In my youth I was fairly impervious to the seasons, but in recent years I have come to dread the winter months. It’s not so much the cold that I dislike as the long hours of darkness and the even more dismal short hours of fuggy daylight. I particularly hate the murkiness of late November and December and always rejoice when the New Year brings a better quality of light. My husband once pointed out to me that January 21st marks the end of the two darkest months of the year, and now I always have a mini-celebration on that date.
It is therefore with mixed feelings that I welcome the autumn, even such a warm and mellow one as we have been enjoying this year. We’re already more than a week into October and, at the end of the month, the dark mornings will descend in a brutal rush when the clocks are changed. Now the shades of winter are hiding in the trees, making the first leaves fall. Soon all the branches will be bleakly bare. Although we’ve had a good summer, no-one in Yorkshire has forgotten last winter, which managed to extend itself almost into April: here, we had eight-foot snow drifts at the end of March.
There are some good things to look forward to, however. This has been an excellent year for crops of all kinds – the combination of a wet, late spring and warm early summer seems to have suited almost every species of fruit and vegetable. I’ve already written about freezing our bonanzas of beans and peas, and the exceptional blackberry harvest that we’ve enjoyed. The plums have been prolific, too. And now there is a bumper crop of apples.
We have two apple trees, one an eater, the other a cooker – a Cox’s Orange Pippin and a Beauty of Kent; our neighbours own four, theirs all varieties of eaters. The Cox rarely produces enough apples to last us until Christmas, but the Beauty of Kent is a stalwart yielder – we collected ten trays of apples last year and did not manage to eat all of them or give them away before they began to rot at Easter – and the neighbours rarely get around to harvesting the significant yields that their trees produce in any kind of systematic way. The waste has been regrettable, but hard to address. This year, my husband decided that we should countenance it no longer and suggested that we should try our hand at making cider.
Correction: that isn’t what he originally suggested. At first he said that we should try making apple juice, and accordingly we bought the equipment. My husband loves embarking on projects of this kind and they all have one feature in common: they are always more expensive than he says they will be, often by many times – the pond, for example; then the beehive ‘starter kit’ (£450 would give us all we needed to maintain two colonies of bees, but we soon needed another hive and a very strange miscellany of costly equipment that looked as if it had been knocked up by Heath Robinson, not to mention the cost of the bees themselves, which turned out not to have been included in the initial figure). I don’t for a minute believe that this is because my husband has a poor head for figures or is incapable of adding up the costs of his enterprises; in fact, I’m quite certain that it’s his way of getting me to agree to them. Once he’s pointed out the entirely reasonable price attached to whatever is his latest enthusiasm, and I’ve agreed to this outlay, we have reached the point of no return and further investment, when it is needed, becomes impossible to refuse.
So it has been with the apples venture. The cheapest press proved, on closer inspection, too inferior to contemplate; the screw cap bottles that we’d saved possibly not suitable for the pasteuriser (pasteuriser? I don’t remember that being part of the discussion!), so two boxes of matching shiny new ones have been purchased; and, it turns out, we also needed a host of small tools – a bottle-drying gadget, a thermometer, muslin bags, ‘food grade’ plastic buckets, etc., etc. However, I had agreed that it was a wicked waste not to do something with the apples, so I totted up the cost (about £800) and dug out the credit card. Expensive, I thought, but a real quality-of-life-project, and at least there was nothing more we could possibly need.
I’ve met my husband before, so in retrospect I’m a little astonished at my own naiveté. The equipment duly came, we picked up a couple of trays of windfalls and spent a happy afternoon chopping, pressing and bottling them. I was particularly impressed with the pasteuriser, which bubbles away, and apparently doubles as a tea urn – so if we decide to hold a village fete on our lawn, no further financial outlay will be required. Enthusiastic about our success – we now had eight bottles of de luxe quality apple juice (I tried not to cost out the price of each) – I asked my husband if we’d be making another batch the following weekend.
He assumed a look that I know well: a mixture of foxy evasiveness and guileless bonhomie unique to himself. “I’ve been thinking,” he said. “There are so many apples this year, that perhaps we should have a go at making cider, too.” I shrugged. “Sure,” I said. “Why not? We’ve got all the equipment now.”
