RG 2007 October

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8289401_8cd6453906_s.jpg This page is part of The Cidermaking Year by Rose Grant

October, 2007



New Forest Cider Weekend

The New Forest Cider open weekend came as a most welcome diversion for me. There was so much to see and it was so interesting and convivial that I went on both days. The weather was perfect. Today it seemed like a sunny day in summer. It was great to wander around clutching a pint of Barry's Draught viewing the many attractions and having a good chat with so many people. It was good to see Jez there on Saturday and to meet up with Vicky at last. Vicky and Neil were there both days demonstrating the excellent value Shark mill and a neat looking Italian basket press.

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A lot of people were very interested in both items. I was pleased to hear that their sales effort was well worthwhile.

Barry was the perfect host. From the moment I arrived he escorted me around, introducing me to his friends, craft stall holders/demonstrators and volunteer helpers. Cider making was being demonstrated with a number of presses on the go, manned by a small army of volunteers. I marvelled at the absolute neatness of the straw cheese that had been built on a huge twin screw oak beam press, but the star of the show was undoubtedly the huge steam driven Workman. This ancient machine, one of only three that were built at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, is actually a fully mechanised double pack press. The presses are at opposite ends with a huge scratter in between them. The three monsters can be powered independently from an overhead shaft, belt driven from a nearby steam engine. Each press screw mechanism and the drum of the scratter can be selected by means of lever operated dog clutches. This is an early example of the alternating press method of providing a nearly continuous process. It obviously still required a lot of hard work to keep it supplied with apples!

Barry's new press

Being shown around by the Boss, I felt like royalty, especially when privileged to be taken to see the real work of cider production still going on behind the scenes. Here Barry's son John, was busy pressing Kingston Blacks with their latest machine an American "Good Nature" press. 2045186708_4bdaa49999_m.jpg enlarge

Barry had recently arranged for this to be shipped from Ireland, having been pleased to purchase it from our ukcider friend Con. The press is one of the sideways operating 'concertina' sort of machines that press the pomace held in a series of open topped envelopes. There are two sets of envelopes on the machine which operates such that when one set is being pressed the other set can be emptied and refilled. It is a clever modern adaptation of the alternate pressing technique that appeared to work cleanly and efficiently. I noted that the spent pomace was very dry, certainly more so than that from a belt press.

Following my recent experience with the Mono pump method of feeding pomace, I was particularly interested to see this method in operation at New Forest Cider. John had engineered an excellent arrangement. A large stainless tank receives the pomace from an overhead mill. In the bottom of the tank is a powerful auger that forces the pomace into a Mono pump external to the tank. John has a hose from the Mono output. The end of this is fitted with a nozzle. All he has to do is to run the nozzle along the top of the press 'envelopes' and the press is quickly refilled. Each cycle of the press only takes 8 minutes. What a super system. I was most impressed.

Barry has this excellent event at the same time every year. It is well worth a visit. It will certainly be a 'must' for me from now on.


A sad day

Benji our black labrador, my dear friend and daily companion in this little cider business,

who tasted the blackberries for ripeness,
who chased the rabbits while I cut the orchard grass,
who sat sunning himself outside the ciderhouse door, whilst I was busy within,
who lazied beneath the Redstreak so recently, as I knelt to pick up the fallen apples,
who walked with me below apple laden boughs in Somerset while Justin loaded my trailer,

is no more.

He had to be put to sleep this morning, due to the rapid onset of a heart problem. I can't tell you how sad I am this evening.


Beauty in the Orchard

This morning I took myself to the orchard. By this I mean that it needed a conscious effort to go walking there without Benji. I knew it would be a sad thing to do, but I've had a week of almost continuous pressing and needed a little break.

The pears have had a good year so I picked some to take home. I noticed that the Dabinetts had started to fall and made a mental note to harvest them this week end. The Le Bretts were looking ripe but were still firmly attached. Perhaps they are the late variety Sweet Alford, after all.

