2019 Cider No.2

With all the kerfuffle over the confounded Covid-19 virus, cider bottling was put to the bottom of the ‘to-do’ list. Before it all kicked off, we’d managed to bottle two ferementers – No.4, a small 30 litre fermenter, and No.1, one of the new Speidel 60 litre fermenters.

Today we finally got round to No.2 – yes – there is no order we do this in. No.2 is a quarter Warner’s King, for the acidity, with Jonagold making up a large portion of the sugar content, along with Ellison’s Orange and Oslin. I have absolutely no data on the malic and tannin levels of any of the dessert apples used, suffice to say the resulting blend has turned out very smooth and doesn’t seem to have suffered much from being on the lees for so long.

This is also the second time I’ve used the new Grifo capping machine, along with capped bottles rather than swing tops. The Grifo is amazing – very sturdy; the decision to go with capped bottles is largely due to the desire to go commercial in the near future, and the fact that plain bottles are cheaper, but also easier to clean than a swing top. I’m hoping we get many of the bottles back to reuse.

The final ABV was 6%, back sweetened for in-bottle conditioning. As usual it’s a wild yeast fermentation with no sulphites added. A friend asked if it was vegan, which is something I hadn’t really thought about before! But I guess it is? I mean, it’s apples and, in this case, some sugar. Does that make it vegan friendly? I need to learn more!

Hoglets!

We’ve reasonable knowledge about hedgehogs over 300 g, and have overwintered some of these prickly darlings in our purpose-built animal room. But hoglets?!

A passerby saw a hoglet outside the house, knocked on the door … a quick search and we found 4 more abandoned hoglets. We put them in a carrier with a heat pad to warm them through – they were freezing! and quickly phoned the vet. Of course, Sunday service! But Scarsdale Vets in Derby were fantastic and an hour later we were armed with a Royal Canin Babycat milk kit with feeding bottle.

They’re so Tiny!

The smallest hog was 50 g and the largest 66 g, two with eyes open. Using my Vale Wildlife Hospital hedgehog rehabilitation course booklet, we worked out they are 14 days old. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of feeds. Dunk volunteered to take on the night shift as they have to be fed every 2 to 3 hours. Each hog has been marked, so we know who’s who to keep track of weight/feeds/poo. They also have to be stimulated to poo and wee after every meal. They survived – but we have a battle ahead to get sufficient milk into them. Huffy – named after his nature – curls into a ball and huffs and the smallest drinks gratefully.

We are currently at a weight range of between 67 g and 85 g two days after they were found. Watch this space for cuteness!

Hedgehog Nest

Hedgehog Nest

Later in the day we went searching for the nest, just to make sure there were no more waifs and strays waiting to be picked up. It didn’t take us long to find it – only about 2 metres from where they were all found – they must have left it to go looking for their mother, which is a sad thing to think. We’d been walking about ten feet from it all this time, in the front garden, and it’s only about ten feet from the lane at the front! Carefully pulling some leaves back from this heap of dry leaves showed an empty nest, and a thorough search of the rest of the area turned up no more, so we’re pretty happy we have them all.

New Animal Treatment Room

Finally we have a dedicated room to look after those animals in need of extra care. For the last ten years we’ve been using the kitchen, the Sunny Room (the only living area room that gets sun in the day, hence the name!), the hall way, the garage. You name the room, at one stage or another there’s been a poorly or young animal in it.

But not anymore (well – not any more as often as there was). The dedicated room has stainless steel worktop for easy disinfection, an industrial floor, and soon to also have medicine cabinets and cupboards. The first occupants? The hedgehogs who have been rescued from outside because they were either caught in the flooding in the area, or are part of the large number of underweight hoglets which seem so prevalent this year around the country.

Importantly, it’s not attached to the main house, so any animals being looked after will get some peace and quiet!

2018 Cider No.2 Pressing Day

The Picking

It all started out with a sunny day, as it usually does. Unless it’s raining, which hasn’t been that often this year, really.

Cider No.2 has typically been a “pick the apples mid October, press them end of October” thing. This year the condensed but intense growing period in the summer has forced the fruit to ripen quicker than usual.

