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Empty Orchard, Full Vessels.

Our early December daily walk around the orchard furnishes major sensory input. This time of year seems to embrace more change than any other. There are few apples to be seen now and the views down the aisles and through the rows of trees become longer and more defined. The smells change from a rich fruity aroma to a slightly earthy tang with a damp leaf finish. The leaves are gently rustling to the ground after the first frost and there is a background chatter of fieldfares and blackbirds. The sodden earth from a very wet October has been slowly drying out during November, leaving us with firm bottomed muddy ruts and crisp tractor tyre tread marks. The only apples remaining are on the orchard floor over by Orchard Croft and these are supplying excellent food for the pigs and visiting birds. The fruit keeps really well in these cool damp conditions and will provide sustenance for some weeks before the remains gradually disappear in the detritus of the under tree world as the season inexorably turns.

In contrast to the almost empty orchard and after a very busy harvest period, the new shiny vessels in the Production Shed are all completely full with another 10 x 1000 litre containers currently standing outside. This has been our largest crushing by far as we have almost tripled our capacity.
Shiny tanks arrive at Dragon Orchard

 


Zeiki with DiscoveryZeiki's Farewell

 

Our circular orchard walk or 'the round' has been a significant part of our daily routine that has gradually become a little slower as Zeiki, our German Shorthaired Pointer has got older. She had reached 16 1/2, a good age for the breed and we always said we would keep her going as long as she could get round the orchard and enjoy her walk. After a little collapse last week, we decided the time had come and on a sunny morning the vet came to the house and she sloughed off her canine mortal coil and made a peaceful and dignified entry to the great kennel in the sky to bound about unfettered and free. Zeiki now resides quietly under an oak tree at the back of the house where she has spent her whole life. She is at rest while we still listen for the sound of her toes tip tapping across the floor and miss her unfailing loyalty and enthusiasm for life in the orchard. The two cats, Edith and Simone seem to catch our mood and rub against our legs, snuggle into our laps and purr gently and tell us it is alright to miss our lovely dog and for our eyes to mist over every now and again and to swallow a little harder as we remember her life well lived.

 

 


Ledbury Real AlesThe Brewers' Art

 

Although we grow apples and make cider, I am not averse to a decent beer and thoroughly enjoy many of the drinks produced by the local breweries. In October we visited the Ledbury Real Ale Company based at Gazerdine, opposite Roots at Little Verzons and were shown about by Anthony and Kate Stevens. They run a microbrewery and produce three cask ales that they sell to local pubs. They work incredibly hard to balance other part-time work and a young family but are passionate about their brewing and have just expanded production so that the process takes less time. They gave us a real insight into the process, looking at different yeasts, malts, hops and discussing the economics and minute margins of this scale of production. Not for the faint hearted we felt. Simon and I saw a much larger operation when we visited the Wye Valley Brewery last month for a Chamber of Commerce Breakfast meeting. We went there with Cropsharers some years ago and it was fascinating and illuminating to see how they have grown in the intervening time. They now turnover £4.5 million a year and all this from a standing start behind the Barrels pub in Hereford in 1985. Once again their attention to detail and belief in their product shone through. I have also recently enjoyed the art of brewing in medieval times shown on the BBC2 series the Tudor Monastery Farm. The process is still fundamentally the same. Apparently ale and bread made up nearly 80% of the daily calorific intake for many at certain times of year. I have mentioned this to a couple of beer aficionados and they commented that it sounded like a perfectly balanced diet to them!

 


Black BeeTudor Bees

 

The format of the Tudor Monastery Farm works really well as it takes the techniques developed by the Tudors and illustrates how they have evolved over the centuries. There was a section on Tudor Bee keeping that was covered by our very own Paul Hand of Bees and Trees. Paul gave his usual instructive and entertaining insight into skep bee keeping of which he has a deep and intimate knowledge. The original bees would have been the British Black bee which preceded the exotic golden bees imported from the continent. An early import replacing a national treasure! Paul feels the black bees are more reliable pollinators as well as being less prone to Sudden Colony Collapse and will soon play their part again. In fact we have just read in the latest NFU Countryside magazine that there are Black bee colonies in the Hebrides which have been made the subject of a Bee Keeping Order. This will create a black bee reserve and it will be an offence to keep any other species of bees on Colonsay and Oronsay. The order will protect the native bees from hybridisation and help ensure that the species remains strong and healthy for future generations.

