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...