I noted these things mechanically and without much pleasure, then something caught my eye. The south facing gable end of the barn is nearly covered by a fig tree that I planted some years ago. In spite of the poor summer it has had a bumper crop. The purpley brown figs were hanging there limp, over-ripe and mostly rotten. The large leaves had not yet started to fall. It was these, rather than the fruit that had engaged my attention. In the middle of a dozen or more of the leaves there rested in each, a Red Admiral butterfly with wings outstretched. I have never seen so many of this variety all at once and so apparently immobile. They seemed as unconcerned of my presence as if they were specimens in a glass case. I could only imagine that they were drunk from the juice of the rotting figs and were gently basking in the sun to sleep it off. What ever the reason, for the first time I was able to marvel at their colourful and furry beauty from only inches away.

This wonderful sight really lifted my spirits.


Writing a book

Occasionally, readers of ukcider who appreciate Rose's descriptive writings reply back with a suggestion that she should write a book.

"I too am a cider loving lurker and one of the very best things about this site are your splendid contributions. 
 Many thanks! Please keep it up and think seriously about Brian's suggestion of producing a 21st century Dorset
 equivalent of Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford." 

Thank you all for your kind and reassuring comments. I often write late at night when feeling tired but mellow from a glass or two of the golden liquid. In the cold light of next morning I feel worried that I got 'carried away' or strayed too far off topic and inwardly cringe at the thought of seeing the thing in the 'In box'.

I confess to being passionate about everything to do with cider, so it follows that I love writing about it. Two years ago Andy spotted that my postings were in effect a blog and wanted me to produce a more formal cidermaking diary. I felt that this was not really my style and was worried that such an undertaking could become onerous at busy times. I preferred to continue with my spontaneous occasional jottings which Andy would then have the freedom to edit for the wiki. I really only want to write if I think that I have something of interest to say and that will also help to paint a picture of the life of a craft cider maker. We rightly have many discussions concerning the merits or otherwise of this or that cider. Conceitedly perhaps, it seemed to me that some people would like to know of the joys and tribulations that go into getting that full juice golden pint on to the bar.

I really appreciate the feedback and am relieved that some of you like the jottings. However I don't see them becoming anything on a grander scale. They are feeble reflections compared with the evocative prose of an author like James Crowden. His 'Cider- the forgotten miracle' is pure joy for cider lovers. He is currently working on a new book about cidermaking that will be published next year.

Halfway Point

The halfway point has been reached. Three of the 1000 litre tanks are full and bubbling and another 500 litres is doing likewise in various smaller vessels. At this point it seemed a good idea to have a really thorough clean up in the ciderhouse and resterilise everything. The sodium met had been running low last week, which meant I had to be very sparing with it in the wash tanks. Now reinforcements have arrived from Vigo in the shape of a 25 kg bag of the stuff. (Should last for a few years!). This also prompted me to give the racks and cloths some extra attention.

It has been noticeable, since I started pumping the pomace, that the apple particles tend to stick more to the cloths. It is more difficult than ever to wash them completely free of the particles in between pressings. There is also a strange yellow dust that builds up on the racks that resists my attempts to remove it by scrubbing. I've had them outside and tried the pressure washer on them. This works but would take a month of Sundays to do every slat in all thirteen racks. No doubt I worry too much about these things. It is easy to imagine other cider makers laughing at me as they cheerfully throw their racks and cloths into heaps beside the press. I am a victim of fearfulness. Could that those little particles trapped in the equipment could go bad and taint the cider? I thrash the cloths up and down in their tub and scrub the racks in their tank. It is impossible to get them the totally free of pomace particles. Only my friend the sulphite in the wash water gives me any peace of mind.

