The first rule of cider-making? The fruit is at all times in cost. That’s what Susanna Forbes tells me as we glance out from her kitchen to windswept timber and moody skies. When apples are prepared they have to be picked. However are there, I ask – pulling on waterproofs and wellies – any circumstances by which you simply wouldn’t? “A deluge,” she says, “for causes of practicality and sanity. Although if it was a extremely particular tree…”
This early October day is merely damp, and there’s definitely not sufficient of a deluge to defy Mom Nature. Plus I’m not right here to speak over espresso, as beautiful as that could be (Susanna is heat, professional and interesting). No, I’ve joined the co-founder of craft cider and perry pioneer Little Pomona to assist.
Light, rolling, rural Herefordshire is synonymous with cider apples. It produces about 150,000 tonnes annually. Whereas huge industrial producers will are available with their machines and scoop up every part directly – good apples, dangerous apples, assorted orchard flotsam – artisanal producers comparable to Little Pomona are actually extra choosy. They harvest solely one of the best fruit, at simply the proper time, which can range not simply by discipline however by selection, tree and even the aspect of the tree. This ends in finish merchandise which are akin to wine of their high quality and complexity. However this takes extra ability and person-power. Which is the place folks like me are available.
A number of artisanal cider producers welcome volunteers over the busy autumn months to help with no matter wants doing: choosing, shovelling, urgent, bottling.
“You don’t at all times know what’s going to occur. It might be as unglamorous as cleansing or working the pump, however volunteers are proper in it,” says Susanna. Additionally, these are small companies the place additional assist isn’t simply helpful however important.
“It means we will transfer on,” says Susanna. With volunteers doing the fundamentals, there’s extra time for her and husband, James, to scout completely different orchards, discover thrilling fruit and create fascinating blends.
And what’s in it for the volunteers? Susanna explains: “Some come for a break, to share the conscious strategy of being outdoors. Others are all in favour of moving into cider.”
Susanna herself volunteered on the close by Ross on Wye Cider & Perry firm in 2013 earlier than launching Little Pomona a yr later.
I’ve no such career-change aspirations, however I like the thought of getting away from my desk, doing one thing bodily and feeling helpful, in soothing countryside. Which is how, like a lot of Little Pomona’s short-term volunteers, I come to be staying within the Forbes’s wood-beamed spare room (which dates again to in regards to the fifteenth century). And which is why I’m crawling about their historically planted residence orchard with fellow volunteer Helen and Joey the canine, treasure-hunting within the moist shag-pile grass for windfall Ellis Bitters, making an attempt to evaluate whether or not they’re match for goal. Happily, this isn’t too onerous: scabby and ugly is ok; bruised isn’t (“they’ll’t retain the aromatics”); these with wildlife burrowed inside are particular nos. It’s relatively therapeutic, eyes and fingers targeted on the earth, thoughts free to roam and natter. And it’s oddly addictive; simply once you suppose you’ve de-appled an space, you see one other. However ultimately it’s time to deliver out the panking pole.
Having laid tarpaulins beneath the tree, Susanna arms me an extendable hooked stick, which is used to shake the upper branches. The trick, she explains, is being aggressive sufficient to make the fruit fall however not a lot that you just destroy subsequent yr’s shoots. Or get bonked on the top, Isaac Newton-style. I give it a go, standing at a secure angle and inflicting a volley of apples to smack the bottom. I preserve going. Quickly my arms ache and the tree empties; often I land a gap in a single, an apple falling straight into the bucket under. “All the time satisfying,” Susanna admits.
We accumulate round 200kg, which I tow again to the home, having been entrusted with the sit-on mower. Little Pomona was once primarily based right here, at Susanna and James’s residence, however they now have a bigger trendy cidery a couple of miles away, at Brook Home Farm close to Bromyard. Which is the place we’re off to subsequent. There are, says Susanna, fascinating issues occurring.
A kind of issues is a top-secret cherry perry undertaking. The combined juice has been fermenting for some time and is now able to be transferred into barrels (two cognac, one rum). As every part right here is of course fermented, with nothing additional added, the ability is in deciding how finest to mix completely different varieties utilizing completely different vessels. I assist, after a vogue, holding tubes and tilting carboys of golden juice as James masterminds the magic.
There are many different duties. I assemble flatpacked cardboard containers and polish dusty bottles in order that they’re prepared for the labelling machine. I take advantage of that too, although not with nice success – when you occur to purchase a double-labelled bottle of juicy Previous Man & the Bee 2019, that’s one in all mine…
In a while, with Susanna and Helen busy with prospects within the tasting room, I be a part of James on a scouting mission to close by Netherwood Property. Little Pomona works with a number of orchards and can verify them periodically, tagging any timber they need to harvest. In the present day, it’s slim pickings, however I get to style a phenomenal Brown’s, zingy as Starburst, and a uncommon White Norman, which appears to be like like somewhat egg. It was the latter selection that James used because the mainstay of his 2018 Netherwood Reserve Cider, made particularly for the property and served at its Michelin-starred restaurant, Pensons. We pop in on our well beyond.
“We’ve bought a lot of the cider,” says supervisor Jim Conway. “It’s acquired comfortable tannins and oak, however nonetheless a freshness. It goes nicely with our duck however works with a whole lot of various things; it’s super-versatile.”
I’d like to dine at Pensons a while. I’d particularly prefer to attempt the signature cocktail, a mixture of calvados, orange and the Netherwood Reserve. However tonight I’m pleased to finish up again within the Forbes’s kitchen. Home made curry bubbles on the range, James performs vinyl, Joey spread-eagles on the couch, cider is popped, poured and pored over. And we make obscure plans for tomorrow – extra choosing, extra cleansing, gathering a stack of perry pears – however in the end the fruit can have the ultimate say.
Little Pomona Cider Home is close to Bromyard, Herefordshire; the store is open Saturdays, midday to 3pm, yr spherical; the tasting room is open Thursdays and Saturdays from April to September (excursions accessible on Saturdays); three-day volunteering alternatives (Monday-Wednesday) run all through October and November; workforce meals included. Contact Susanna Forbes, email@example.com, littlepomona.com
Assist with the Herefordshire harvest: different locations to volunteer
Ross on Wye Cider & Perry
This internationally famend producer has an extended historical past of welcoming volunteers, together with Susanna. Volunteers can camp or keep on the farm’s Cider Shack.
Contact Albert Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org; rosscider.com
Volunteers at this smaller, certified-organic producer close to Leominster are more likely to be concerned with a little bit of every part. Lodging is in a yurt on the smallholding.
Contact Russell Sutcliffe, email@example.com, innocentpilgrim.co.uk
This award-winning cidery has accepted volunteers for years, some via the Wwoof (Worldwide Alternatives on Natural Farms) scheme. It straddles county borders, choosing from orchards in Herefordshire and past, with a taproom on the Perry Pear Centre in Gloucestershire.
Contact Chris Atkins, firstname.lastname@example.org; on Fb
Museum of Cider
Assist out on the UK’s solely accredited cider museum, in Hereford. Duties would possibly embody photographing the bottle assortment or harvesting at one of many museum’s orchards.
Contact Elizabeth Pimblett, email@example.com, cidermuseum.co.uk