RG 2008 July
| This page is part of The Cidermaking Year by Rose Grant
July , 2008
Slack Ma Girdle
I've recently planted a Slack Ma Girdle, mainly to preserve an old Dorset variety. Maybe in about 5 years time I will be able to make a demijohn or two. Until then I can only guess what it is like as cider. From what I've heard it is rather sharp, almost Bramley like.
Cider or Cyder?
Cider / cyder, Really? Aren't you all forgetting that it's Zider down here? Zoidurr is certainly not 'homophonic'. ( Larrnt that posh wurrd from Andrew!) Of much greater interest to me was Andrew's explanation concerning the filtration of cider. I bought a plate filter this year and was disappointed by the way that it removes the 'body' as well as the bits. I considered that it spoilt the flavour, doing more harm than good to my draught and therefore stopped using it. Perhaps it will come into its own with bottled product. I do wonder though, that by the time 100 litres has been pumped through the filter it will be blinded and throughput reduced to a trickle. I will have to experiment with this next year On the plus side, the pump that came with the filter has been useful for speeding up the bag in box filling.
I've been a busy bee over the last month or so. Cider sales have been good, though hectic due to the need to ensure that all customers were topped up both before and immediately after our holiday in Italy. Things now seem to be simmering down to a steady level. All of my bottled cider has gone to good homes. I'm just left with one 1000 litre IBC of draught in the tank room with about another 1000 litres in the variable capacity vats, ready for packaging in the press room. It should be possible, like last year, to have all the tanks empty when pressing time comes around again.
I am beginning to see the downturn in the pub trade due to the woefull economic situation. Things are noticeably slower than last year and I've had to find a few more pubs to keep my rate of sales on track. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that my cider is also now 'under the counter' in four pubs that are tied houses! I read in a financial paper yesterday that the tied pubs are having a very hard time. Increased costs and reduced sales could reduce their average profit to 20% or less, of the current level. This seems hard to believe, but the writer was also of the opinion that large pub companies such as Enterprise and Punch will be obliged to subsidise their tenants to keep them in business! I was also interested to note that a cross party committee at Westminster is looking at whether these huge pub companies are wielding too much power with their tied sales policies. I would just love to see something done about this wretched and monopolistic way of doing business! More choice would allow landlords be more enterprising and be good news for small scale craft beer and cider producers.
A new consignment of 3 pallets of bag in boxes has just been received. It took me a day to take these apart and hoist the many bundles of cardboard up into the loft of the ciderhouse. The cheapo Chinese electric winch from Screwfix was a champion for this task. I must also say how pleased I've been with Jigsaw Ltd in Somerset, the firm that supplied these B-in B s and was recommended to me by Ray Blockley. They pulled out all the stops to meet their scheduled delivery. Simon Vine the MD is most helpful and speedily replies to all queries that arise. Most importantly his prices are reasonable compared with all else available in the market place, especially for modest volumes such as mine. His larger volume customers include Hecks and Westons. Interestingly he is seeing an increasing demand from micro breweries and tells me that for this application he now has a bag that allows gas at excessive pressure to escape. Clever! See http://www.baginboxonline.co.uk or ring Simon 01278 722136.
This week I was away for a few days in Norfolk, on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. I had not been there for many years and remembered that, not unexpectedly, the meals in the pilgrim hostel were rather frugal. I thought it would be a good idea to take a box of my cider to bring a little cheer to my fellow pilgrims during the evening meals. On arrival, I soon realised that I'd made a big mistake. Everything had been greatly improved since my last visit. The food from the new and efficiently staffed stainless servery, was now very much better and there was even a little bar in the refectory where drinks to accompany the meal could be purchased. Alcoholic drinks from elsewhere were not allowed. Not wishing to make myself unpopular and at the same time not relishing the thought of having to take the heavy box all the way back to Dorset, I went out and sold it to a local pub. The landlord was both surprised and pleased to get some Real West Country cider and said he would like to order some more for his festival later this year. What an unexpected sales opportunity! (Heaven sent perhaps).
I had been hoping to find a pub in Walsingham that sold the Whin Hill cider from nearby Wells-on-Sea, that has been praised several times by our group members. This proved to be impossible. The closest to anything local in the pubs was Aspalls from Suffolk. However I was pleased to find the 'Whin Hill Pure Norfolk Cider' in bottles in the village farm shop. I bought a bottle of each sort to taste surreptitiously in my room at the hostel and found it on the sharp side yet wickedly smooth and flavourful! Definitely East Anglian in character, it is a fine example of how refreshingly clean, appley and delightful this type of cider can be. It was quite an education for a tannin junkie! I gave my vote to the medium-dry and returned to the shop next day to buy 6 more to take home.
It should be possible now to get going on my summer re-engineering and servicing of the cider making equipment. As usual there are a few things I would like to try, to improve the process flow. A good friend has promised to help with the pressing this year but I know that the whole set up must allow for the times when it will still be a one woman operation.
