What do you do if you own a Carp Fishery, there are no anglers on the lake, and the weather is the worst you have seen for years ??
Sort of easy decision really, what else would I do ?
I have planned to start my cider making for the last couple of years but I have never got the idea off-the-ground other than buying the kit that I need.
Last year I had no fruit due to some exceptionally cold weather during the Spring which killed all the blossom before it could be pollinated.
The year before I did my back in and I couldn’t move a muscle for a couple of months.
But this year I had no excuse and decided that the time was right to give it a go !!
I spent weeks tasting the apples on my trees trying to decide when they would be ripe, and which ones were sweet and which were sour, etc. I have never eaten so many apples, but I had made copious notes about each tree for future use, and I have given them numbers for easy reference.
What I soon appreciated, and was very happy about, was they were not all going to ripen at the same time. God knows what I was going to do with them all if they did.
Tree number 1. Day 1 was spent in just one tree which unfortunately I had to share with hundreds of Hornets which were equally intent on getting their share of the apples. I must confess that I was petrified, I had a vision of me being up my ladder when squadrons of these things decided it was time to take their revenge, and, I would be easy prey to some of them which I swear were as big as sparrows. Well, almost!
I put my big baggy overalls on and some very thick gloves, just to afford me some protection. Four hours later the job was done, and I hadn’t been bothered by a single hornet, if the truth be told they had zero interest in me, all they wanted to do was eat apples.
This was my first batch :
Six crates of juicy apples. How much cider this was going to produce I had no idea but by now I was like a kid in a sweetie shop and I couldn’t wait to find out.
At the start of this exercise an old army anagram popped in to mind : PPPPPP
And of course, as usual, I had already applied it : Planning and Preparation, Prevents, Piss, Poor, Performance.
Being true to that principle I had researched how to make hard cider until I was blue in the face. If there is a YouTube video on this subject I have watched it. I was ready to go, the only question now was : would it work ?
First job is wash them, even birds have to do it somewhere :
Next comes the laborious bit, I know a lot of people do not bother with this but I wanted to be as exact as I could, if I made a batch which went wrong I needed to know that I had followed best practise, so every apple had to be cut in half and the core inspected for maggots before being transferred to the the crusher :
Once crushed they then went in to the press :
Now that press might look little but I assure you, physically, it was bloody hard work, it is a 28 litre press, and every full press of apples produced around 2.5 litres of pure apple juice. Absolutely gorgeous stuff, I am lucky that any of it made it past this stage, I have never licked my fingers so many times before.
Each basket of apples produced around 2 presses, meaning each of my 6 baskets produced around 5 litres of juice, giving me a total of 30 litres for two afternoon’s work.
One afternoon picking them, and one afternoon extracting the juice.
30 litres ! In old money that is 60 pints of cider for 2 afternoons graft.
Fair exchange thinks I.
Those simple maths have proven consistent throughout all of my apples, regardless of type and mix of trees, the first 6 crates actually produced 67 pints.
Armed with all of that knowledge I became much more selective about which apples I took from each tree, obviously concentrating on the cleaner bigger fruit. If I was going to take every apple I would have to buy more equipment and importantly more bottles.
After my concentrated effort this week I now have a micro-brewery on the go :
As I write this I have 40 litres bottled and another 60 litres at various stages of fermentation. I have even started to add different sugars to tweak the taste, so at the moment it is all an experiment in the making.
What I have found fascinating is that the initial test of the pure apple juice has shown a potential alcohol content of around 9 percent so I have been watering it down to reduce it to about 6%.
I intend to leave it to mature to Christmas when I intend to have a taste test of each batch to see if it was all worth the effort. Well someone has to !!
There is only one aspect of this that I thought might present a problem and that is the by-product, crushed dried-out apple. :
Initially I thought that I would just have to waste it up in the woods as a manure, but then I thought about it and decided to see if the deer would eat it, after all they are always eating the apples as a result of the wind-fall.
I put the first few barrows on the edge of the tree line opposite the house, just beyond the pond. I wanted to be able to see what came to the feast.
To my surprise everything did, including the deer. Then one of our neighbours took a load and fed it to her chickens and a goat. So, what about giving it to our horses ?
Needless to say, they love it, so Helen took a load to feed to them and we have even put a load in the freezer to save for a rainy day.
So what I perceived as a potential problem has turned out to be an amazing opportunity for the wild-life.
All I can say now is “Roll on Xmas”. If all tastes as good as I hope it does then you will be able to hear me singing carols this year, and I will be increasing my bottle order for next season.
If it doesn’t then there will be some cider making kit going on e-bay.
I will let you know the end result.
There are no anglers on the lake again this week so next weekend I will give you an update on the new Drive & Survive shower block.
Meanwhile keep your heads down and stay safe.