Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Once in a lifetime decisions.

Half Moon at Harvest Time
As we have now cleared a lot of the scrub in Half Moon orchard, we have come to the time when we have enough space to plant new trees to restock the areas that have been dormant. If you get the blend of apples wrong you are going to have to live with it for the rest of your life! Over the years we have looked at the old trees and wondered what was in people's minds that made them plant particular varieties all those years ago. It's somebodys finger print on the land. Originally it seems there were more cider apples but in time they put in more dual purpose such as Arthur Turner and Golden Noble. It wasn't always the right decision as many of the trees were later grafted and have two if not three different types of apple on the same tree.
Grafted Tree.

The orchard was always famous with small boys who now as grown men, tell us how good it was to scrump for Morgan Sweet on our hill and so we will certainly plant more of these. It makes sense as the orchard is south facing and very warm and so works for early ripening trees. Beyond that, the only thing to do is to imagine the blend that you would ideally want to drink. This is not as easy as it sounds as our tastes have changed over time. When we moved away to London we found that we were drinking much lighter cider as we just couldn't get the real thing. Now that we're back in the South West we're back into the swing of real flavourful ciders.

Traditionally orchards are a third each bittersweet, bittersharps and sweets. I'm currently thinking ( and drinking) a lot of Redstreak and so this has to be there in the new plantings. We'll take cuttings from some of the old Morgan Sweets and Reverend Wilks and graft these onto new trees. There will also have to be some tannin so I'm currently thinking of a few Tremlett or Dabinett for balance. The temptation is to plant things like Slack ma Girdle, Golden Knob and Sops in Wine  for comedy value.
If anybody out there has experience in the planting process then we'd love to hear from them.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

A Somerset Revolution.

The State is finally achieving something it has wanted to do for more than 250 years- taxation of the small farm cider maker. Why does this matter? No tax on the first 7000 litres produced has allowed small makers to get going making a 100% natural product. It was supposed to balance the higher production costs of real cider as opposed to the Imported concentrate and corn sugar industrial stuff. I suppose they know that there just aren't enough people to oppose this and so it doesn't matter to them. We make and sell tiny amounts of cider and are slowly restoring our old orchard, I am wondering if it is now viable - probably not as our cider is sparkling and so attracts the same duty as wine. 
I have copied this from a great blog callled History is Made at Night…/cider-tax.…

The Cider Tax
A British government in debt following an expensive war seeks to make people pay through unpopular policies - sounds familiar? This instance was in the 18th century in the aftermath of the Seven Years War, and was also a moment in the long history of the state attempting to regulate the production, distribution and consumption of alcohol.
In 1763 the Earl of Bute's government decided to impose a tax of four shillings a hogshead on cider. Since large numbers of farmers and others in the South West produced their own cider, excise officers were empowered to gain access to farms and cottages in order to collect the tax.
'The tax prompted demonstrations, mournful processions, "gatherings intent on violence" and the harrassment of excisemen. The new Bishop of Exeter found that "the people in Devonshire acted childishly and unhandsomely" towards him because "he had the misfortune to vote for the [cider tax] bill". In Exeter 1765, "the mob hissed and insulted him and one fellow had assurance to throw an apple at his head". Sir John Phillips, baronet and MP for Pembrokeshire, did not get off so lightly. A newspaper reported in 1763 that "a riotous mob did grossly affront him" while he was travelling through Monmouth. The citizens pulled him from his carriage, and after discussing whether to hang him for voting for the cider tax, decided to "extremely ill-treat him instead. They made him go down on his knees and beg their pardon'.
The government backed down in 1766. 'The West Country celebrated in 1766 with public tea parties, ox roasts, balls, bell ringing, and the decoration of orchards with gilded apples and laurels. The Gloucester Journal reported "There is nothing heard in our streets, but 'the day of the oppressor is over, the calamity of the cyder drinker is put away; the deadly excise man shall appear no more in our quarters'"
(Source of quotes: The Great Scrumpy Crisis of 1763, Independent 16 February 1992)

We're growing up.

Selling our Cider at Whiteladies Rd Market.
We've been selling the Cider from Half Moon above the farm for a few years now. It's idiosyncratic stuff in its way. All natural, no added yeast, sugar or sulphur just the juice of our apples. People love it because it's a no compromise sort of Cider and conversely, it has to be said that it's a bit too no compromise for others.  For a while ( well quite a few years actually) we've been thinking about stepping things up a bit. Restoring the orchard to the point where it has a consistent crop is going to take years which is part of the fundamental joy of doing it in the first place.
We have always done small bottling runs for other small scale local Cider and Perry producers with our tiny enomatic machine but now, deep breath, we're thinking about making and bottling our own blend made with apples from other local growers. Cider maker and all round good guy George Perry has agreed to help us scale things up. .  Way back in the day even before we came to Higher Plot, we had always thought about making something that would travel ( see previous posts) and keep fresh while retaining it's glorious Somerset character. We both remember wandering round London pubs sometime back in the last century  buying halves of every cider they had in the hope of finding one that reminded us of home. What we wanted was something dry but still with good natural apple fruit. It would have to have some tannin. Good strength but not so strong that it wasn't really refreshing, or put in another way, we wanted  pints not halves. Maybe more than just the one pint.

All we can say for now is, we've made our first attempt at a blend. We like it. Tonight we're putting a leg of new season spring lamb from Pitney Farm on the barbie and we're going to strap ourselves in for a full test flight.  - watch this space.