers and two for the Rail Ale bash at Barrow Hill this weekend. Mind you, can't go there until we've been to the photographers to discuss the photos and arrangements for our up-coming wedding - only a week and a bit away. Yikes! Now what have I forgotten to do.......

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Is it Spring yet?

Busy, busy, busy...
What a month it's been so far -and we are only just into it. Strong, cold winds and heavy rain, the odd touch of frost; I think April must be a month late. Still, my grandad used to quote: "Ne'er cast a clout 'til May be out" so I reckon he must have been right. Mind you, it's been tough on the wildlife. I managed to capture our resident Great Tit (Coal Tit?) loading up with calories on the home-made fat and oats cake that we tie around the trunk of the Stoke Red at the top of the garden. It was a cold and miserable day with driving rain. We've called him: "Bob" (said in a Rowan Atkinson / Black Adder sort of way...). As we have no idea which is female and which is male, they are both "Bob" or maybe "Bob-ess". Whatever, they obviously have a good brood judging by the noise from the nest box.

Bees are another matter, with no honey-bees sighted so far. However, we have got a few bumble-bees around and plenty of wild bees. We have a small exposed earth bank at the bottom of the garden and this attracts all sorts of solitary and (I think) masonry bees; they appear to be attracted to the exposed clay layer, into which some of them have tunnelled. Whatever, they do seem to pay a visit to the apple blossom which is great to see.

They are also breeding as can be seen from this "bee porn" pic here, where a couple of them are having a good time amongst the blossom on the Dabinett espalier...

Less good is the apparent lack-of-life exhibited by the new Dabinett that we've planted on the front. It's been in the ground for 6 or 7 weeks now, but there is absolutely no sign of any life, bud-burst or anything. I'll keep my fingers crossed, but my hopes are fading.

More shed action...
Work on the Cider Shed continues, this time we've added insulation to the inside of the roof. Not to keep heat in necessarily, but to keep the heat out! On a sunny day, the heat radiating from the metal roof is quite impressive - even when its windy and the air temperature is low. We opted for the stuff designed for use behind radiators or inside lofts - sort of a large bubble-wrap with a shiny foil skin. We've mounted it foil-side up and its proving very effective. The pic shows the job half done.

The smooth plastic surface on the inside (underside) should also be fairly easy to clean and the air space between insulation and roof provides good ventilation. Next is to add the lighting and power sockets.

Down on the floor of the shed, we've been racking and blending using the new pump.

I knocked up a simple MDF trolley at work, and after a coat or three of varnish and a couple of wheels from Machine Mart, it was ready to go. I raided my "gash-box" for some suitable wire, an in-line fuse holder, surface-mount box and a light switch, and after mounting the 12 volt pump and connecting up the pipe work, it started to look the biz. We have a couple of heavy-duty 12 volt deep-cycling batteries that we use in the caravan and for the van winch, so it was a simple job of attaching the battery clamps and flicking the switch.

It is very quiet in operation and very powerful. We pumped fresh water through first, then some sterilising solution, followed by more fresh water and then it was into the cider vats. The last metre or so of each pipe is actually a rigid plastic pipe and this makes controlling the pipe over the sediment (or lees) very simple. This racking also gave us time to have a taste-test and decide on which container should be blended with which. We have to get some ready before mid-week to go to the Rail Ale festival at Barrow Hill, Chesterfield.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

New label

Heritage Orchard is ready to go...

I couldn't sleep yesterday morning. I think I'm becoming an insomniac - or maybe it's just the things going off elsewhere on the web, where someone with no integrity and too much ego is trying really hard to pass other's work off as his own and who truly believes that he is the sole arbiter of all things cidery....

So I got up and started to play around at producing the new label for our "Heritage Orchard" blend which is coming on nicely. This is the cider we made exclusively from the wide range of apples we collected from John Hempsall's Heritage Orchard last year.

Without wanting to sound immodest, I'm quite happy with it as a first attempt and it prints off really well. It needs a tweak here and there to comply with regulations, but otherwise it's good to go! I need to go round and see John first, and drop off a sample - if he doesn't like it or it doesn't meet his expectations, he might not want his name on it!

