In celebration of National Apple Day on Friday 21st October we share our cider secrets. How to turn your harvest into the best cider you’ll ever taste – without lifting a finger.
If you read our recent Preserving Orchards post then you’ll already know we support the preservation of traditional apples orchards. Initiatives like National Apple Day are a great way of drawing attention to the apple cause. Events in restaurants, markets, schools and National Trust properties serve to remind us of the horticultural and culinary heritage of all things apple.
Confessions of an Orchard Owner
This is fantastic. We are 100% behind Apple Day, though….personally I have a confession to make….
I love my apple trees. I have seven in my garden – which I believe counts as an orchard. They add so much to the garden. Height, blossom, structure, shade for the chickens, clothing for the stone walls they grow against. To say nothing of their benefit to wildlife, from the birds to the miniscule insect populations who exist without my knowing.
The tiny dwarf tree that produces huge fat juicy russet coloured fruits is perhaps my favourite thing in the garden. Its apples come late and it holds them well after the leaves have dropped. Through snow and frost right up until Christmas.
So, yes. I treasure them. But they are a burden. Each year as they droop languidly from the branches looking like fairy tale illustrations, I see problems. Work and waste.
I know how lucky we are to have this abundance but we can’t possibly eat our way through the harvest. And knowing how lucky we are I can’t possibly see it all go to waste. One year – in the fog of early-stage motherhood – I filled a big brown, wheelie bin with apples. Sleep deprived, time poor and deeply ashamed I filled it right to the brim and wheeled it to the road side for collection.
The shame hasn’t left me. I vowed never to do it again.
What to do with your Harvest?
Still no amount of apple sauce, chutney, donations to neighbours, endless crumbles, baked apples or dried apples will see off the harvest. I’ve tried stringing them up with twigs to keep the birds going, storing them individually wrapped in newspaper and even resorted to giving them to the local pig farmer at Ballencrieff.
Truth is, none of the above work for large volumes of apples.
The most success I had was the year I deployed child labour to gather the harvest. A fine half term activity. And we headed for Thistly Cross our local cider maker.
Located just outside Dunbar, all Thistly Cross cider is handmade. Apples are pressed and fermented using Champagne yeast, before being stored for at least 6 months. They make eight different brews, including original, ginger and whisky cask.
What’s more – this is my favourite bit – if you rock up with your apple harvest they’ll pay you for it. In cider, or apple juice. 7kg of apples = 1 bottle of cider. They call it Bucket for a Bottle #applesforcider.
Bucket for a Bottle
Since we first did this Thistly Cross have grown in scale and reputation. At that time there was just a trickle of people arriving with their apples. Last year Thistly Cross pressed 160 tonnes of Bucket for Bottle apples from private growers.
They are in no doubt that much of their success is down to the unique blend of Scottish Heritage apples they source from schools, commercial apple orchards, estates and people like me. I’m pretty happy to be part of that.
This year Thistly hope to top the 160 tonnes of 2015, and the signs are already looking good. Co-founder Peter Stuart said:
“This year’s harvest is looking bountiful. As apple donations are already flooding in…. Thistly wants to give Scottish fruit a chance to really prove itself!’
‘We also hope to encourage the planting of fruit trees and orchards across Scotland, especially heritage varieties and those less commonly found in commercial growing.”
Truly marvellous. Everyone is happy. As individuals, we get to feel good about preserving varietal apples, enjoying all that they bring to our gardens. We get to eat as many as we like. And we get to sell them on to Thistly Cross who are delighted because they get to make a truly artisan cider. Oh yes, and we get the cider. Cider you’ll actually enjoy drinking. Not the rancid stuff we make ourselves….eugh, another year of shame…
How to turn your Harvest into Cider
If you’re anywhere near East Lothian visit ‘Bucket for a Bottle’ to find out more. And if you’re not, find out if there’s a cider maker near you who’ll take your crop. You’ll find a regional directory of cider and perry makers on http://www.real-cider.co.uk/uk-producers/.
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