Recently I obtained some Kentucky mops. These are the large industrial version that are squeezed by a lever operated contraption fitted to the bucket. I never thought that something so mundane could be so pleasing. They are so much more absorbent than the domestic string mop. I can mop and clean the tiled floors in next to no time after each terrible mess of cidermaking. I even had a juice flood the other day. Now that so much juice runs through the cheese before it is pressed, the 100 litre receiving tank fills up very quickly and it is all too easy to get an overflow. I cursed my stupidity for letting this happen, but the new super mop was easily able to deal with the big brown puddle that had so quickly appeared!

The new found domesticity in the ciderhouse was wearing a bit thin by mid afternoon so I decided to take a look at the orchard. It was a good job I did. The Kingstons had nearly all fallen and I was surprised to see that a carpet of Stoke Reds had also started to form. The last hours of daylight were spent on my knees, picking up the lovely Kingstons, surely the most beautiful of cider apples.

Pressing will resume tomorrow.


Apple Day

I was asked if I would do a demonstration pressing at the apple day in a local community orchard. I did this last year using my small homemade pack press. It had been much appreciated, so I agreed to go and do it all again this afternoon. When I had got things set up in the orchard people started arriving. Several brought bags of apples from their gardens, 'for the pressing'. My agreement to do the honours would appear to have been anticipated.

It was a very pleasant warm afternoon. What could be nicer than making cider in an old orchard with apples hanging all around, on a perfect autumn day? After a big pressing day on St. Em yesterday, the little 16 inch press was very light work, rather like a toy in comparison. There was plenty of time to talk to people and I found the whole thing very enjoyable. It is good that I did, because a cunning scheme has been hatched that makes it even harder for me to drop out from the event in future.


The juice that we pressed at the apple day year had been taken away by Paul, the husband of the lady who organises the event. He presented this today as 3 manucubes of cider for sale at 50 p/ half a pint. Len, a jovial ex policeman had obtained the 'events licence' and had agreed to act as barman. I loved his sales pitch. "This is the ultimate low mileage cider! It has not come far. If you drink too much of it, you wont go far either!"

Wildlife Trust

In fact there was absolutely no danger of anybody drinking too much of it. Being made of a mixture of local garden apples, it was characterised by a high percentage of Bramley juice. One box was unbearably sharp, the second a little less so, the third could be said to be drinkable in moderation. Nevertheless, aided by Len's powers of persuasion, the Apple Day 2006 cider made £80 for the Wildlife Trust that manages the orchard. Needless to say, this year's juice, also containing many cookers, has been spirited away to be turned into next year's little earner.

spreading the art

The small homemade press is rather good for this sort of event. This is chiefly because it is portable but I've also noticed that when people see the simplicity of it, they often feel inspired to have a go at doing something similar when they get home. It thus helps to spread the art of craft cider. In spite of these attributes I feel that apple day events cry out for vintage equipment rather than a shiny modern mill and a homemade press. I said as much to Clive, my good friend-in-cider from the next village. He agreed and proposed something that would be perfect for this sort of demonstration, a mobile cider press of the kind that used to be taken from farm to farm at this time of the year. There can't be many of these left now and the chance of finding one is slim. However Clive, being a handy sort of chap, has decided to build one. He is already restoring an old twin screw press that he will build on to the chassis of the mobile but what he needs now is an old scratter mill to go with it. He has tried for ages to find one as we had hoped to be able to have the mobile for this year. A week ago he even drove to an auction in Herefordshire, only to find that the mill advertised for sale was of the ancient, large stone, circular trough, horse operated type!

Old Scratter Wanted

If anyone reading this has an old iron or wooden scratter, in any condition, that they wish to sell, please contact me by direct email and I will pass your details to Clive. He does not mind where you are located. To have scratter..... will travel!


Apple day at the college

The home made rack and cloth press was called for again. This time it was to do a repeat performance at the Apple Day event at Kingston Maurward, our local agricultural college near Dorchester. I did not want to waste my time pressing any old apples that they might come my way, so I bagged up some Dabinetts from my own orchard to take with me. It is nice to demonstrate the process using real cider apples and I have to admit to being rather proud of my Dabs this year. They are big and beautiful, highly colourful and are the best I have grown yet.