I have now exhausted the supply of the Real Cider stickers that were cleverly designed by Jez, then beautifully printed for us by Dick. The stickers have been admired by all who have seen them. Those that I have personally delivered have been received with enthusiasm by the landlords. Although I've been as sparing as possible with the use of Dick's consignment amongst my pub customers, it has only been possible to send out one or two stickers, to each of our group members who have asked for them. I would like to be able to send out more.
Jez intended to send me some that he had printed. For whatever reason, these never arrived. I have since tried to contact him by email without success. We need to consider where we are going with this project. Having made such a good start it would be a shame were it to fizzle out now. Is there someone else in the Group, perhaps with professional computing/printing skills who could run off some more? I'd do it myself if I could, but I'm so far behind with this sort of thing that I'm still making my labels on a Dymo machine! However I'm still happy to go on posting the stickers to whoever asks for them and to carry on looking for worthy recipients in this part of England.
On the ukcider wiki we are fortunate to have Jez's latest high definition download of the sticker design. It should be a simple matter to generate a printed card using this, by means of a standard ink jet printer. This is acceptable for short term indoor applications. It is how I do my own pub cards which I laminate, then simply replace each year, in order to overcome the fading problem. When it comes to the stickers though, it is a different matter. As they are usually stuck to the outside of a pub door, they need to be able to withstand the weather and direct sunlight. This calls for laser printing, which I believe is how Dick produced the original batch. Certainly Dick's stickers have already proved themselves for durability. I stuck two of his first samples to a window that gets full sunlight and the printing has not faded at all.
I do hope that someone with skill who has access to a laser printer will volunteer to produce some more. It is a cause most dear to us and to all who appreciate full juice cider.
Top real Cider Pub
Charlie Newman, landlord of the Square and Compass at Worth Matravers was pleased to have one of our stickers. He deserves one even more than most! Not only has the Square been awarded "Wessex Cider Pub of the year", but the ciders on offer there have now progressed to an almost all 'full juice' line up. It is the watering hole of choice dear cidernauts, if you happen to be in Dorset.
There are now five of Charlie's own ciders available made entirely from local apples that he has gathered from orchards all over the county. ( see ukcider wiki pub guide ). Against these formidable odds my own Cider by Rosie is still hanging on in there. You might just notice it on the chalkboard along with list of excellent ciders and perry from Hecks . I enjoyed a single variety from Hecks at the Square recently, called 'Port Wine' ( better known as Harry Masters Jersey ). It had a truly remarkable flavour and is a firm favourite of Kevin, the bar manager. Kevin is a connoisseur of cider and perry and I have great respect for his judgement. He hails from the rival 3 Counties region and so has an appreciation of the full range of craft cider from up there to down here. At the start of the season I'm always in some trepidation as to Kevin's judgement of my own!
Kevin has no factory ciders on sale except for Westons. This is understandable of course due to the popularity of their product range. Their cider is by far the best of any from the larger manufacturers, in my opinion. Weston's perry and their Organic sell well at the Square. I still enjoy a glass of the Organic now and again. It is a bit over sweetened but has a very fine tannic flavour, though I suspect chaptalisation features in its pedigree.
On my last visit Charlie was full of enthusiasm as he showed me the progress that had been made to the ciderhouse that he is having built in the garden at the rear of the pub. It is 11 m x 5 m, about the same size as my own. The block walls have now reached half way and the intention is to complete them in timber with an overlap board exterior. The building cleverly takes advantage of the sloping nature of the ground. It has been arranged that the building is dug into the slope. This means that at one end the external ground level is 4 ft above the floor within the barn. The ground outside this end has been concreted over to form an apple washing yard. Charlie intends to position the mill at this sunken end of the barn so that the newly washed apples from the yard outside can be rolled straight through a small window and into the mill's hopper. It is going to be a great little set up. As well as being a working ciderhouse supplying cider to the pub, it will be part museum with antique cider machinery on display. The whole spectacle should prove to be a great attraction to customers using the pub garden in which it is situated. I'm greatly looking forward to seeing it finished with pressing in progress!
A further pleasure during my visit was being enjoined by Charlie to try his full range of ciders. Necessarily, since I had to drive, this was in the nature of a mini wine tasting, a sample of each blend was sipped from a wine glass. I rather like tasting ciders this way. Perhaps it is my imagination but I get a better feel for the overall quality of appearance, flavour and especially the 'nose'. Charlie's ciders all have a nice 'fresh apple' nose are very cleanly made without the slightest hint of any off flavour and have enviable clarity. My only reservation, purely a personal thing, is that I felt they could do with more tannin. Roy would love them all, as they are almost East Anglian. Charlie hinted that he would be looking for more of the Dabs and Yarlies this year, perhaps feeling he'd like to move the flavour Westwards a little.