New kid on the block...

Due to a whole heap of unhappiness and unrest in the virtual-cider-world (see above), a number of key players have left the site about cider in the uk (which claims erroneously to be the "main body" representing cider makers and drinkers in the uk...). This has resulted in a new forum-based site being set up:

It is very early days yet, but go check it out.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Out and about

The Invaders...
Nothing nasty though, but as I was messing around under the Royal Somerset sharp apple tree t'other day, there was an unholy racket coming from over my head. Looking up, I saw a small bird with a beak full of wriggling grubs watching me closely - and complaining bitterly about my presence. Coal Tit or Great Tit? Not sure. Whatever, after a moment or two (still watching my every move) it flew over and into a nesting box that we have mounted on the side of the house. Now this nesting box is allegedly a Sparrow box, having three entrances and compartments adjacent to one another, but it has been empty and unused for some 3 or 4 years now. No longer!

I'm getting quite used to our residents and hopefully, they will to me bustling around "the estate". At the moment though, every time they spot me, they start loudly complaining. It is good to see them searching around the apple trees with great diligence and I hope that they are leaving the spiders and lacewing larvae alone, and instead going for any aphids, scale-insects and caterpillars that may be getting ready to dine out on my apples. I'm going to set the camera up and try to get a photo of one of them diving in and out of the nest box. Watch this space.

Real Cider comes to Hucknall...
Hurrah! Finally one of our local pubs has opted to try a box of real Nottinghamshire cider made on its doorstep. The landlord and a party of regulars popped up to the Mansfield Festival and tried our cider; one of them, Lee, took a particular shine to our cider and took the details back to Hucknall with him. The result is that The Flying Bedstead on Watnall Road, Hucknall, is the first Hucknall pub to feature a cider made in Hucknall, from fruit grown in and around Hucknall. We dropped the cider off yesterday evening and Jacqui, the landlady, is going to let us know how the regulars get on with it and give us any feedback. It will be interesting to hear what the locals think of a local real cider.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Dog on the loose

Those ears are unleashed...
Mansfield CAMRA Beer & Cider Festival has now finished and while we recover from four days of hard work and mayhem, we can look back at what was a very successful festival for both us and the Cider & Perry Bar.

We decided (well, I did...) to name our newest cider blend after my mum's dog. Well, not the whole of the dog actually, but her ears! "Shambles" is the moniker given to this young Welsh Border Collie who is a bundle of hyper-active fun and fur. To all intents and purposes she looks like any other Border Collie - apart from those tabs! They are on the large side, to put it mildly and are more like semaphore signalling equipment. I have never seen a dog with such expressive and mobile ears, which are capable of any number of permutations of movement and terpsichorean abandonment. Imagine a Basset Hound's ears on speed and you pretty much get the picture...

The name was also an antidote to all the folks who cannot say: Torkard. Now they could just ask for "floppy tabs", "tabs", "the one with the dog", or most amusingly, stand in front of the bar flicking their ears. We sold out of the first container by 9.00 pm-ish on the Friday night so took another container along on the Saturday - this second one was empty by 8.00pm. A number of folks took carry-outs of Floppy Tabs away with them too.

The cider itself has a character that matches the dog - lively, young, sharp, complex and refreshing. I think the only thing missing is the agility, which my niece Katie takes Shambles for every Sunday...

Another First for the Mansfield Festival was the promotion of local ciders, under the NearCide banner. I'd tried to assemble a few East Midlands Ciders to show folks that real, good-quality cider is available almost on your doorstep, if you look for it. To this end we had Three Cats from Derbyshire, Skidbrooke from Lincolnshire, Rockingham Forest from Northamptonshire and our own Torkard from Nottinghamshire. The idea is to have something for ciders and perries which parallels the LocAle concept for Real Ales. The ciders generated a lot of interest and questions, and I hope that folks will be spurred on to find out more.

