The shock realisation that autumn is on its way hit me like a cold, wet flannel in the face when I walked into the nursery this morning. I don’t want autumn just yet. I can barely bring myself to look at the winter pansies, heathers and chrysanthemums. Cyclamen I adore, but not in August.
This is the holiday come-down that we all endure. A week spent camping under the stars on the jurassic coastline of Dorset has worked its magic. Salty sea air and endless hours of fun, laughter and relaxation have invoked a warm, happy feeling; a contentment that I don’t want to lose.
We stumbled upon a country idyll on our daily pilgrimage to Swanage, one of the finest beaches I have ever visited. A brown sign beckoned us from the road promising a cider museum with local cider. I am not one to ignore such an invite so off we went.
The winding lane we traversed was as picturesque as they come. A crystal, clear babbling brook raced along with us, sunlight dancing off the water. Rounding a corner we arrived at the cider farm to be greeted by a shanty town of tumbled down poly tunnels and a decrepit barn. A collection of small, but interesting, apple trees were the only indication that we had arrived at the right place. The polytunnels had already caught my eye.
We ventured towards a collection of rusty farm machinery propped up by a shop and the entrance to the ‘museum’. Dutifully we paid our dues and sat down on an old wooden bench and a hastily gathered plastic patio chair to watch a video of cider making. It was great, the kids who were in danger of suffering tv withdrawal were immediately hooked, as were we, for different reasons. Life on the farm looked so enchanting with all generations involved in the picking and pressing of the apples but of course there was so much more to it than just savouring the glorious taste of the golden nectar. Cider was wages for the farm hands and, as such, a necessity not a luxury, any extra was sold to boost income.
Oh to be making hay while the sun shines and drinking cider with Rosie that’s my idea of a good days work!
I started giggling at the old wood worm ridden cider making equipment covered in years of dirt and grime stacked up in an old barn (I blame the cider..hic!) and wondered how they could justify the entrance fee to such a place. Then I remembered, this was a museum not a working cider farm, a place to look back and reflect on times gone by. So look back I did and in that moment I could imagine the cider makers, working side by side together sharing tears and laughter, sorrow and joy, ruled by the changing seasons, singing their songs, raising the rafters where now only the swallows swoop and dive.
This farm no longer produces cider but there are plenty of places that do. We tried as many samples as we could get away with in the shop, including a Dorset apple schnapps, before settling on a 5 litre plastic container filled with a medium dry cider from the nearby Mill House Farm. I also purchased a small bottle of perry flavoured with mint to enjoy on the beach (wouldn’t look good swigging the five litre plastic bottle of cider ) and what a pleasant surprise that was. Pear and mint create a taste that is both sweet and refreshing.
As if several gallons of fine local cider wasn’t enough I couldn’t resist those poly tunnels. Tomato and pepper plants were laden with ripe fruit, even the sprawling water melon plants had set and were happily swelling their fruits in the intense midday heat. But it was the chillies that captivated me. I love growing chilli plants. There are so many different types in an array of colour, shape and flavour and the fun of it is you never know how hot they are going to be when you cook with them. I can’t resist buying a few packets each year from Simpson’s seeds and I also can’t resist them when they are laden with ripe fruits in a sun soaked nursery in Dorset. I bought one, for a pound, called super chilli, covered in fruit.
I save the seeds from chilli plants. Simply scrape out the seeds and let them dry out for a few days on a piece of kitchen roll then put them in a labelled packet and store in the fridge. This also works with tomato seeds, both can then be sown in February.
Now back to the cider. My apple press is calling me and the apples on the trees are beginning to ripen. Armed with my book How to make cider by Jo Deal I am on the hunt for some bounty, perhaps embracing the inevitable change in the seasons with a little more gusto than I was at the start of this page!