We gatherers of apples often have a favourite tree. For me it is the Ashmeads Kernel in the corner of my orchard. It is the one that we wassail every January. A fine looking and healthful tree, it always bears a heavy crop of beautiful fruit that are tasty eaters and provide useful juice for blending into my cider. I usually make some of it as a single variety for friends who enjoy its crisp acidity coupled with good flavour and strength. (Being a late apple, it often exceeds 7.5 % abv). I therefore listened with much empathy as Charlie described a wonderful tree that he has found (location secret, wouldn't dare to ask!). It is of unknown variety but bears lots of beautiful apples that are good to eat. He was so taken with the splendour of this tree and its excellent fruit that he turned its juice into a single variety cider. The cider is appropriately named 'Charlie's Tree' and it has been lovingly matured in a French oak cask. He is justifiably proud of the result and insisted that I took home a bottle of it to enjoy when I did not have to drive anywhere.
Charlie's Tree came into its own for me this weekend! The lovely hot weather has been perfect for taking lunch in my garden. I have greatly enjoyed Charlie's Tree as an accompaniment to tasty bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. Bliss in the sunshine!
I bet it went down well with those pasties at the Square this weekend.
Top Worked Trees
You may recall that I top worked four 15 year old trees in March, two pears and two apples. I put lots of scions into the sawn off stubs and was pleased to see that every one of them had taken. That was back in May. In June disaster struck. On all of the grafted trees the fresh new scion growth had become infested with aphids. The leaves had curled up and looked very sickly. I took my small garden sprayer to the orchard on the next visit and sprayed all of the scions with insecticide. This probably saved the venture from becoming a write off. I also rubbed out the many unwanted new growth shoots of the original variety that had appeared on the trunk, in order to encourage as much sap as possible to go to the scions.
I've been cutting the grass in the orchard today. Being up on the tractor, I could get a good view of the grafts. It was sad to see that in spite of my efforts most of the scions had now died. However the few that are still alive have been growing with amazing vigour. It should be possible with careful pruning to use these as a basis for trees of the new varieties. As with all things in an orchard, patience has to be be exercised. Nothing is straightforward. Nevertheless one day I will have some perry pears and the remarkable Cherry Norman cider apple, thanks to Ny's little parcels so kindly sent from Herefordshire. There will also be another of my favourite Porter's Perfections. Porters is a good grower here and its scion wood seems to be especially keen to sprout skywards.
There is a lesson to be learnt from my experience. When top working it pays to add as many scions as you can, to allow for failures. I put in 4 or 5 on each of the sawn off stubs. I'm so glad that I did.
I half expected that writing about the joys and woes of grafting would generate a few postings. Grafting is such a fascinating phenomenon that I always find exciting. There is the suspense of waiting some weeks in the hope that it will happen, followed by the joy of seeing the scion buds starting to unfurl, with the realisation that it actually has! Then comes the amazing part as the cambia of stock and scion can be seen to have fused and to begin to swell with united growth. Finally the joint becomes as solid and strong as the lead wiped solder joints once made by skillful plumbers. I find it truly amazing and love to find an excuse to see if I can get it to happen yet again!
It was good to hear that Andrew has also been enjoying success with his top working. It is interesting that his experience mirrored mine. A strong take up with the Ashmeads and a lesser one with the Hagloe is akin to my good result with Porters and a much lesser one with the Cherry Norman. Ashmeads and Porters are both vigorous growers and make pencil thick scion wood whereas the Cherry Norman like the Hagloe has thinner scion wood. It seems to be more of an art getting the wispy branched trees to graft successfully.
Michael, I'm sorry to say that this theory fell down with the Strawberry Norman. The scions you kindly gave me at Putley in May were lovely and plump, fit to burst into life. I did them as soon as I got home, doing both top working and basic rootstock grafts for extra insurance. Sadly none of these took. I fear it was just too late in the season, but thank you for letting me try. I have had success with grafts in May but I've found that early March is really the best time to do it.
Phill, I'm impressed with your organic aphid control methods. I often see ladybirds on my trees but there cannot be enough of them about. The problem is that there is no telling where they will decide to fly to. I've never seen their larvae. Presumably at the larval stage they are crawling insects and are more likely to stay where they are put. It would be good to be able to put some on to a top worked tree. An excellent idea, as is the use of grease to deter the ants. Ladybirds have a voracious appetite for aphids. I thought I would be clever once and collected a matchbox full to let loose in the greenhouse where there was an infestation of white fly. It did not work. The ladybirds soon disappeared. I imagine they all flew off and out through the roof vent. They weren't going to be told what to do!
Probably the thrill of grafting owes much to it being rather hit and miss. As the years go by I've developed almost parental feelings towards trees that I grafted myself and have watched and shaped to fruit bearing maturity. This morning I noted with pleasure that two Kingston Blacks I grafted about 10 years ago are both bearing a nice little crop this year. Oh, the pride of parenthood! Their true mother however, stands close by, glowing with the pride of her own reddening crop.