Cider

Cider

A few years ago I lived in a van and, instead of the fences and paving slabs and parked cars I can see now, all I could see out my windows were trees. Apple trees, as it happens. It was an orchard. And, of course - this being autumn, then as now - the apple trees were dropping their apples to the ground, leaving them to lie abandoned in the long grass.

That was in Somerset. It was where I lived while I was writing my second book. And in between writing I did the logical thing. I went round picking up the windfalls to give to local farmer to make cider with.

Well I wasn't exactly giving them away. We'd got a deal. I'd give him the apples, and he'd give me cider. I was hoping for lots of cider to make up for all the work I was doing, bending down and picking up apples by the bucketful, and then emptying the buckets into sacks, and then loading the sacks into a trailer to take down to the farm. It was back-breaking work, but worth it. In the end the farmer gave me two gallons of rough, strong cider, about 2lb of Farmhouse Cheddar and the same of creamy Stilton, and fifty pounds in cash. That was for over two months work, and worth every minute of it. There's nothing like a plate of creamy, electric Stilton or tangy, nose-curling Cheddar with a pint of rough, wild cider to end a day of apple-picking. It's not so much a job, as a privilege under those circumstances.

In case you don't know, cider apples are small and tough. You can't eat them. They taste like parchment soaked in dish-water. But they make lovely cider. Also, you pick up every apple, no matter what the condition is. Under-ripe apples. Bruised apples. Spotted apples. Grubby apples. Half-eaten apples. Rotten apples. Under-sized apples. Over-ripe apples. Insect-ridden apples. Mouldy, brown, sloppy apples, dripping with slime and smelling of yeast. Every apple you can see. It's the mould that makes the cider brew.

So I was musing about this, as I was absent-mindedly loading this unpromising harvest into buckets, in between bouts of my writing-work. My mind was wandering. I started to think that apple-picking was a bit like writing, really. "All this dry, tasteless, grubby fruit," I thought, "all this rotten, slimy, bruised and molested material, loaded into paragraphs, then tied up in chapters, to give to the publisher to make a book with. Such an unpromising harvest. Such a heady brew."

Also - as anyone who has ever picked apples will know - you become obsessed. You dream about apples. Every time you close your eyes, you see apples. Every time you're relaxed, it's apples you're thinking about. Apples, apples, apples, dancing about before your eyes, nestled in the bushes or peeping out at you from the long grass. It's your life. You can't see an apple without wanting to grab it. You'll put your hand anywhere, into briars, and nettles and cowpats. You can't stop yourself. Even when the briars catch your flesh and the nettles sting, you just can't stop. In the end you hardly notice the pain. It's apples you want. The sight of an unpicked apple is an affront to your eyes. It belongs in the bucket, and then in the sack. It belongs in the cider press and then in the vat. It belongs in the barrel and then in your glass. Finally it belongs in your mouth.

And while you're doing it, while you're picking up those apples, breathing in the strong, sweet scent, sweating and panting slightly, there's a sense of deep satisfaction, that this process has been going on since the beginning of Time. You know you are doing something ancient and true. Thousands of generations of human beings just like me, picking up the Summer's harvest, so that it can be preserved and enjoyed in the depths of Winter. Sharp, strong cider, like the Summer Sun glowing in your glass.

Steve Andrews, the Bard of Ely, likes cider too. He calls it "the Amber Nectar" or "Druid Fluid", and when he lived in the UK he would drink it with relish (and to excess) about four or five times a year. Good, strong, West Country Cider, you can't beat it, once in a while. But, watch out. It's dangerous stuff. At 6% proof, and still very cheap from the farmer, it's liable to rot your brains. All the West Country farm-workers have florid faces, like mashed strawberries, and they talk in a low, incomprehensible drawl, like the burble of water over a weir. They say they were weaned on cider. And it shows.

It was an apple tree that led to the Fall, remember. Adam and Eve were idling around beneath the Tree of Knowledge, looking at the windfalls on the ground. "What can we do with these?" they wondered. Then they ate of the fruit. It tasted like parchment soaked in dishwater. "I know," they said, "we'll make cider." And the human race was never the same again.

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Comments 29 comments

Blue Crow profile image

Blue Crow 7 years ago from Yorkshire

Love Westons organic cider. It's like drinking cider-lollies. LUSH!