Add to that the fact we have numerous wasps this year and more hornets than we’ve ever seen, the poor old apples have been hard hit. And the many insect bites have soon rotted the apples – a bad year for brown rot too. So all in all, I’m impressed with how much fruit we actually ended up with.

As we picked the various varieties to add to the mix for 2018 Cider No.2, Mikey the Marsh Daisy “stood guard”, which roughly translates to Mikey “stood guard whilst his ladies helped themselves to the freshly picked apples”. Plenty to go around though.

The Tremlett’s Bitter looked particularly gorgeous – the red of the apples is so intense (no filters were used on that photograph!), and I can’t wait to see the impact they have on the cider. It’s our first year of a really good crop off this tree, which is awfully exciting.

Once they were all picked, several hours later, on to the little grey Fergie and pootled back to the house where they’ll sit outside for a week or two sweating. This is where the starch in the apples turns to sugar, which in turn will convert to the alcohol which gives cider its shelf-life and storage qualities.

The Pressing

Rob popped around again to help press whilst Suz took on the animal cleaning, with Jay’s help. This time round we had a much better system in place. The first wash and cutting table. where Rob sat most of the time, was sat in the full sun, which helped. Then the second and third wash buckets were placed between the table and the mill, where I could sit. The press was next to the mill, but faced a direction where we could empty the bladder after each pressing on to the drive gravel. The barrow for the pomace was a distance from the mill so as not to infect anything in the clean area.

It took us about five hours to process 200kg of apples, which in turn gave us 100 litres of juice. The bottle neck is definitely the press now – the mill could easily feed two 40 litre hydropresses – one being filled whilst the other is pressing. It was also a long process as we pressed each apple variety separately, and this mix had a lot of varieties. This was done so the pH and Specific Gravity could be measured for each type of juice, to add to the records for the orchard. Also we could add the right ratio of juice to each of the fermenting containers (70l barrel, 25l bin 4.5l demijohn) . I think in a 7.5 hour day , with two presses, we could press at least 600kgs of fruit for this kind of fiddly mix of nine varieties.

The Original Pressing Plan

The original plan was something like this:

VarietyAttributePercentage Mix
Slack ma GirdleSweet14%
CatsheadSharp14%
Tremlett's BitterBittersweet14%
Wyken PippinSweet14%
Rosemary RussetSweetsharp7%
Marriage MakerSweet14%
BramleySharp9%
Barnack OrangeSweet7%
Ashmeads KernelSweet7%

The final plan, in liquid percentages was this:

VarietyAttributePercentage Mix
Warners KingSharp4.87%
CatsheadSharp9.74%
Tremlett's BitterBittersweet24.35%
Wyken PippinSweet12.35%
SanspareilSweet14.6%
Marriage MakerSweet4.87%
BramleySharp9.74%
Barnack OrangeSweet9.74%
Ashmeads KernelSweet9.74%

Despite most of the fruit in the orchard ripening early, Rosemary Russet was sticking to her guns and remained unripe. The Slack ma Girdle also had ripened too early and we lost a lot of the crop to insect damage, so the sharpness missing from the russet was replaced by some Warners King, and the sweetness missing from the Slack ma Girdle was replaced by Sanspareil.

The pH and Specific Gravity values for each juice were like this at the end.

 Specific GravitypH
Warners King1.0502.8
Catshead1.0582.8
Tremletts Bitter1.0563.6
Wyken Pippin1.0653.2
Sanspareil1.0463.2
Marriage Maker1.0623.2
Bramley1.0522.8
Barnack Orange1.0623.2
Ashmeads Kernel1.0703.0

Whilst the 70 litre blue barrel and test demijohn had the above mixes, the 25 litre fermenting bin had a slightly different mix as there wasn’t as much of some of the juice types as we’d hoped. To that we added 2.5kg each of Allington Pippin, Ribston Pippin and Newton Wonder. The final reading for both types are as follows:

70 litre blue barrel and test demijohn – pH 3  .0 – SG 1.057

30 litre fermenting bin – pH 3.2 – SG 1.059

Cider No.1 Apple Pressing Day

Last Year’s Cider No.1

This time last year we picked around 30kg of fruit, and considered it a horde worthy of Crown intervention. From that we ended  with 30 litres of apple juice, which turned into 50 pints of lovely cider about eight months later. It took about five hours to make that, with the hand-crank scratter and beam press we’d hired from Whistlewood Common (Melbourne Transition group), but it was worth the effort.