Mark from Rockingham Forest came along on the Friday afternoon for a sampling and a chin-wag. He also kindly brought along three other local ciders that he'd discovered while working out around Spalding in Lincolnshire. They are from three small producers but showed that good quality cider is available at a very local level, with all the carbon-footprint and food-mile benefits that such enterprises entail. I wish them all well. I really enjoyed the Spalding Scrumpy.

Chris from Three Cats turned up later in the afternoon after cycling the 18-odd miles from his home and the three of us got together to chat about cider (surprisingly!). Chris has a sweet-tooth when it comes to cider and he believes that sweet ciders are the future for sales; something that Mark and I are at odds with, preferring to taste the fruit and depth of flavour without too much sweetness masking subtle notes and wiping out one's palate. Talking of subtle flavours, I was intrigued by the DanY Graig Welsh cider we had ordered; it had a distinct nose of ginger, but a burst of lime-and-lemon on the palate. Very nice and zesty.

Friday evening Julie and Andy, our friends from Chesterfield Branch, came over to work their way through the cider bar's offerings. To be more accurate, Julie did, while Andy worked his way through the beers, while having a sip of everything that Julie tried.

Overall the Festival was great fun, though Gail and I were both exhausted by the end of it. Take-down on Sunday was very onerous, but at least we'd sold out of everything, which is a great feeling. Saturday night was less fun, as a few idiots were present who were just intent on drinking too much and being abusive. They forget that we are all volunteers and not professional bar workers. Or maybe that's giving them too much credit and they actually don't care.

We'd also met and chatted with loads of really nice people, which is the key thing for us when working the cider and perry bar. We can pass on information, dispel myth and legend, help folks find out more and encourage the planting of more apple trees, whatever the variety. It is especially great when folks come to you before they leave to thank you not only for having the time and knowledge to chat with them, but also to thank you for having such a good selection of ciders and perries available.

So I'd like to thank them in return for making it all worthwhile. Cheers!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Roof action.
Oops upside your head...

The screed has finally dried enough to walk on and paint. Don't let anyone tell you that the instructions that the screed will: "....flow over the surface with minimum tooling..." are accurate! I actually added a little more water than recommended to ensure the stuff was like runny cream - still just sat there when poured... However, the final job is quite acceptable for me. Well it was until I painted it with the nice glossy concrete paint. It's amazing how the slightest surface imperfection is highlighted by a shiny surface. Oh well. Reminded me of what I have to tell my kids at school though, who think that the secret to a good finish on their work is umpteen layers of gloss spray paint. No, the key to a good finish is an excellent sub-surface.

The additional damp-proof membrane has made a big difference to the comfort and "dryness" of the shed.

I've bought a couple of bulkhead lights for the darker times and evening work, and these will be attached to roof timbers. As I don't want to have to dig up the garden to put in a permanent power supply for the lights and power, I've bought an external mains socket as used in caravans and intend to connect up the shed with the 25 metre mains lead that came with the caravan.

As the floor is almost sorted, the roof and insulation (mainly from radiant heat) is next. I've bonded battens to the inside of the roof and intend to attach insulation that contains a damp-proof membrane to these battens by stapling it to them. We've opted for the stuff which is a mixture of foil, foam and something akin to bubble-wrap; it's often sold as radiator reflecting insulation, but its ideal for our purposes. We need protection from heat radiating from the metal roof (sunlight) and something to prevent condensation from the cold metal surface at night.

Our first order of 36 cider-apple trees has finally arrived, thanks to some intervention by Tracey Deacon of Deacon's Nurseries who are supplying them. We were starting to worry that the trees would not arrive before we are due to go away for a couple of days over Easter. We are going to Norfolk to commune with the good guys at Whin Hill Cider and to consume vast quantities of Fish & Chips from French's chippy. We may also be tempted with a pint or two of luvverly Wherry at the Three Horseshoes in Warham....

Lots of work to do first though. Better go and get planting... More Morgan Sweets are going in today!

Monday, 23 February 2009

Job done

Well, the first bit anyway...

