It's autumn and the celebration of apple harvests is taking place across the land. Time to enjoy the multitude of local varieties available, and take part in Apple Day on October 21. This year's theme is conserving orchards and creating community orchards. With lands dedicated to growing apples disappearing due to pressures of urban development and the poor economics of running farms, the preservation of old vulnerable orchards and the creation of new ones is more important than ever. Since 1970 Britain has lost two-thirds of its apple orchards; Kent, once known as the Garden of England, has seen 85 per cent of its orchards disappear in the last 50 years. Herefordshire, once a forest of fruit trees, has a mere ten per cent left. The other part of the problem is the homogenization of apple growing, with supermarkets selling only a limited variety of the thousands of existing kinds.
To experience the glory of the orchards, this treehugger took a train to Somerset, the centre of cider apples and cider making. Hiking through the fields of old gnarled trees laden with apples was a reminder of the rich village life in the countryside. In the true old fashioned cider orchards (pictured) the apples are left to ripen and fall off the trees and are gathered from the ground. By the time that they are collected they are ready for cider making. The sheep graze afterwards and eat up the left-overs thus creating a true eco-system. Some of the orchards were quite pristine, with the trees in neat rows and the ground clean--these are the mechanized ones where the work is done by machine. As part of the apple experience, we visited, and sampled, an organic cider farm.
Somerset apples are for cider, not eating. At Burrow Hill Cider Farm forty different varieties of apples have been grown for the past 150 years. The traditional cider is a blend of these different kinds, with names such as Harry Masters Jersey and Brown Snout, growing on trees up to 60 years old. These apples are pressed to make juice, fermented to make cider and then distilled in Calvados-style stills. Made on site, the cider is matured in huge old barrels for at least a year. Whilst we were there local people were bringing their own gallon containers for refill, directly from the barrels. The dry was very very dry, as in pucker the lips, but when mixed with some medium sweet made a delicious non-alcoholic treat. They also make Eau de Vie and brandy. The brandy is aged in giant barrels, and gets its colour from the oak.
The owner of the farm is a true English eccentric, lord of a ramshackle manor, making nasty cracks about Tony Blair's holidays in Europe and Gordon Brown's in America and Billy Bragg's singing.
Their fermented sparkling cider has been sold at the Glastonbury festival for the past 27 years from its own Cider Bus which is a myth in itself, serving as a meeting place with celebrities helping to sell it from the bus. For the cold and rain there is hot and spicy mulled cider and for the brave: the Baby and Posh Spice: a pint of cider with a 3 or 5 year old brandy dropped in. :: Via Site Visit