Thursday, 5 December 2013

Late autumn, early winter...

First week of December. It has been mild so far, just a couple of light frosts. This picture shows one of the last cider apples, a Le Bret, hanging on.

Le Bret is a funny apple. We did not plant it on purpose, it was mispropagated as Sweet Alford in a West Country nursery some time ago (according to Liz Copas) and as the 2 fruits are quite similar in appearance and quality, by the time the error was noticed it had been widely planted. In fact, the 8 we have in our orchard were propagated from one we bought from Scott's nurseries of Merriot (now so sadly gone), which we no longer have.

Its a sweet apple, very annual and usually heavy cropper, forming great ropes of fruit. Insipid to bite into, making a nondescript although palatable single variety cider. It was a large component of perhaps the nicest cider I ever made about 10 years ago. I have made 10 gallons with about 40% Le Bret and wild yeast, will see how this does.

We are doing 2 Farmers Markets this weekend, Fareham and Winchester. This will be our last Winchester, we are pulling out of this market for 2014 although will go to the Cathedral markets. More on this later, mainly due to too much to do and wanting to have our Sundays back.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

picking the Sturmer Pippin apples

Picked a quarter ton of ripe Sturmer Pippins today, 24th October. It might have been OK to leave them on another week, they are about the last apple we pick, but they were parting from the tree with little difficulty and as this is the last opportunity I have to pick for 5 days and strong winds are forecast, I got on with it.

They have coloured up very well this year and there is very little fungal disease, doubtless due to the exceptionally warm dry summer.

They are a very sharp, firm variety and are at their best from December to February, possibly lasting as long as May in ideal conditions. Store apples cool and well aerated but not too dry, and check them weekly for rots. The variety originated in the village of Sturmer in Suffolk and was first noted in 1827. According to Rosie Sanders 'The Apple Book ' (highly recommended) the parents are believed to be Ribston Pippin and Nonpareil. I am prepared to believe this as the fruit has several similarities to Ribston Pippin which we also grow. I remember seeing Tasmanian grown Sturmers in the shops in May-it is a durable apple.

This heritage apple is a strong recommend as a late keeper, especially in areas of lower rainfall. It does not ripen as well as this every year. It also has a tendency to scab and often requires fruit thinning in early summer to avoid excessive numbers of small fruits. There are better looking and better flavoured apples, but few that store as well through the winter.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Pressing the 2013 cider

I will try to update this blog more often in the future, although my main activity relating to the orchard will continue to be YouTube.

Yesterday, 19th October, I pressed 13 gallons of juice for a friend who usually has some, although I couldn't supply any last year due to the appalling harvest and my leg injury. Thankfully I am pretty nearly fully recovered from that.

Everyone keeps saying 'Its a bumper year for apples'. I'm not so sure, but it is certainly much better than last year, which I refer to as 'The long winter of 2011-2013'. The cider I made last year was disappointing but I had some yesterday and it seems to have matured to something quite nice in the 1 litre glass bottles with half a teaspoon of white sugar added to give some secondary fermentation. A bit of fizz definitely helps with dull cider. Last year's fruit just did not receive enough sunshine to achieve really good flavours or sugar levels.

This year I have been expecting some real vintage cider due to the summer sun. I pressed 25 gallons 2 weeks ago, adding just under 1 Campden tablet per gallon and some wine yeast. I know this is not completely authentic but I have lost more than one batch of cider to spoilage organisms before now and I don't want that to ever happen again. It was a mix of about 40% cider apples, largely Tremlett's Bitter, and apples like Sunset and Lord Lambourne which had gone very slightly soft. More on my bugbear issue of 'crunchy' apples later. A gravity of about 1059 was achieved and fermentation is ongoing.

Yesterday after pressing the client's order I pressed a box each of Kingston Black (about 16 kg, the whole crop from 15 trees. KB is a great fruit but a pathetic cropper) and Yarlington Mill. My friend Mike Gurman (check out his Atomic Shrimp videos) helped me and noticed how hard it was to mill these apples as they make such a stiff paste. The Kidd's Orange Reds we pressed earlier went through about 4 times as fast. The 4 gallons of juice came in at 1072, a very high gravity indeed.

I added some fizzing cider from the earlier batch but no sulphite as hoping for a very quick fermentation. The sulphite kills bacteria that can spoil the cider, very necessary if you are using fruit that has been lying on the orchard floor for a week or so but all the fruit we pressed was hand picked. Clean fruit and a rapid start to fermentation should obviate the need for sulphite.

Our next Farmer's Market is next Sunday at Winchester. We will have Orleans Reinette, Spartan, red Pippin, Egremont Russet, Suntan and maybe one or 2 odds and ends. We used to take unpasteurised apple juice to these markets but someone complained they had a loose bowel action 'gave me the shits' as she delicately put it) after drinking our juice. Also a Food Hygiene Police busybody presented us with a huge wad of requirements so we stopped it. Too bad for the many people who liked our '100% flavour in' fresh pressed raw juice, but there you go. I can't spend £10,000 complying with food hygiene regulations to sell £300 or £400 worth of fresh juice per annum.

Hill Farm Orchards make a perfectly acceptable range of pasteurised bottled apple juice which I recommend. I have pasteurised apple juice before now, I may do again this autumn and it can be a good product, but to me always tastes of stewed apple rather than fresh pressed juice.

Enjoy the autumn.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Late summer 2013 update

Hi everyone. As you may have noticed, I've not been around here much. Those of you who watch my YouTube channel will know I had a bad leg injury last year which led to our cancelling the Apple Day. I was a lot more mobile by Christmas but we had to cancel the Wassail due to the rain. This year I have been very busy teaching dermatology, my main professional occupation, and we never organised an Apple Day event.

Been a funny year, again. The late cold spring means plums and pears lost out again, we will have a few, and the apples are all about 3 weeks late and small due to the severe drought in July. Our light sandy soil does not retain moisture well and we cannot afford to irrigate.

I have just updated the list of our sales for this year at, mainly its Fareham and Winchester Farmer's Markets and the Winchester Cathedral harvest event on the weekend of 5/6 October. Oh and the Netley autumn festival on Saturday 12th October. That's it.

Hope to see some of you there.