“Well, the thing is,” he said, “there are one or two other items that we need…”
Upshot: we spent a further happy day in glorious sunshine on Sunday gathering up windfalls and plucking marked or damaged apples. The cider-making extras came yesterday – the additional cost was a mere £122 – and we spent the day chopping and squeezing eight trays of apples (in my case this activity was punctuated by several telephone calls to a restaurant in Krakow, of which more in a later post). We now have thirty litres of cider bubbling away in the garage, and five of the bottles of apple juice still to drink. And all of this for less than £1,000!
I must admit, though, that the experience has been so enjoyable that the outlay has been worth it and, as my husband so sagely remarked, the apple press is a beautiful piece of machinery that will last us for many more years, and eventually become an heirloom. Thinking a little more short-term, the cider should be ready by Easter and I’m sure the anticipation of it will help us through the dreary darkest days.
[Having read all this and, he says, ‘appreciated’ the tone of it, my husband requests the opportunity for a re-post riposte (guest), from his perspective. Hmmm.]
All text and photographs on this website © Christina James
14 thoughts on “To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees…”
Ha ha ha! Brilliant! I am sure it will be worth every penny – i think ;o) Our neighbours have apples which mostly fall into our garden and I’ve still not done anything with them ,there are probably not enough for cider (maybe just as well!) We do have a Victoria Plum tree which yielded masses of delicious plums this year and for the first time ever I made plum chutney and jam and all are very nice. easy too. Not as expensive as cider but that apple press is amazing and am very envious of it :))
Thanks, Marianne. I’m not showing my enthusiasm quite as obviously at home, of course, but we did both have a fabulous day doing it all… and I couldn’t get the Keats out of my mind. For your interest, thirty litres of juice came from just under seven of those green plastic trays.
Hi Christina, what a busy, apple harvest time you’ve had! Hope the cider tastes good….
I think your husband must be related to mine, he keeps getting enthusiasms that ‘are not too expensive’. I realise that short word, too , usually means the purchase will be expensive. He has currently taken over our front garden, to develop into a wild flower meadow. All my shrubs and border flowers have come out, having turned over the soil, done some landscaping, he is now waiting for next spring to do the sowing and planting. Next year, the lawn will be taken out….. By which time he will have moved on to the next enthusiasm!
Hello, Marjorie! We did have a lovely time doing it all… and, yes, I hope that it tastes good, too! 😉
I think that we have to harness these enthusiasms and manage them as best we may. However, I can’t believe that he still catches me out after all these years! Love the humour of your comment. My very best wishes to both of you… and that flower meadow should look lovely; hurrah for the bees!
Your apple project makes me think of The Fixx song “One Thing Leads to Another.” Glad you had fun doing it. If we lived closer to each other, you could come and get the apples that we let rot on the ground year after year — all of our energy goes into tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries, etc.!
I’d better keep quiet about your windfalls or someone quite close to me will become enthusiastic about ways of transporting them! 😉 Yes, it was fun and it has been a truly wonderful year for produce. It’s just so time-consuming to keep up with it. There is something really magical, though, in seeing all the bottles and jars and tubs, with the soft light turning them into pots of mellow gold.
Thanks, Laura. 🙂
What fun!! This looks like the sort of thing we did with making butter and ice cream back in the day. Lovely photos and very descriptive. I will have to read the text more closely later as I admit I’ve just skimmed it before going to work. Maybe more later 😉
Yes, it’s the sort of thing groups of people, and especially children, can get together to do. It captures the spirit of autumn and, as I said to someone on Twitter, I couldn’t keep Keats’ Ode out of my mind. ‘Courage’ for the work today. 🙂
What fun – and what a great way to celebrate your one-year old blog. Will raise a glass to you from far away.
Thanks, Jo. That’s very kind of you. I’m raising imaginary cider glasses a lot, now. Feeling a bit squiffy. 😉
Happy blog birthday! Your photos are lovely and next year your cider or apple will cost you nothing. How lovely to have all that fruit in your garden and it is good that it hasn’t gone to waste this year.
Thanks, Anne! Well, year on year, we should hope to get some of the investment back. I’m hoping that the cider itself turns out ok, too, of course. Much appreciate your visit on this special blog day! 🙂
Nice new cider gear.
You might investigate trading some of that fermented wonder for other onerous tasks: split and stacked firewood? Ham. Hmmm…trades for ham. Haaaaaaaamm.
Lovely gear. Really first class.
Thanks, Jack! A return to a bartering economy; funny you should say that. We were discussing the provision of farmyard manure by that very means, though not with cider. 😉