Currently, in my gardenless state, any opportunity to get up close and personal with any kind of gardening and I’m in. Even a rain soaked autumnal day won’t dampen my enthusiasm, so when I was invited to help pick apples and help get them pressed for cider making I jumped at the chance. I even dragged Hubby the Un-Gardener with me as being cooped up in a caravan on a rainy day is never ideal, especially after 64 days!
The weather had been good pretty much all week and was lovely since, but that day just happened to be the soggy one. I was worried they would cancel it, but they are like minded folk with a burning passion for making the most out of their land, exploring possibilities to as far as they will stretch. A spot of rain is not an issue. It was motivating to be with them and made me all the more eager to start my garden.
We drove down to the back of the farm past all manner of edible crops, fruit and nut trees, pigs and cows. If I was to have a farm like that, that would be the kind of farm I’d have. But I’m more of a plant person and managing plants is a lot easier than managing animals.
You could see the orchard from a distance as the greenery of the trees was dotted with the red of ripe Gala apples. As the orchard was at the far end of the farm, it reminded me so much of my old orchard at the far end of our old place. The grass was long, and the fruit wasn’t quite perfect, and I felt so much at home there.
The first task was to clear away all the fallen fruit, so it wouldn’t be confused with the fresh fruit that was soon to be shaken from the trees. All but the very rotten was picked up and put in buckets for the pigs. It was a good thing I’d bought along my Gardena fruit collecting tools as the Fruit Collector made short work of this job as the icky fruit slipped easily through the flexible wires. Hubby the Un-Gardener nabbed this tool and so I was left rummaging around on my hands and knees, picking up smooshed and the pecked fruit. I looked across enviously at Hubby the Un-Gardener who was clearing up under trees in a great rate of knots without so much as getting his fingers messy.
But it did speed things up, as the clouds above were heavy with rain and a new downpour was threatening to make things unpleasant. Once the ground was declared good to go the trees were given a good shake and the ripe fruit came crashing down. Once again Hubby the Un-Gardener leapt into action and quickly swept up the fallen fruit and the crates were filled fast. There was stubborn fruit that refused to fall and there was something satisfying, to reach up into the branches and pluck armfuls of apples, visibly clearing the tree of its crop.
As we stood back and admired our mornings work, the heavens opened, and the rain came down. There was nothing else for it but to load up all we had collected and return to the farmhouse for wonderful shared lunch. The homemade pea and ham soup seemed perfect for the day. Shamefully my contribution was not lovingly crafted by me, but by the good people in a food factory far far away. It is just too hard to do that sort of thing in the caravan. But just wait until I get my new kitchen – oh the things that will come out of there in the months and years to come!
The highlight of the lunch was to sample the cider, from the orchard, from the previous season. It was so light and refreshing, although I could feel a slight kick coming over me. Just as well we were rounded up to take the apples to the next level. The set up was a dream cider making operation, with everything hand made or put together by our friends. An old bathtub at a good height was filled with water and the apples were washed and scrubbed and any rot, coddling moth or particularly manky bits chopped out.
They were then put into the amazingly crafted handmade crusher. There was a therapeutic action to lifting the lid to add the apples, then allowing the weight of the lid to press them against the wooden drum studded with screwheads to turn them into pulp. A frequent addition of melted bees wax kept the drum lubricated as the small motor kept it all spinning.
From there the pulp went straight to the press, where it was stacked between boards in cheesecloth wrapped bundles, five high and gently squeezed with the aid of a car jack. The juice was encouraged to pour from the fruit and was the sweetest I’d every tried. Once squeezed dry, the flattened pancakes of fruit were put aside for the lucky pigs and the juice was taken away to begin the fermentation process.
It was such a lovely day and we look forward to the day we are invited back to sample the fruits of our labour. It also made me keen to begin to think about the trees I want in my new orchard. Soon it will be fruit tree planting time, so I should give it a little thought.
Come again soon – we’re still looking into this dirt thing as bite sized chunks make it so much easier to understand.
Sarah the Gardener : o)