 


 

Worlds Best CiderWorld Book of Cider

This is the ideal Christmas gift for the Cider lover in your life. The World Book of Cider has been produced by Pete Brown, who was one of the judges for the BBC Food & Farming Drinks Producer Award, in collaboration with Bill Bradshaw, a cider loving photographer. They have combined to create a beautifully written and photogenic tome that is informative and entertaining. They believe that "Herefordshire represents ciders' intellect and ambition" and that "Once Upon A Tree Cidermaker Simon Day works in partnership with orchardist Norman Stanier in a business that takes painstaking care of everything from how the trees are planted to how the ciders are sold". You can't ask for better than that. (Signed copies now available at our shop!)

 

 


 

iNigel Rollinson helps to install our new tanksShacksbury Cider, USA

This is a new business from upstate Vermont that is seizing on the renewed American interest in craft cider. Shacksbury Cider has been set up by two young and very enthusiastic guys, David Dolginow and Colin Davis, who want to revive cider growing and making in the US. They are planning to grow cider apples and make their own cider but this will take some time to put in place and they want to have product to launch and grow the business. Both Colin and David have been to visit us earlier this year and Once Upon A Tree is their new UK partner and we have already shipped 3,500 litres of cider stateside this summer. We will send 50,000 litres next year in two large shipping containers and the cider will be pumped in directly from the fermenting vessels. The US Cider is now in 3Third tank in place - Norman is sent up the ladder to release the fixings beautiful shiny stainless steel containers standing outside the green shed. Each of these holds more cider than we created in our first 2 years of production! Dave and Colin have been working through the fall, gathering cider apples and are testing them to select the best to be planted in due course. Do have a look at their website http://www.shacksbury.com which gives a fascinating glimpse of this new, young vibrant business. During the last few months we have also had a visit from their local fruit farmer Barney Hodges from Sunrise Orchards who is going to be planting up the cider apples for them and from another of their friends who is a Sports Correspondent for the New York Times who came to take photos and create a promo video for them. It has all been rather exciting.

angelfeb

Mid February and it has finally stopped raining for a few days and the ground is beginning to dry out just a little, making the daily walk round the orchard with the dog less of a slippery slog through the mud. We did have some snow in January, by way of a change from rain, which gave the opportunity for a few seasonal photos, a bit of sledging and snowman construction. Ed Elliott of Trumpet Corner created an extraordinary Snow Angel. The melting snow just added to the general wetness. However it is now a good bit colder and drier. The cold is welcome as it keeps the trees dormant; the wet is not as it keeps their roots sodden. It is now time to get around the orchard for a bit of pruning which we put off while it has been so wet underfoot.

barn

Wassail 2013

If the purpose of wassailing is to ensure a good crop for the following harvest, it is devoutly to be wished that the ceremony held this year at Court Farm, Aylton, will produce a better result than the 2012 event held at Hellens House, Much Marcle. Last year was by just about every measure the worst harvest in living memory and the rainfall the heaviest since records began. The 2013 wassail was among the most memorable held as it was in the magnificent Manorial Barn next to the Church, where my father sang loudly and played the harmonium scratchily for over fifty years. The barn provided a magical setting for the Mummers play and wonderful shelter from the January chill, which was kept further at bay with mulled cider and Noggin Farm pork rolls. Surely a good year must follow!

Wassail photos courtesy of Richard Crompton
http://www.richardcromptonphotography.com/


wassail 2013










holmelacyhouse hotel

The Scudamores of Holme Lacy House
When one looks at the history of cider in general and of its role in Herefordshire in particular, a name that keeps leaping off the page is that of Lord Scudamore. His family seat at Holme Lacy House - largely regarded as the finest house in the county - is only just over the ridge from our orchard, so we decided it was time to pay a visit during our Cropsharers’ Winter weekend.

Lord Scudamore was Ambassador to France for Charles 1 and so a trusted member of the Royal Household. He entertained royalty and royally and was the patron of a Fownhope man, Tom Spring who became the bare-knuckle fighting champion of All England. Scudamore became convinced that the orchards of his home county could make drink to rival that of the vineyards of France and he eventually grew the famed Herefordshire Redstreak cider apple, which produced a drink of the highest quality. He wanted his cider to impress on the table so designed delicate fluted glasses engraved with the Royal Coat of Arms and his own insignia. His other and probably most important contribution to the industry was to put his cider into glass bottles. Local glass makers had been able to manufacture stronger bottles since wood powered furnaces had been banned to conserve this vital raw material and coal used instead, which burnt hotter and so produced thicker and stronger glass. So next time you pour a glass of sparkling cider make sure you raise a toast to Lord Scudamore of Holme Lacy.