Popular Misconception

I had two tables on one side of a small marquee. On one I had a bin for washing the apples and the press was on the other. The mill stood in between. Several people on seeing the apples in the bin seemed surprised that they were actually cider apples. Apparently they looked too good for the job! There seems to be a popular misconception that cider apples are small, hard, green and grotty. Some thought that the Dabinetts looked tasty enough to eat. I sliced one for sampling. You can imagine their wry faces as that tannin hit the taste buds. It was all good fun and the afternoon was punctuated with lots of questions, some just as silly as usual. The most pleasing aspect was being able to advise a few people who were themselves making a bit of cider at home, for the first time. It is becoming a popular thing to do! I also referred them to ukcider and Andrew's website in particular.

Home made cider press

On the other side of the marquee, fellow cider maker Ashley demonstrated his home made press. It looked very well made, a little barrel press with gleaming stainless bands to retain the staves. This caught the imagination of several handymen and I could hear Ashley giving them the low down on how the press was put together and how he obtained the 'hard to get' parts, like the pressing screw. He said he had made a small quantity of cider for home consumption every autumn for the last seven years using this press. He spoke enthusiastically about it and on cider making in general. I enjoyed listening to him while I worked at building my little Dabinett cheeses, just across the way. Ashley is a good presenter, being also a part time lecturer at the College.

apple identification

Another nice thing about Apple Day is meeting up with so many friends. It was good to see Colin, who does the salutation to the tree and sings Linden Lea at our wassail. I was able to show him my super Dabs as proof that his wassailing worked! Nigel from Bridge Farm Cider had his popular cider bar there again, so I was well refreshed in between pressings. It was also great to see Liz Copas whom we were fortunate to have at the event as one of the apple identification experts. Jim the other expert had come from RHS Wisley, so people who had brought their mystery apples along were very well served this year. I am always amazed at how the experts can put a name to all the various culinary and dessert apples. However it is unusual at these events to have an expert that can also identity cider apples.

Charlie, the landlord from the Square & Compass, now also a keen cidermaker himself, appeared with a box full of various apples for identification. We spoke for a while about cidermaking and he told me of his difficulty in obtaining cider apples. It is hard to find apples of any sort growing in Purbeck. His box of samples represented the many hopefuls that he had gleaned from the more fertile parts of our county. Some of these did look particularly promising being striped and jersey shaped. One had a distinct Sheep's Nose look. I hoped he had had some lucky finds, so could not resist following him into the identification room. Rather mischievously I wanted to see the look on Liz's face when the box was presented. Ever the professional, she seemed nonplussed. I had deserted my post so could not stay long, but as I left I heard her say. " Well we can look at three of them at a time".

Square & Compass ciderhouse

Charlie had told me the good news that he had received planning consent for the ciderhouse he wants to build at the back of the pub. (You may remember the posting about his proposal a few months ago on ukcider). He will be able to have a direct pipeline to the bar! Joking apart, this is a wonderful project which allied to this famous old pub, will become the flagship of craft cider in Dorset. It is somewhat timely as well, the farmer who lets Charlie use part of his barn for cidermaking has said that he needs to have the space back again.

Don't forget it is the Square & Compass cider festival next Saturday. Charlie is doing another demonstration pressing in front of the pub. It is well worth coming to see his unique home made press that uses two battery powered agricultural hydraulic rams. ( Yes, they do keep in step with each other). Then of course, there's all those ciders to sample!

I will be interested hear what luck he had with those apples.


PS. To yesterday's demonstration pressing:

The Dabinett juice came out at 1066! From what I remember it is just as good as last year. Con's hunch about the mid season gravities has proved correct. So has the blackberry test. Benji's excitement when sniffing their sweetness was a most reliable indicator!