Knowing that this year would be bigger, in terms of fruit production, I’d been sizing up which route to go in terms of buying in kit, and talking endlessly (ask Suz…) about the various options which would see us enter apple heaven, floating on gossamer wings no doubt.

This Year – the Kit

Vares Fruit Shark Megalodon

Vares Fruit Shark Megalodon

The first piece of kit to arrive was the scratter – wonderfully called the “Fruit Shark Megalodon”, produced by a company named Vares. It was this or the Speidel Mill, both powerful, but I liked the fact this is made from stainless steel rather than plastic. The fact Speidel offer replacement plastic housing makes me wonder.

40 litre Hydropress

40 litre Hydropress

The second piece of kit to arrive was a 40 litre hydropress. I love the fact that it’s powered by the water mains, water being pumped into a large bladder balloon in the centre which pushed the milled fruit outwards and against the sides of the cylinder, which as holes to allow the juice to run down the outside and collect in the gutter. It’s a beautifully simple system and in practise it was wonderful!

Apple Haul No.1

Apple Haul No.1

This photograph shows it with the lid off, the milled fruit having been squeezed down the sides between the bladder in the centre and the outer cylinder walls, and then covered with the cloth. The idea of a 40 litre hydropress rather than a larger 90 litre, for example, is that one person can easily manage the 40 litre, in terms of emptying, carrying and so forth. Also, if production increases then adding another 40 litre press to the set up means one can be pressing whilst the other is being emptied, ridding yourself of a potential bottleneck. The Megalodon would easily produce enough milled fruit for two presses – we found the bottle neck in this set up was us not preparing the fruit quick enough, and the press.

This Year – the Fruit

Apple Haul No.2

Apple Haul No.2

As mentioned, last year we managed to scrounge 30kg of fruit for our first pressing of the year. This year we thankfully had our little grey Fergie tractor to help us out as we filled about seventeen Eurocrates and hauled up 260kg of fruit! Next year I imagine it will be even more!

Rob busy apple sorting

Rob busy apple sorting

Our good friend Rob offered to help pick the fruit, and then process it (cut bits out and provide banter). I was so thankful when I saw the amount of work, but two of us, powered by bacon butties, tea and apple juice, managed to process the fruit in about six hours.

That said, about two hours were wasted by faffing with the new kit and a few mishaps – apparently blue barrels (we’ve moved on to 60 litre barrels to ferment in now) are quite slippy when covered in apple juice. Luckily I didn’t spill the entire contents when one slipped out of my hands! And why was I trying to pick up a half-full barrel? Because it turns out that a washer on the inside of the tap doesn’t keep the juice inside the barrel, so we needed to retap the barrels. Next time will be much smoother, I promise 😀

Dunk & Rob loading the Fergie

Dunk & Rob loading the Fergie

Finally, the fruit we used for Cider No.1.

The original intention can seen in the post Cider Plans 2018. However, as all good plans of mice and men, it unraveled as the freak weather we’ve had this year caused some fruit to drop, and others to ripen early.

Wocester Pearmain was or main issue – we just didn’t have enough. But on the plus side Tremlett’s Bitter stepped up to the mark and ripened early, so we managed to sneak some of those in, something we’ve never been able to manage in a first press of the year.

The original plan was like this (in weight of fruit, as we assume it all presses about the same – which it doesn’t):

VarietyAttributePercentage Mix
Yellow IngestrieSweet30%
Worcester PearmainSweet20%
RivalSubacid20%
Lord DerbyAcid20%
QueenSubacid10%

The final plan was this, in liquid percentages:

VarietyAttributePercentage Mix
RivalSubacid33.5%
Lord DerbyAcid32.5%
Yellow IngestrieSweet11%
Worcester PearmainSweet10.5%
Tremlett's BitterSweet Sharp10%
QueenSubacid2.5%

Again, notes were taken for the Specific Gravity and pH of most of the juices.