jessAll in a Day's Walk is the title of a PhD performance and research project carried out by Jess Allen, who lives in a yurt at Caplor Farm near Fownhope. She has coined a new word ‘Tracktivism’ - ‘a field of activist performance that utilises walking and moving and talking in rural landscapes to address issues of environmental, social or political concern’ to describe her work. Jess, a dairy intolerant vegetarian, decided that in the long dark wet and increasingly muddy days of December, she would eat only what she could source within walking distance of her home. She told her story in our warm comfy house in January to an enthralled audience as she talked about different levels of activism and engagement. A fascinating project which you can read about online at http://allinadayswalk.co.uk/

rayessha
Rayessa's Indian Kitchen

Dragon House produces the most fantastic range of seasonal smells as Annie makes various preserves throughout the year. We are presently enjoying apple jelly with rosemary and apple chutney making has also been underway. However, recently the kitchen has had a visit from Rayeesa of Rayeesa's Indian Kitchen when we had a fascinating cooking demonstration from one immersed in the food of her culture. Rayeesa was born in the UK but spent her early years in India. She also learnt a huge amount about Indian food whilst a police officer in Southall, which re-engaged her passion for cooking from her childhood. She and her family moved to Herefordshire and we have met her at several food festivals. She cooked vegetable curry and dhal with the help of an enthusiastic audience and also made chapattis from scratch, finishing them off with aplomb on a naked gas flame. The simplicity of her ingredients, demonstration of her technique and love of her craft gave a great demonstration and wonderful tasty lunch. For further information about her products and workshops, see http://rayeesasindiankitchen.com/

2013-02-03 00.03.56-1Giant Jenga
The Flavours of Hereford Award ceremony has just taken place with a different format from previous years. The event has usually been held on the Friday evening before the Hereford Food Festival and this year's prizes were given for individual products rather than a single award for Drinks Producer. The actual awards were beautifully engraved oak boards, using wood left over from the construction of the Wye Trow, a replica of the 36' long flat-bottomed boats that used to ply their trade on the river. The Wye Trow, aptly named the Hereford Bull, was part of the flotilla on the Thames for the Jubilee celebration and is now a training vessel. Once Upon a Tree collected four golds and one silver so Simon ended up on his dinner table with a pile of wooden tablets, which Matt from The Crown at Woolhope immediately dubbed Giant Jenga.

oxroastLedbury Ox Roast Weekend
June 1st and 2nd 2013

An ox was roasted in Ledbury to celebrate the Queen’s coronation sixty years ago in June 1953. One of my earliest memories being the white clad butchers basting the beast with bass brooms, as wonderful a sight as it is alliteration. It felt as though a Jubilee celebration and re-enactment of the event could be a great way to put Ledbury on the map and provide a community event for the town.

So there will be another Ledbury Ox Roast over the weekend June 1st & 2nd. A date for the diary and details will be posted on the new website as plans develop www.ledburyoxroast.org.uk. I am off to view the selected animal next week to check its credentials. It will come from Awnells Farm at Much Marcle, bred by David Powell, who has a Hereford herd of the longest and purest lineage, 100% beef ...

Pear Blossom in April

This year our orchards enjoyed a wonderful spring & blossom time, giving us one of the best fruit sets ever – Norman feels there was at least twice the number of apples than normal – but the orchard endured a dry summer (at least the first half). Our deep Herefordshire clay soils kept the trees functioning, but the apples were very small. Over 300 Tonnes were harvested, a good yield, but what was really interesting was the concentration of flavour and sweetness in the cider fruit.

Our first pressing was Discovery as normal, bottled as juice in late August.  Our first cider fruit were the Somerset Redstreaks. The juice tasted intense, sweet and full of character. It was essentially the normal juice minus the rain!

The Ellis Bitter, Brown's Apple, Dabinett and Michelin all followed with fairly high sugar levels, but the highest recorded was from the small crop of Kingston Black which came in at 11.5% potential alcohol!

We finished pressing on the 30th November, with Bramley the last variety to go through the mill.

As many reading this will know, unlike many other "cider" producers, I do not add water to our cider, which leaves me with a dilemma – most of our ciders will be wine strength from this harvest – which will take them perhaps somewhat off balance, but also into wine duty levels, so much more expensive. To counter this, I have fermented a fair amount of Bramley juice this year, which is naturally lower in sugar, and therefore alcohol, to blend back into the likes of Putley Gold and Marcle Ridge, to make something that is more consistent of what has gone before. However, I am seriously considering bottling our new Kingston Redstreak at 11.0%! Time will tell as they're still fermenting at the moment.

