Who’d like home-brewed cider for Christmas?
Last month I announced to the family that I had Big Apple plans. The Daughter instantly pictured herself on Fifth Avenue like Pretty Woman weighed down by the colourful ribbon handles of Macy and Saks bags whilst The Youngest, with the misplaced instinct of a child computer fanatic, imagined a string of iDelivery men rushing over with networked iMacs, iPads and freshly-engineered phones to boot. The Significant Other knew me better.
Actually, inspired by a beautiful cycle ride along Herefordshire’s ‘black and white trail’ which ambles through medieval timbered houses and pretty villages nestled in a rich landscape of cider mills, we have started making cider competitively in the garden
You’re probably picturing us on a Laurie Lee small-holding, fruit dangling from row after row of picture-book English orchard. Think again. We have two trees in our garden one of which grows dead brown leaves, though the other is undoubtedly interesting – to a keen gardener. We were told when we moved here that the previous occupant had spent years grafting several strains of apple onto a single trunk, and it is this specimen heavy with the weight of genetic modification, that we are relying upon for our autumn beverages. And the competition is with The Significant Other’s father.
Ahead of our One-Family Cider-making festival, The Significant Other whipped up the frame for an apple press from locally sourced rustic wood (i.e. scavenged) and sent me down to the local car breakers to liberate an unwanted car jack to provide the big ‘squash’. Caractacus Potts would have been proud. Our rickety effort paled, however, once The Father-in-Law appeared nonchalantly bearing his version, stunningly crafted in fresh pine with right angles and motorised mechanism.
We began with a rousing chorus of Ag-adoo- doo-doo, and some serious tree shaking, peppering our brows with leaves and circular bruises. Then, before the pressing could begin, the apples had to be crushed and so we set to work, smashing apple quarters with rolling-pins, hammers, and a spare piece of railway sleeper. All in, we toiled for a full working week (that’s five hours each for seven family members) like the characters from Little House on the Prairie, although they wouldn’t have been wearing diamante flip-flops. The result, as well as a fine crop of blisters, was twelve litres of local organic apple juice which was delicious though a dark tea-dregs brown with a surface scum of Oxfordshire insect.
To celebrate both our achievement and the fact that we aren’t actually nineteenth century pioneers in the land of the silver birch with a moose to skin, a river to pan and a barn to raise before supper, we settled into unseasonally warm autumn sunshine around a barbeque for which the ingredients, thank goodness, came ready prepared in plastic packaging.
Mind you, The Middle Child took a fancy to the long bow earlier in the year and has booked himself onto an archery course. With the encouragement of a Robin Hood costume for Christmas, and subliminal positive reinforcement through the finale of the William Tell Overture played gently throughout the house this winter, there’s every chance he’ll be an expert by next summer: our next annual One-Family festival may be even more fruitful, with local game on the barbeque. And I don’t mean Oxford Monopoly or next door’s elderly cat.
Back at the barbeque, it was time to crack open a shop-bought bottle of Prosecco because we had, after all, still to prepare a crate’s-worth of empty bottles to house the cider once it finishes its fermentation. Following a liberal dosing with antibacterial antioxidant preservative to kill off loitering microbugs, and several weeks of yeast-rich hibernation, the bucket can be removed from the airing cupboard and we’ll have cider of some description and (some properly aired clothing again) and that surely is worth drinking to. Though I’m sure noone’ll mind if I stick to the Prosecco.
Esther Lafferty is the organiser of Oxfordshire Artweeks, a visual arts festival, and the oldest open studios event in the UK, involving around 1000 artists and over 400 venues each year. She is married with three children and lives in Faringdon. This hyperactive mermaid lists her hobbies as triathlon, kayaking, dancing, writing, theatre and cryptic crosswords.
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