The 50mm screed on t'cider shed floor is now completed, and curing and drying nicely. The above pic was taken before the final section was laid. The main concrete base was given a good coat of liquid DPM and blinded with sand, before laying and trimming a sheet of 1000 gauge polyethylene DPM to float on top. The sharp sand / cement screed has been laid on top of this. Next job is to lay a very thin liquid screed over this to get a perfectly smooth and flat floor which we can give umpteen coats of concrete paint to. It'll be better than the house! Be able to eat my dinner off it? Doubtful, but at least it should be spot-on for ease of cleaning and keeping clean. The other main requirement is to provide a nice flat surface for the framework and racking to support the two levels of 60 litre containers which are ready to move back into their improved home ASAP.

However, before that we need to sort out the insulation for the walls and roof, and some form of washable sheeting to provide the inner wall surface. Got to keep the E.H. folks happy...

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Screed baby, screed!

Heavy mixer-action while the sun shines.
Just having a quick break with a cuppa of Earl Grey tea and a couple of slices of bread-and-dripping (oh, the savoury bliss of it all!) before going back to laying the screed over the cider-shed floor. Got about halfway so far, but had to dash back to Wickes this fine morn for more sharp-sand and cement. Does anyone else encounter black holes when doing any work with recommended quantities? How come you never have enough despite following the instructions on the packet? Where does it all go? I reckon the evil fairies that live at the bottom of my garden nick it while I'm not looking...

The original concrete floor was fine, but always intended to screed it so that we can paint it so that it's more easier to clean and keep clean. Also invested in a "Wet 'n' Dry" vacuum cleaner for same purpose. What a beast!

Getting a consistent depth, in this case 50mm, while screeding is challenging but intellectually stimulating. Using 50mm battens as when plastering is my preferred option so far.

Oh Cider Trees - Where art thou, Cider Trees?
I'm getting frustrated waiting for the newly-ordered trees to be delivered... especially when the weather is nice and dry. We've got 6 x Yarlington Mill; 6 x Tremlett's Bitter; 6 x Morgan Sweet; 6 x Harry Master's Jersey; and 6 x Dabinetts on order, all on MM106 rootstock's. This should give us a good start while we wait for the next delivery this coming Winter 09. We wanted the early-cropping Morgan Sweet to blend with the Tom Putts and other early fruit that we collect. We also have some Major on order for later in the year, another early-fruiter, our aim being to lengthen and even out our cider-making.

We've also ordered a standard Dabinett on M25 rootstock and this eventually quite large tree is to go in the front garden at home, now that we have removed one of the large conifers that was growing like a rocket and dwarfing the house; I love Deodar Cedars, but it was a mistake to plant one in the garden! After 20-odd years it showed no sign of slowing down so had to go. Anyway, the Dabinett should look pretty in blossom, give us some fruit and not block light in the winter months.

What's in a name?
Why oh why do some folks insist on pronouncing Dabinett as "Dabin-ay"? I often come across it with an "e" on the end too. Pseudo-posh Frenchness? English name not good enough? Answers on a postcard too: Mr William Dabinett was a Somerset man, and wouldn't have a poncy name like "Dabin-ay" or "Dabinette" attached to any tree discovered and named by him!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Tree life: The ascent of man (or woman in this case)

Gerrup't' tree, lass!

I am no technophobe but the technology of getting images off my mobile phone onto my computer has defeated me - until now. Finally managed to get some shots taken during a collection expedition to the luvverly village of Lambley, near Nottingham, where Helena and Dean had kindly offered their excess apples to us for the second consecutive year.

In her usual ultra-competitive spirit, Gail was determined that she would climb the tree to give it a damn good shake to try to bring down those crafty and sneaky little apples hiding in the upper-most branches. That's the trouble with "standard" trees, ie. those with a lot of bare tree trunk (usually about 1.5 - 1.8 metres) before the branches start - it can be a pig to get up and into the tree. Luckily we had a step-ladder to help, so Gail was quickly up the tree.