 Specific GravitypH
Rival1.0503.2
Lord Derby1.0482.8
Worcester Pearmain1.0453.2
Queen1.0512.8

The final overall Specific Gravity was 1.050 and the pH was 3.2. To gain a better idea of the final alcohol level, I also mixed up a demijohn at the same ratios as above, and we’re forcing that to ferment quicker than the main barrels in the garage, This way we can see where the fermenting stops, as cider can often be down as low as 0.997 rather than the 1.000 people expect. It will also help me to know when to bottle to gain natural carbonation in-bottle, without going over the allowed 3bar pressure.

Oh, and the final amount of juice? An amazing 125 litres 😀

Cider Plans 2018

It’s that time of year once more, when thoughts turn to apples dropping on heads and littering the orchard floor, and the 2018 cider mixes. Indeed, it’s been a rather strange year – amazingly cold until quite late, we were thankful when the sun finally made an appearance. Three months later with hardly any rain, desperation set in as the June drop continued into the July drop as trees shed their fruity loads to conserve moisture. Along with the glut of rotting apples on the ground came one of the worst years for wasps we’ve had in a while – I won’t forget the task of picking Devonshire Quarrendens from the grass with litter pickers, placing them gingerly into a barrow, and leaving them until midnight when most of the wasps were either too dozy or drunk to attack. Only then was I brave enough to cart the barrow to the middle of a field to dump the apples as fertliser!

Still, the trees continue onwards and upwards, and there is plenty of fruit to press. There are even varieties this year that didn’t happen last year, and some from last year that have failed to dignify us with their presence this year. With the seasons being as erratic as they are, I’m rather glad we planted such a varied group of trees – at least something fruits from one year to the next.

Walking the orchard, trying to get some measure on quantities and varieties and then measuring them against the attributes each variety will give a cider, I’ve come up with the following ciders for this year.

Cider No.1 – September Pressing

VarietyAttributePercentage Mix
Yellow IngestrieSweet30%
Worcester PearmainSweet20%
RivalSubacid20%
Lord DerbyAcid20%
QueenSubacid10%

Without reliable sugar, malic acid or tannin data, I’ve resorted to the good old 30% culinary to 70% dessert mix from the South East counties.

Cider No.2 – October Pressing

VarietyAttributePercentage Mix
Slack ma GirdleSweet14%
CatsheadSharp14%
Tremlett's BitterBittersweet14%
Wyken PippinSweet14%
Rosemary RussetSweetsharp7%
Marriage MakerSweet14%
BramleySharp9%
Barnack OrangeSweet7%
Ashmeads KernelSweet7%

Again, without reliable data, I’m using the same 30% to 70% acid/sweet mix, but this time, as we have Bramleys in the mix and they have a high malic acid level, I’ve brought it back down to a 25% to 65% mix. There’s also the added benefit of a bittersweet variety in there, which will add more body to No.2, but the option to add more bitterness is missing, which hopefully the newly planted Major variety will make up in a few years.

Cider No.3 – November Pressing

VarietyAttributePercentage Mix
DabinettBittersweet30%
Medaille d'OrBittersweet15%
Newton WonderSubacid30%
SanspareilSweet15%
ForfarSweetsharp10%

I was in two minds with this. We have data for all but the last variety, and whilst I can get a good mix using the top four varieties, it was still slightly heavy on the malic acid and tannin side, and short on sugar. To try and compensate for this, I’ve added in some Forfar, which are an early October variety but good storers. Leaving them to sweat a while will hopefully pull as much starch out and raise the sugar levels. Naturally they’re a sweet sharp apple (dessert/culinary) so I’ve lowered the number of Sanspareil, which are very sharp, and managed to get more respectable numbers.

So No.3 is a bit of a risk, but very similar to last year’s No.3, which has gone down well, albeit a tad too strong at 9.2%! I’m hoping for something more in the region of 7.5%, but we’ll see.

Normandy Cider Apples

I’m just sticking this up here as an aide-mémoire from our trip to Normany three years ago. Stumbling across one of the many cider makers, I got to chatting with the son of the owner and asked him what varieties of apple they used. I lost my scribblings, but found them at the bottom of a bag, so here they are in case I lose them once more!