Nice pic of Taloch... you been robbing my pictures again CJ? Tis gonna cost yer a pint or five mate! x


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

OK I owe you Blue Crow. You seem to have a sixth sense for when I'm nicking your pictures. But it goes nice with the concept of Samhain doesn't it? At least I liked it. I've forgotten where I got it from now. Remind me and I'll put a reference in.


pgrundy 7 years ago

Great hub, thanks CJ. I went to London when I was 19 and discovered cider. I stayed for a month and mostly drank lots of cider. I was with a university summer class and was supposed to be studying the life and times of Samuel Pepys but mostly I studied British drinking habits of the late 20th Century. When it came time to present my paper I took the class on a bogus tour of Cambridge University instead, getting everyone on a slow train to Cambridge that stopped about every 6 minutes, and then making up everything as I went along once I got there. The two professors had promised us no worse that a passing grade if we at least did SOMETHING, so I did something--but one of the them went totally batshit on me afterwards anyway, just screaming and screaming at me about what I waste I was and so forth. After which the other one (the professor who hadn't been screaming at me) confided that the screaming one had once been attacked by large birds while in living in Africa as a child.

Back then, we didn't have cider here in the U.S. (We still don't, not really--you have to really search for it and then pay a lot and its not the same stuff.) I can still remember it. I don't think it was a waste at all I'd do it all over again. I don't even think Pepys would fault me for it. God that was good stuff!


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

You do have cider in the US Pam. I know cos I was over in New York State a couple of weeks ago, and along the banks of Cayuga lake near Syracuse where there are lots of wineries, there's also a place selling something called "Hard Cider", which is what we call cider in the UK, except that the people selling it were trying to make out like it was wine with tastings etc. I used to go to the cider farms in Somerset and you'd get tastings there too. You'd get tastings till you fell on the floor with your brains leaking out of your nose. Not that I recommend the cider-drinking lifestyle to anyone. The results are not very pleasant in the end. But as an adjunct to apple picking and eating West Country farmhouse cheddar, well you can't beat it. Thanks for the story Pam. I gather you don't drink cider any more.


pgrundy 7 years ago

Right, I have to hang onto the few brain cells I have left. But it was great while it lasted!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

Excellent hub, Chris! I could smell and almost taste it! I miss cider here - you can get it but its a ridiculous price - 3-4€ a pint and horrible modern Bulmers Strongbow cider laced with toxic sweeteners or Magners, which probably is!

You can't beat the real rough stuff. I used to drink it in the Mitre in Cardiff in my late teens and in the old Dumfries Place Student's Union and when I moved to Newport at the New Found Out but they stopped all that now!

Apples grow well here so it's something an enterprising farmer could start up!

I love that proper farmhouse cheese too - much better than the stuff you can get in shops!


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 7 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

Excellent Hub CJ, I almost felt like I was there myself the picture you painted was so clear. I am a cider drinker myself, LOL, unfortunately the Strongbow variety (sorry Steve).

There is a local cider called Rocquettes made here in Guernsey, but I don't like it very much and find it too sweet. Always fancied having a bash at making some cider at home, but not sure how practical it would be without an apple press. Is there an easy way to do this at home that you can suggest as I have access to loads of apples at My Step Dad's house??


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Steve I think you'll find Bulmers and Strongbow are OK: they're just not quite like scrumpy that's all. Arthur drinks Strongbow.

Misty, I think you'd need a cider press, but you can make apple wine I think. Problem is getting it clear, so it depends on how finnicky you are. If you don't mind it cloudy then it's fine. The best cider is cloudy anyway. Glad you liked the hub.


KT pdx profile image

KT pdx 7 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA

One of my former neighbors made cider in their basement. It was delicious! Here in the U.S., you can find it bottled under some microbrew labels.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

I used to drink it Chris, but then they added "sweeteners" and didn't even reveal which ones. As the most common is aspartame and as Bulmers wouldn't reply to my mail snail or email I have assumed they are guilty and gave it up! I also gave up chewing gum after Wrigleys covertly added aspartame around the same time period although they did print this on their labels. First of all they gave you a choice of "Sugar Free" with aspartame and Regular without it but then they added aspartame to the Regular, so there was no gum that didn't have it in plus unless you read labels you wouldn't know! As far as I know it is now almost impossible to get gum without aspartame and I had to give it all up.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA

Ah yes, cider. What we got here is apple juice.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

hot dorkage the irony here is that you have to work much harder to make apple juice than you do to make cider, as air-blown yeasts tend to turn any juice into alcohol. Somerset cider is made without the addition of yeast relying entirely on the bacteria the apples carry naturally.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Hi CJ,

There's a place on the A27 between Lewes and Eastbourne, not too far from us, called Middle Farm which specialises in cider and has an enormous collection of ciders, perries and country wines, mainly kept in barrels, and you can go along the rows with a thimble sized plastic tasting cup to try before you buy. A real must for cider heads! I'm a cider lover myself, and a fan of some of those wonderful Somerset concoctions with their way-out names.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Amanda, I'll have to try that place. Here in Kent we have Biddenden cider, which is really classy. So do you live near Lewes then? Are you going to write about the bonfire party?