Gail also has considerably less girth and weight than me, so maybe it was better for the tree for Gail to go up it...

For the uninitiated, a half-standard is a tree which has been cleared of shoots and growth for the first metre or so. A bush or pyramid tree has growth close to the ground and is limited in height by it's rootstock, so is the sort favoured in most modern orchards as it makes fruit collection much easier.

You can see the walking-stick dangling from the tree in the photo - we use this to hook around branches to give them a good shake to loosen the fruit and cause it to fall. We really need to make ourselves an extendable panker, the name given to very long poles with a large hook on the end, which were traditionally used to reach up high into the branches of apple and pear trees to shake down the fruit ready for being made into cider or perry.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Catching up - again!

Snowy days!
Here we are in mid-February 2009 and I realise I haven't added anything since last year... Sounds worse than it actually is, but I need to get more regular with this blog lark.

Anyway, these images were taken during our late-November foray into deepest, darkest Nottinghamshire to collect another load of apples. We once again travelled north to the Hempsall Heritage Orchard to see what the wind and rain had encouraged the trees to drop. After un-hitching the trailer and pushing it into the orchard, Gail unloaded the trailer while I helpfully took photographs.

Due to all the recent rain, the ground was really soft and I was worrying how we'd get the trailer off the orchard before we'd even got any fruit in it... The trees had dropped most of their leaves and the floor was littered with fruit of all colours, shapes and sizes.

We scouted round for the dessert and dual-purpose apples, and avoided all of the culinary varieties. It made it much easier to spot the best apples by looking for where the local rabbit and hare population had done most of it's nibbling! Curiously - or maybe not - the order Legomorpha do not seem to like to nibble cooking apples; unfortunately they do like to nibble and bite great chunks out of the russets. It wouldn't be so bad if they ate the whole apple, but the furry little bundles appear to browse over as many apples as possible.

Never mind, we worked on into the cold, dark and drizzle, and by late afternoon had the trailer full of fruit. By luck as much as brute force, we managed to manhandle the sinking trailer out of the orchard to a point where we could successfully hook-up the trailer onto the car. We need to adapt the trailer to take the weight it is capable of carrying, as full-to-the-brim we still have capacity to carry another 150Kg of fruit. I need to make some form of frame to raise the height of the sides.

Hot-aches set in during the drive home, but it was worth it. The next couple of days saw the apples rapidly milled and pressed until we had no more container space left. An impending Christmas trip to Spain to spend the festivities with Gail's father, meant we were pushed for time (and cash - £1=Euro1 is not fun!), so the containers would have to wait.

In early February we had a break to visit Chesterfield Beer Festival and our friends Paul & Julia kindly put us up (or should that be put up with us?) overnight so we could explore what was on offer. I didn't fancy the cider and perry choice much, so spent the night drinking the beers on offer, including the "Winter Ales" section which had a nice Thornbridge at 7.7%ABV and a really lovely rich ale at 12.0%ABV whose name unsurprisingly escapes me... It was good to meet up with Julie and Andy from Chesterfield CAMRA, who are also planning on coming down to the Ross-on-Wye Cider Festival with us in early September. Hopefully Karen and Mark (Rockingham Forest) can also make it so it should be a good bash.

Here in mid-February, the new containers are sat under cover - still empty - but I also have a new cider-pump ready for action, so the next week should see the pump proving it's worth by transferring the very-slowly bubbling (and very cold) cider into the new containers. This cold weather has really put everything back but I hope we'll have something ready by the beginning of April for the 18th Mansfield Beer & Cider Festival.

What else is new? Well after 14-odd years together, eleven of which we've been engaged and nine or so we've lived together, Gail and I are finally(?) getting married. Been to the register office today to sign on the dotted line and hand over some cash, so it is all systems go for May 23rd 2009 - which also happens to be Gail's birthday. Aaah, romance is not dead!!!! I'm looking forward to it - even though the date clashes with this year's Welsh Perry and Cider Championships at The Clytha near Abergavenny. Oh well. Next year we can go as Mr & Mrs. Nice.