  • Douce Moën
  • Rouge Duret
  • Tête de Brebis
  • Douce Coët-ligne

There is one more, but I can’t make the writing out. It looks something like Marie-besrord/besrard but I cant’ find any information on the internet about anything sounding similar.

Busy Sunday

The spring weather continues to be glorious, and as the earth warms up, more seeds can be sown and indoor growers transplanted to outdoors.

Today we began with the task of potting on. Vegetable growing is a continuous production line; plants needing a long growing season, such as aubergine, begin inside in a warm place in the house. They then shift to a greenhouse as the weather picks up, and some stay in the greenhouse. Hardier species will move outside, and some just like being outside from the start of their little productive lives.

Brassicas are one of our hardiest. This year we have cheated and bought plugs from a market garden friend we know (big shout out to Martin at Sharps Growers in Kings Newton). Sharps produce them by the thousands, and when we only need 2 to 7 of a vegetable type, it isn’t even cost-effective to buy the seed packets! Another job is to keep the pesky pigeons from our luscious baby leaves, and so I delved into ‘the barn’ (a shed), and pulled out pieces of the fruit cage we lost to a heavy snow drop a few years ago. Someone stupidly left the top mesh in place and the snow can do quite a bit of damage with its weight! I salvaged enough straight uprights and beams to make a 10ft square walk-in netted cage – possibly the poshest cabbage patch in all of South Derbyshire! In there we have seven spring pointy cabbage, five brussels sprouts, two winter savoy cabbage, three round summer cabbage, six calabrese and six cauliflowers. Rather than staggered planting, we harvest things like the cauliflower at the same time and freeze in bulk.

The it was on to the second sowing of carrots, thirty feet of Robila, and a block of Velvet Queen sunflowers. This variety of sunflower are stunning, with a deep crimson petal – they should look stunning!

Nearer the house, an old belfast sink was requisitioned and repurposed as a pick-and-come-again mixed salad planter, just outside the kitchen doors.

Then the greenhouses were emptied of the winter-crud and refilled with 6 Ruthje tomato plants – a great eating variety apparently, 7 San Marzano plum-type cooking tomatoes, and 6 Arola cucumbers.

All in all, quite a productive day!

Beetroot & Sweetcorn

Asides from lots of mowing and general tidying up, the beetroot (Boltardy) and sweetcorn (Ashworth) were the only things that went into the ground today! Mind you – it *is* looking a lot tidier isn’t it!

Another Odd-Job Day…

…I love those days where there’s no pressure to anything in particular, because you know full well that there’s always a list of things to complete.

As the weather’s warming up, it seemed like an opportune time to get the good old squash going, so in we popped the squash, to start in the house, and eventually move to the greenhouse, then outside under cloche until we’re so very sure that Jack Frost won’t visit.

Our squash choices consist of:

  • Tonda Padana – our favourite, great for Suz’s Lemon Yellow Squash Pie.
  • Butternut Waltham – we do like a roasted butternut soup.
  • Green Kuri – never tried it before, but keen to give it a whirl!

And then we have some Cocozelle von Tripolis courgette, Boltardy beetroot, and Tall Utah celery. I suspect I won’t get around to the beetroot as that will be sown directly in to the allotment, whereas the rest we’re starting from seed.

Next up is the cucumbers – nicely potted on and in to their final position in a greenhouse. We keep them separate to the tomato greenhouse as they like a slightly humid atmosphere, as do aubergines.

Whilst the tomatoes are looking a little leggy, we’ll try and check their growth by hardening them off to greenhouse temperatures. Soon they’ll be potted on into their own greenhouse.

Then on to mulching the currant bushes – we have two of each colour – black, red and white. Any berries that fall off can pop up as new plants, so we mulch to help prevent that, to keep the weeds in check, and to preserve soil moisture.

And finally, the Marsh Daisy chicks are four weeks old and feathering up nicely! This is their first trip outside, where we’ve moved them to a new Green Frog Design coop which will be their home for a while. Indeed, for those that stay with us, their home forever!