Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Cider Press Party

We managed to gather enough apples from the Little Common in Southampton, the Lost Orchard of Hedge End and the churchyard of St. Mary’s in Swathling, to fill our apple store. Importantly, we had enough surplus to press out a few gallons of delicious Apple juice – or Cider as I like to call it.
I was looking forward to getting some action out of the new cider press, which we have been able to purchase with money from the Southampton Airport Community Fund. It had only been used once before by Dan, who is planning to open the Butcher’s Hook, micro pub in Bitterne Park Triangle, soon... I can’t wait for that either!
We asked some friends over, it’s a lot of hard graft and many hands make light work. Pressing a large amount of juice requires military style planning and the action goes something like this...
  •          Wash the apples in a large bucket.
  •          Chop the apples into quarters and remove any really bad bits.
  •          Crush the apples into a pulp and fill the press using a fruit mill.
  •          Press the juice out.
  •          Collect the juice.
  •          Compost the remains.
  •          Repeat process until done.
  •          Clean the equipment.
Fortunately, children really enjoy the majority of these fascinating processes and can be largely paid off with the best tasting apple juice available.
We added a few pears, kindly donated from our neighbours tree for extra sweetness; according to Dan (who is something of a brewing geek) the sugars are different and don’t fully ferment to dryness. We pressed the Red Devils from St Mary’s separately, just to see the red juice pour out. It was super sweet and we kept it apart for the children to drink as a reward.
I’m pleased to say that we did reach our five gallon target and the day was rounded off with a big barbecue for all involved. Everyone was fully tired by the end of the day, including the kids who were up late playing and, as I collapsed into bed, I slept the sleep of the deeply contented.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Roast Chestnuts

Chestnuts are suddenly falling from the tree just up the road from my workplace. The ground around Telegraph Hill is positively carpeted with them.
I have been gathering them during my lunchtime walks and plan to roast them on a fire, just as soon as it stops raining for long enough to strike a match.
It seems odd that it is still so warm; we are normally wearing gloves and warm clothing when we go chestnutting but I'm still in shorts and t-shirts at the moment.
We are all looking forward to the Mansbridge Community Orchard Apple Day, this Sunday 27th Oct 1:30 – 4:00 and will be there whatever the weather!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Have Pears Will Poach

A couple of years ago we had a glut of pears and a friend donated a load of Kilner jars; so I made Poached Pears
They turned out to be a surprisingly tasty treat, when we cracked a jar open in the depths of mid-Winter. They were then heated up and served with vanilla ice cream, yummmm…
Our friendly neighbour recently asked if we wanted some surplus from their tree, so I decided to reprise the recipe. However, in between preparing the simple ingredients, putting the kids to bed and listening to something terribly interesting on Radio 4, I forgot to add the cinnamon sticks.

Based on the delicious smells I created in the kitchen though, I predict it will be just as tasty this time around. I can't wait till it gets a bit colder...

Apple Day Announcement!

Apple Day at Mansbridge Community Orchard
Let's enjoy our fantastic local resource together next Saturday!

Southampton Woodcraft Folk will bring Apple Pickers, a "scratter" (fruit crusher) and Apple Press. I will bring the Community Orchard equipment and other community groups will also be represented.

Bring yourself, your family, your friends and perhaps also
- your own apples (or pick some there)
- sandwiches
- stout apple-picking clothing and foorwear
- collecting bags, chopping equipment, empty bottles for juice etc.

Enjoy the wonderful community atmosphere of an Apple Day! Time 1:30 - 4:00 pm 
Park on Octavia Rd or at the Swan Inn, Mansbridge.

N.B. Attend at your own risk - please be aware of the safety of others and take care of our environment.

The weather may be a bit wet and windy, so wellington boots and waterproofs will be de-rigueur...

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Hedge End Apple Picknik

I had been checking regularly on the apple trees close to my work place, in Hedge End. I thought they were beginning to look ripe enough to pick. The trees are full of fruit this year; the hot summer sunshine obviously helped the apples as much as it did our summer holidays.
Most of these trees are eating apples, there are many different types and colours but there are a few cookers scattered amongst them. I don’t know where they originated from but after consulting old maps, it seems that there used to be a farm on this land.
The weather looked good enough on the day, so we called around to a few friends and rounded up the children. Despite a drizzly start to the afternoon, the sun soon broke cover and warmed the air.
The adults set about the trees with telescopic pickers while the children scampered up amongst the branches like squirrels; soon the buckets and bags were filling up nicely.