My worry concerning gravity is that I need to hit an average around the 1050 mark. I've got a big stack of B-in-Bs printed up with '6.5% alc' on them! A considerable amount of juice pressed in the early part of the season came between 1040 and 1045. Tomorrow I'm getting a trailer load of Dabinett etc from sunniest Somerset ( I hope! ) that could just do the trick.

What is the point of Nehou?

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( Nehous in Oliver's orchard )

As the the Tremlett pressings were near completion, at last the yellow of the Nehous began to show through the Tremlett red in the trailer. I was soon to realise that we had done a silly thing by loading the Nehous first. Under the weight of the Tremletts, the Nehous being such a soft apple had compacted into what seemed like a solid mass. They could not be persuaded to roll out, even with the trailer pumped up to full tilt. By the time I had shovelled them into the wash tank and sorted out the numerous bad ones, I had developed a great dislike of the Nehou cider apple. Why would anyone have loved the nasty Nehou so much as to plant the 286 that are in Oliver's orchard? It seemed a mystery. Perhaps I would have more of an idea about this when I would be able to taste the juice. There was nothing about this squashy yellow apple in any of my books.

After the difficulty of washing and sorting, the Nehous were most obliging to process. They just fell through the mill, pourred into the Mono hopper and slopped out of the pipe above the press like a brown soup. The cheese was built of layers of slush and the juice ran in torrents from the cloths before the pressing even began. Nehou is very soft variety of apple indeed!

I tasted and tested the juice at the first opportunity. It was bland but sweet with no noticeable tannin. The pH paper confirmed the low acidity, showing pH 4. Nehou is obviously a pure sweet. The SG was 1050. Although this is my highest SG so far this year, the juice had actually tasted sweeter than this reading suggested, due to its low acid level.

So, what is the point of Nehou? Its characteristics are very similar to Morgan Sweet, so would it make an early maturing single variety cider? I don't think so. With such a high pH it would be asking for trouble to attempt it. Ni must have done the right thing by blending it with Perthyre, presumably a sharp apple with some tannin.

The Tremlett juice is still in a separate tank so I could do a little blending experiment using some of each variety, at the demijohn level. I wonder if such an experiment may even solve the mystery of Oliver's orchard. The 286 Nehou trees are accompanied by 235 of Tremlett's Bitter. Was the planter trying to achieve a balanced early maturing cider? I'm going to have to make a little, to try and find out.


Redstreak photo

Perhaps I was being unfair to Nehou. Certainly I agree that the rapid browning must indicate the presence of tannin though browning is also hastened by lack of acid. It must contain a tannin of great subtlety. All I could taste was the sweetness of the juice.

Today I experimented with blending in some Tremlett's Bitter and found that adding 30% of this to 70 % Nehou produced a more alive and exciting flavour. The Sg held at 1050 but the pH became a very satisfactory 3.6. It will be interesting to see how it turns out. I like to have a few little sideline experimental ciders going alongside the main blend. These are small quantities of about 100 litres which I later bottle, just for the fun of it. Last year I was rather pleased with a Brown Thorn and Dabinett blend.

Yesterday I harvested my own Somerset Redstreaks. It is the best crop I've had since planting the first tree of this variety in 1992. The apples were 2 inches or more in diameter. In past years they have been about 1 - 1.5 ins. They were totally unblemished and in many cases their usual orange stripeyness had become a deep red full flush. The original tree looked so beautiful with this attractive and heavy crop, that it seemed a shame to pick the apples. The branches were nearly touching the ground with the weight of the fruit giving the tree a weeping willow like appearance.