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

I'm along the coast between Brighton and Worthing, so not too far. I haven't been over to Lewes for bonfire night since we've had the children, mainly because it gets so crowded. we've been thinking about going this year, strangely enough, as they're both able to hold their own in a crowd now, and less likely to dart off and disappear! I hadn't thought of writing about it, but it's a good suggestion. I went one year (probably 20 years ago now!) with some friends from Belfast who were highly entertained when they set fire to an effigy of the pope. In fact one of my friends got so excited that he leapt up and down shouting 'Burn the Fenian Bastard!' I also saw them burn effigies of Margaret Thatcher and Norman Lamont in the 80s. It's a great atmosphere. Have you ever been?


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 7 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

CJ, I used to drive through Biddenden regularly, and Bethersden. For a long while I lived in Kent, starting out in Lamberhurst, before moving to Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and then Wateringbury. Isn't it Biddenden that was famous for the Adult Conjoined Twins, and there was a custom in the village of giving all the children a biscuit one day a year?

Also know Lewes and Eastbourne having driven down there many times on the A27. LOL, you always know when you are getting nearer to Eastbourne because the drivers get slower and slower due to their age :)


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Misty you should try living near Worthing!


Rob Stone 7 years ago

Hi Chris

We drank the hard Cider from Cayuga Lake last weekend. It was pretty good, but nothing like Scrumpy.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Hi Rob, why did we buy the cherry cider that's what I'd like to know? Some of the other stuff was nicer. I've been drinking my Goose Watch sherry too. Very nice.


Constant Walker profile image

Constant Walker 7 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

"Grim clouds scutter like thin grey rags under a sombre sky." I love that sentence!

An enjoyable read, CJ. You are truly an artiste.

I've never had real cidar. I'll need to remedy that, eh?


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Hi Constant: I'm not sure you can get proper West Country cider - which we call scrumpy - anywhere else, but I certainly recommend it if ever you are in Somerset or Avon. Its bright orange, about 6-7% PROOF, and it will have you flat on your face about half way through the second pint. Glad you liked the writing.


Just_Rodney profile image

Just_Rodney 7 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

Love your imagery, could see your labours in the apple fields, and almost hear the winds and feel that cold winds. The description of the true cider, sounds magic. We over here in South Africa unfortunatly only get the bottled types, except a small brewery in Knysa, used to make some, believe that it no longer does though, a loss.

Thanks for a great read.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Thanks Just Rodney. I enjoyed writing it too.


Constant Walker profile image

Constant Walker 7 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

CJ- Can I invite you (and anyone else, for that matter) to share a Roommate Horror Story?

http://hubpages.com/holidays/The-Hubpage-of-Horror


cflynn profile image

cflynn 7 years ago from Ireland

hi CJ

very enjoyable hub but im left a bit rumbly tummied and drymouthed for the cheese and cider.

Cider is great but unfortunatly tastes like lovley fizzy apple juice going down and then blows your head off!! i would love to try to make it. i might have a go at crab apple wine next but if anyone has a cider recipe???? can you buy domestic apple presses? or is there only commercial sizes?


Constant Walker profile image

Constant Walker 7 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

CFlynn- Is this what you're looking for?:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw?url=search-al...


cflynn profile image

cflynn 7 years ago from Ireland

cool thanks!!

now just to get one of those babies shipped to dublin!!!


billie from somerset 7 years ago

not the traditional way but if you cant find a press use a juicer! ive made 15 gallons already this year, just juice the apples put the juice in a barrel which will let air in but not vinegar flys and leave for a couple of weeks till it starts to ferment then syphon into demijons or barrels or simmilar with and air lock on it and leave for accople of months , thats it!

proper job!


Karen 6 years ago

Cider brings back such bitter sweet memories of South Africa, I used to drink a cider called Savanah on the board walk a bar on a balcony overlooking the harbour in Port Elizabeth, I try not to remember it because it was so incredibly beautiful, trying hard to bloom where I am planted.

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