There was so much abundance that it was hard to know where to start collecting at first. Soon though the arms began to ache and the buckets got heavier to drag around; our family took home about 30Kgs in the end, which was a great result.
By the time we decided to stop picking apples, the kids were already on the field, playing football. We had a quick foray into the hazel bushes and filled our bags with lots of lovely big hazelnuts before setting off for home.
On our return, I set about sorting the best apples into our store in the shed; it’s nearly full now and our stock should see us safely through the winter. The rest of the fruit will either be eaten soon (the Head Chef cooked a delicious Blackberry and Apple pie on Sunday night) or turned into juice and cider.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Autumn finally arrived. Suddenly, my Monday morning ride to work was shrouded in mist, my feet wet with dew and more worryingly, my cycle helmet wreathed in October cobwebs. My legs and arms ached from a weekend of exertions and yet it was a very satisfying ache. The kind of satisfaction that comes from knowing you have realised, what you set out to achieve.
Carnage and Cleaning
The reason for my sore limbs, was that we (my family, plus some friends and their children) had pressed five gallons of apple juice, from the fruit off Southampton Common and from Hedge End. That’s a whole lot of chopping, milling, pressing and cleaning followed by a warm glow of contentment (and a bbq) afterwards. More about this though, in a later post.
The trouble with Autumn is that all its bounty comes at once; hence harvest festivals, pickling and preserves. The day after the cider pressing, my son and I also set off to pick Medlars; those medieval munchables that can be made into ruby red jelly or pale and interesting wine, amongst other things.
My son had been playing rugby in the morning but the tree was loaded with fruit and he was up the trunk in seconds, like a simian shoplifter. In about 10 minutes we had filled my bag with plenty of the curious looking, golden-brown beauties. Now we  need to think about how we should prepare them.
However, our day was not yet done! We thought it was high time to see if the walnuts were dropping yet. They were... We were bang on time and as we searched, you could hear the odd rattling as fresh nuts fell to the pavement. 
Competition, the Grey-Coated Gangster of the Nut World
The noise soon escalated into a clattering storm, as I shook the outer branches with my apple picker; I wasn't actually trying to get them to fall on my boy, as he scampered about grabbing them, but I managed to once or twice. I got one in the eye myself at one point.
Walnuts - Ripe and Ready to Drop
We Got Loads! Of course, Walnuts will keep for ages; especially with this quantity in our cupboard. They can be used in many recipes, including chocolate brownies. We also had a great year for Hazel or Cobnuts, so we will need to think of some interesting ways to utilise the nutty hoard we have squirrelled away. My son suggested Walnuts covered in melted chocolate... Unsurprising, but it would make a totally tasty Christmas treat/gift.
Finally, we rewarded ourselves with a quick trip to Mansbridge Community Orchard for a couple of ripe and juicy apples – I'm quite sure we deserved them after our afternoon travails.
Apple Day celebrations at Mansbridge will be held on the Octavia Road Open Space 26th October. Bring your own apples for pressing into delicious juice, or pick some from the trees on the day. More details soon - don't touch that dial!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Common Sense Picknik

It was the weekend of the Autumnal Equinox and there had been a rather splendid harvest moon the night before. Now it was overcast but warm.

A couple of weeks earlier, we had been on a bike ride to check out the big apple tree on the Little Common. It was loaded but the apples were not quite ripe yet, so we planned to come back soon.
On our return we bought a small group of friends along to help us pick some fruit and generally have a run and ride about. There was a large amount of windfalls on the floor when we arrived.
I guess we must have spent an hour or two picking, chatting and catching the big apples that were thrown down out of the venerable tree.  The kids ran about making the most of the last Blackberries too. After Michaelmas day they should not be picked as the Devil has (allegedly) spat on them.
Southampton Common is a very pleasant environment to pick fruit in and several passers-by stopped to see what we were up to and comment on our activities. There was even a report of another big tree that we need to check out soon.
In the end we picked about 46 Kgs of beautiful apples, the best of which will go into store for the winter months; the remainders will go into the cider press! 
Even with our harvest haul, the bulk of fruit was still left on the tree, there is also plenty on the ground for anyone without pickers.