This year's big experiment, was to use dessert apple fruit to make a new cider for next year. "Dorothy's Orchard" Cider (as it is tentatively known, as the fruit came from the 30 odd varieties in our young orchard named after Norman's mother) is tasting vibrant, fruity and crisp, and those who tried it on our cider making day, thought it tasted fantastic. I'm not quite sure how it will finally end up – we are considering a 500ml crown cap carbonated cider this year, so maybe this will be the one. I need to start to work on a label design, as we would like to launch this in time for the Big Apple Blossomtime festival in May. I've spoken with Vernon from the excellent Wye Valley Brewery about the name, and he's happy for us to call it "Dorothy's Cider" as long as we don't make the label look like Dorothy Goodbody's! From the scandal they had a few years ago about her state of dress, I think it best to avoid short skirts anyway...

Vital stats:

• 70 Tonnes of apples and pears pressed this year (+some contract pressing)

• 17,000 bottles of apple and pear juice made

• 35,000 litres of cider and perry in fermentation

• Aiming to produce about 35,000 bottles cider & perry and 8,000+ litres draught cider

• Lowest potential alcohol 6.5% (Bramley using for blending) normally below 5%

• Highest potential alcohol 11.5% (Kingston Black) normally around 7%

• 17 Tonnes of Pomace fed to pigs!




Cider apples ready for harvest
Hand picking Michelin apples
Loading the cheese on the press
Herefordshire Year in the OrchardOn Saturday 18th February 2011 we gathered a fair crowd of around 50 people for our first event for Herefordshire Year in the Orchard. Some 436 years previously, almost to the day, a massive landslip occured on the nearby Marcle Ridge. 60,000 cubic metres of soil, rock, trees and livestock moved down the steep slope of the ridge, demolishing Kinnaston Chapel, leaving a deep and wide chasm, and creating an unusual lumpy landmass, that was duly named “The Wonder”.

435 years later we named our unique Dessert Pear Ice-wine after this local landmark!

Our EventNorman gives an introduction at the Village Hall

Once everyone was assembled and ready to venture forth on our walk, Norman Stanier introduced everyone to the Once Upon A Tree team, and then to our guest speaker local Geologist, Nic Howes.

Nic gave a short talk and description of the geology of the ridge, and the mechanics of how the slip occurred, including an explanation of the accounts that saw “her low parts [the landslip] mounted to a hill of 12 fathoms” – not what you would expect from a landslide!

Leaving Fortnam's OrchardThe walk, led by Norman, started from Putley Village Hall, walking through local farmland and orchards, passing the parish church, Putley Court, and onto Fortnams Orchard (one of the oldest family fruit farms in the area, and where many of the pears were sourced for “The Wonder”), Then onto the Wonder itself where the party divided, some taking in the walk over “Tumpy ground” "Tumpy Ground"and the base of the landslip, and others around the top of the landslip to see the remains of the chasm created when the land moved.

At hall end farm we saw what was suspected to be some of the quoins – cornerstones – that were taken from the remains of the chapel when the farm was being built. We returned to the hall via fields of sheep and lambs, and over small streams and muddy tracks & past the old mill.

At the hall, several bottles of “The Wonder” were opened and shared, along with pear juice for the younger members of the audience, and Simon Day revealed some of the secrets of its production!

Many of the visitors then retired to Dragon Orchard, where they enjoyed further tastings of cider and perry, and a chance to stock up on a few bottles!

Scrambling down the face of the Wonder

Despite the dim, damp, cloudy conditions, everyone really enjoyed the event, from locals who were surprised to learn so much more about what is on their doorstep, to visitors to the area who enjoyed the wonderful scenery and flavours that were on offer.

We look forward to seeing some of the same faces at our next Herefordshire Year in the Orchard event on the 12th March – “History of Orcharding in Putley” led by Norman Stanier.

For future events, see our events page, or have a look at yearintheorchard.org.

On Saturday 18th February 2011 we gathered a fair crowd of over 50 people for our first event for Herefordshire Year in the OrchardHerefordshire Year in the Orchard. Some 436 years previously, almost to the day, a massive landslip occurred on the nearby Marcle Ridge. 60,000 cubic metres of soil, rock, trees and livestock moved down the steep slope of the ridge, demolishing Kinnaston Chapel, leaving a deep and wide chasm, and creating an unusual lumpy landmass, that was duly named “The Wonder”.

