"Orchard Days" the Dragon Orchard book of poetry featuring poems and photographs from each month of the year, is a focus of seasonality like no other. We often use it during orchard tours, but this year we are seeing the largest discrepancy we have ever had between what is in the book and what is in the orchard. For the Spring Big Apple Blossomtime Weekend at the beginning of May we only had a little pear and plum blossom to show, but now the dessert apples are in full flower and the cider just coming on song.
Due to the late season, an item about it even appeared on BBC breakfast television and I ended up doing three pieces live to camera in the orchard early one morning. The satellite truck appeared in the gloaming and erected its dish and the reporter arrived later by taxi. In between takes we nipped in to Dragon House to warm up and eat breakfast and by 9am we were all done and dusted. That was my second consecutive early start as the previous day had been May Day itself. The forecast was good so I went up the hill on the evening of April 30th and, as it was cold but clear and still, I slept out just below the top. The following sunrise was fantastic and I was able to admire the Morris sides, return home and go for a bike ride all before breakfast.
The May Day weekend is when the Big Apple Cider and Perry Competition is held and this year marked the 20th anniversary of The Three Counties Cider and Perry Association. The two organisations have done much to raise the standard and profile of craft cider making and Jackie Denman and Jean Nowell who have been key players in this process, were presented with traditional wassail bowls made from local sycamore. However, the unusually cold spring meant the competition entries were down as producers struggled to ensure the cider and perry had finished fermenting. Even now temperatures are 10 degrees below the norm but maybe a long slow fermentation will produce high quality drink.
The Cider Club
One way to keep abreast of all things cidery is to "Taste, talk, meet, eat, make and drink" the alluring strap line of the Three Counties Cider Shop Cider club which was launched at the Blossomtime weekend during a Cider event at The Crown Inn at Woolhope. Full details are on line or contact us direct for further information.
Over the last few weeks Dragon Orchard has been enhanced by some wonderful willow sculptures designed and made by Victoria Westaway, a willow worker from Cradley. Her giant cider apples, Dabinett The Ram, Willow Wassailers and Children at Play and Reading Boy sitting on The Big Hug have added a superb creative element and have been hugely enjoyed by all who have visited. Do have a look at Victoria's website www.victorawestaway.co.uk
Visits East and West
One of the many delights of our Cropsharers' Weekends, besides the fantastic food and marvellous company, is the variety of enterprises that we are able to visit. The May Day Weekend was no exception and we ventured both east and west. Our eastern foray was over the county border to Gloucestershire as far as Three Choirs Vineyard. This is where our Cider Maker Simon Day was brought up and he still has family connections. We went to see a demonstration of horses working in an English vineyard which they believe is a first in this country. The display was part of the British Festival of the Working Horse and headed up by Doug Joiner, who we have visited at Childer Wood in the past. The demo raised many environmental, sustainability and green issues and could prove to be a serious future trend. Doug reminded us of the old saying that if you leave a tractor out for a year it will rust away, but if you leave a horse out for a year you might possibly get another one.
Our western perambulation led us along the meandering Wye Valley, past Holme Lacy and the wonderfully named Cottage of Content to Whitethorn Farm, home of Carey Organics, run by Martin and Rachel Sobel. They have transformed what was a potato field into an Organic Farm producing an amazing range of fruit and vegetables with a newly planted cider and dessert orchard. Martin went to great lengths to explain his philosophy and gave us a fascinating and absorbing visit. He freely admits he would be more efficient and profitable if they were to specialise but that is not what they choose to do. We all left full of praise and admiration but fully aware of the need for total attention to detail, of small profit margins and the large amount of risk and other uncontrollable factors at work. We were delighted to be the bearers of the good news that he had won first prize for his medium cider at the Big Apple competition.
Our goose population has fluctuated over the years from natural wastage, fox attacks and the vicissitudes of life on the pond. We acquired a new goose earlier in the year as a companion to our Brecon Buff gander and they have been happily hanging out and she has been sitting on four eggs. Well, now two have hatched and the family of four have just popped out for an evening constitutional. Parents are being properly protective, we have just invested in a bag of chick crumb, so watch this watery space.
STOP PRESS. The four are now three - the missing one we think the victim of a predatory raid from a carrion crow. However the remaining gosling is thriving although the crow is not as I got out the 12 bore to even up the odds and reduce the threat.
Sixty years ago in 1953, Ledbury was one of only a handful of towns given Parliamentary permission to roast an Ox to celebrate the Coronation of Elizabeth 11. This year 2013 there is to be a whole 60th weekend given to commemorating the anniversary. Saturday 1st June is Ledbury Community Day with over 50 local groups strutting their stuff and showcasing what they do. This is to be followed on Sunday 2nd June by a Food, Drink and Craft Festival right in the middle of the town with the Ox Roast as its centrepiece. The full programme is on the website www.ledburyoxroast.org.uk and it promises to be a truly memorable occasion. To be sure of a slice of the beast you will need to purchase your ticket in advance either in person in Ledbury or online.