Wednesday, 9 December 2009

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?

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