A few weeks ago a man from a photo news agency rang me, saying that he had heard that there would be a bumper crop of apples this year and could he come and take some pictures of some well laden trees. I told him about my weeping willow Redstreak. "Perfect" he said, then appeared some hours later carrying the largest and most expensive looking camera I have ever seen. After he had taken about 30 pictures of the Redstreaks from every angle imaginable, we were just about to leave the orchard when he noticed something else. A small tree that was so covered with little red apples that hardly any of its leaves were visible, had stopped him in his tracks. " That is only a crab apple", I said and went on to explain that I'd planted a Malus Profusion to pollinate the early cider varieties. He was fascinated by it and could not resist taking a picture. Next day in the Daily Express there appeared a picture of lots and lots of little red crabs, hanging like grapes and purporting to be the record crop of Redstreak cider apples in Rose Grant's orchard in Dorset!

I did not know whether to laugh or cry, but just hoped that nobody who knew cider apples had happened to see it!


Mid season

It's that glorious time again! The harvest of the mid season Jerseys. These apples become available during the next few weeks and I consider it to be the most important time of the pressing season. It is surely these varieties, such as Dabinett and Yarlington Mill, that do most to impart the full bodied flavour and fine aroma that characterise a well made cider. Their tannin is the essence of west country cider.

I like to pause and take stock of my blend at this time. There has been the annual mad rush to turn early apples into juice before they rot on the ground. As usual these were mostly sharps. To begin with, the blend hovered around pH 3, becoming 3.4 as more early bittersweets were introduced. The net result is that I now have a usefully acidic base of 5000 litres. I've been tasting every tank regularly as well as checking the pH. Tasting is really only to put my mind at rest. The lively fizziness and appley flavour allays my fears of disaster and does much to inspire hope of a good outcome! Now I still need to find those flavourful and low acid bittersweets to add character and nudge the pH towards 3.6.

Venetia's Orchard

This week I've had a break from the hard slog of a 'bought in' trailer load. There has been time to finish picking my own apples and also to visit my friend Venetia's orchard. This is a mixed orchard that as well as eaters, cookers and plums contains two splendid rows of full standard cider apples. The trees were planted in the 60s and Venetia and her husband used to make cider until sadly he passed away in 2000. She is pleased that I can make use of the apples as she hates to see them go to waste.

The trees are planted in pairs of each variety. On entering the orchard the immediate impression is that of 'text book' perfection. Old Fred, Venetia's gardener keeps the grass looking like a lawn. In one corner is his pride and joy, the kitchen garden, a deep brown plot with neat rows of leeks and cabbages. This too is surrounded by the same well mown grass that makes the fine carpet below the fruit trees. It is a joy to be able to collect the apples from such a well kept and peaceful place.

The first two pairs of cider trees are the heavenly twins themselves, Yarlington and Dabinett. Their position at the end of the two cider rows, perhaps showing their importance in the mind of the planter. It amuses me to think that the apples could be positioned in order of their rank, for at the far end, bowed under the weight of their mediocre fruit, is the pair of humble Michelins. The Yarlies and Dabs are my first priority but here there is an unfortunate snag. Both pairs are biennial, but luckily not together. They take it in turn to have a rest. Last year the Yarlingtons had a fantastic crop and the Dabinett trees produced only three or four huge token apples between them. This year the opposite has happened and the Dabinetts are dripping with apples. It was only possible to cope with their windfalls this week.

little black apples

I spent a whole afternoon on my knees below the Dabinetts working steadily until it became too dark to distinguish the apples in the grass. I looked up and realised that I could still see their little dark shapes hanging against the orange glow of the sky. My back was aching, I stood up to pick them from the lower boughs. This brought blessed relief to my back and I went on filling the box with a new found joy. The more I picked, the more the branches lifted with relief until those little black apples became out of my reach. It was as though the tree was playing hard to get. In the increasing gloom it was easy to imagine it saying 'Enough is enough Rose. Go home and have your tea'. I found myself replying 'Alright Mr Dabs, I've done you a favour, Now you must do me one. Hold on to all those lovelies, you've got sunning themselves upstairs, until next month when I'll be ready to do some keeving.