435 years later we named our unique Dessert Pear Ice-wine after this local landmark!

Our Event

Once everyone was assembled and ready to venture forth on our walk, Norman Stanier introduced everyone to the Once Upon A Tree team, and then to our guest speaker local Geologist, Nic Howes.

Nic gave a short talk and description of the geology of the ridge, and the mechanics of how the slip occurred, including an explanation of the accounts that saw “her low parts [the landslip] mounted to a hill of 12 fathoms” – not what you would expect from a landslide!

The walk, led by Norman, started from Putley Village Hall, walking through local farmland and orchards, passing the parish church, Putley Court, and onto Fortnams Orchard (one of the oldest family fruit farms in the area, and where many of the pears were sourced for “The Wonder”), Then onto the Wonder itself, where the party divided taking in the walk over “Tumpy ground” and the base of the landslip, or around the top of the landslip to see the remains of the chasm created when the land moved. At hall end farm we saw what was suspected to be some of the quoins – cornerstones – that were taken from the remains of the chapel when the farm was being built. We returned to the hall via fields of sheep and lambs, and over small streams and muddy tracks & past the old mill.

At the hall, several bottles of “The Wonder” were opened and shared, along with pear juice for the younger members of the audience, and Simon Day revealed some of the secrets of its production!

Many of the visitors then retired to Dragon Orchard, where they enjoyed further tastings of cider an perry, and a chance to stock up on a few bottles!

Despite the dim, damp cloudy weather, everyone really enjoyed the event, locals who were surprised to learn more about what is on their doorstep, and visitors to the area, who enjoyed the wonderful scenery and flavours that were on offer.

We look forward to seeing some of the same faces at our next Herefordshire Year in the Orchard event on the 12th March – “History of Orcharding in Putley” led by Norman Stanier.

For other events, see our events page, or have a look at yearintheorchard.org.

"I'm not an Orchard Blogger

nor an Orchard Blogger's son

and I'm only Orchard Blogging

till the Orchard Blogger comes"

 

Actually, as far as I am aware, though many generations of our family have worked and lived on this Orchard here in Putley, just outside Ledbury in Herefordshire, none of them has knowingly or otherwise blogged about it.

Jubilee Mug

New Year is always that time for a fresh look forward, following a largely token glance back as the previous one rapidly recedes into faint memory. How did we do last year? What can we learn from it? What could we do differently in 2012, the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics? I still have my coronation mug up in the cupboard - where will it be in another 60 years I muse?

Well one new thing we are going to do is a Dragon Orchard Blog. Who will read it? How many others are out there? Who is doing them? Does it matter, or as Ford Prefect from The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy would have said, “Does it matter that it matters?”

So here goes ...


One would expect an orchard to be quiet in the first month of the year. Dormant trees [Dormer - to sleep, of course], no leaves, no insects, but when we were out walking with friends yesterday there was a great sound of birds. The Fieldfares make the most noise, a cacophony of very loud chips and squeals as they feed upon fallen apples and the remains of some old pomace left over from the last cider fruit to be pressed. Not really cold enough so far this winter. No real frosts. But this week might redress that balance. However, good weather for fermentation, unlike late 2010/early 2011 when the yeast died off in the cold and many local cider makers muttered many local coloured oaths - Tom Oliver, a maker of fine cider and perry and facilitator of fine music with The Proclaimers - the undisputed champion of the oath of the Lamenting Fermenting.

Noise was also experienced in a Much Marcle Orchard at Hellens Manor a fortnight ago. Here the Big Apple Association held the Wassail of Wassails. A bitterly cold clear starlit night, the stark outline of an ancient perry tree lit by 12 fires, the tree was sprinkled by the Leominster Morris with a libation of cider, an offering of Christmas cake to feed the tree, lodged in a convenient hole in the first fork, dances danced, songs sung, cider drunk, roast pig relished, mummers play savoured and a community coming together to celebrate an age old pagan ceremony as relevant in 2012 as it ever was.

The Wassail FireA Leominster Morris ManThe Wassail ProcessionNorman Wassailing
So Blog begun, orchard coming alive, light increasing. My Granny always said “New Year’s tide a cock’s stride Candlemas an hour wide” referring to the extra daylight to which she so looked forward, especially as, until the Lister generator in the mid fifties, the house was still lit by oil lamps and candles.

Pruning calls, bird feeders need topping up, geese need clean straw, three piglets for slaughter this Friday need ear tags, we all welcome more light.
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