The se­cret drink of golden fire

‘If it’s au­tumn in Glouces­ter­shire, then it must be time for Ap­ple Day when we cel­e­brate cider’

Cotswold Life - - ADAM HENSON - con­tact @Adamhen­son T: 01451 850307 cotswold­farm­

The turn of the sea­sons is one of the fas­ci­na­tions of liv­ing in the Bri­tish Isles. When you’re in a wide, ex­posed land­scape al­most 1,000 feet above sea-level, you can al­most see the chang­ing weather rolling to­wards you over the hori­zon. Now the heat­wave of the sum­mer months is fast be­com­ing just a mem­ory and the shorter, mist­ier days are with us, the time has come to en­joy au­tumn in the Cotswolds.

It’s a won­der­ful time of the year; the beech trees are tinged yel­low, acorns and pine cones crunch un­der­foot, the hedgerows give up their har­vest of black­ber­ries, sloes and rose hips and ap­ples are ev­ery­where. Tra­di­tion­ally, Glouces­ter­shire had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing one of Eng­land’s great or­chard coun­ties with more than 200 recorded ap­ple va­ri­eties. Many of them were dessert and cook­ing ap­ples but it’s for our cider ap­ples that we were renowned. So much so, that along with Here­ford­shire, Worces­ter­shire, Som­er­set and Kent we be­came known col­lec­tively as the ‘Cider Coun­ties’.

In our part of the world what Lau­rie Lee called “the se­cret drink of golden fire” was pro­duced from fruit with evoca­tive names such as Dy­mock Red, Shep­per­dine Silt, Ped­ing­ton Brandy and Wick White Styre. I talk about the cider ap­ple va­ri­eties in the past tense be­cause since the Sec­ond World War around 75% of all Glouces­ter­shire’s or­chards have been lost. But now there’s re­newed in­ter­est in lo­cal fruit va­ri­eties and her­itage or­chards are grow­ing once-for­got­ten types again. It’s a trend that’s be­ing echoed through­out the coun­try­side with more farm­ers now re­in­stat­ing old or­chards or cre­at­ing new ones thanks to en­vi­ron­men­tal in­cen­tives and a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of farm­land bio­di­ver­sity.

But while it’s still un­likely that we’ll see big name na­tional stores rou­tinely sell­ing tra­di­tion­ally-made cider from age-old Glouces­ter­shire va­ri­eties, thank­fully some farms shops and farm­ers’ mar­kets have been do­ing their bit to pro­mote lo­cal pro­duce. While if you know an oblig­ing her­itage fruit farmer, now is the right time of year to re­quest a visit to their cider barn or farm yard to see old ap­ple scrat­ters and iron presses at work, pulp­ing the fruit and ex­tract­ing the juice.

Much of the credit for the re­cent cider ap­ple re­vival has to be given to the Glouces­ter­shire Or­chard Trust which has been work­ing for al­most two decades to con­serve and cel­e­brate our lo­cal fruit tra­di­tion; not just ap­ple trees but also pear, perry pear and plum. A great deal of the re­search and work to lo­cate, iden­tify and graft lo­cal va­ri­eties has been done by one of the great cham­pi­ons of all things Glouces­ter­shire, Charles Martell. He’s the cur­rent High Sher­iff of the county and is a na­tion­ally re­spected cheese-maker and pioneer­ing owner of rare breeds. With such a pedi­gree, per­haps it’s no sur­prise that Charles is also some­thing of a saviour when it comes to lo­cal fruit va­ri­eties and he’s even pro­duced a se­ries of beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated books which are the de­fin­i­tive ref­er­ence works on the sub­ject.

Across the Cotswolds ap­ples of all sorts will be cel­e­brated on Oc­to­ber 21 which is now well es­tab­lished in the an­nual events cal­en­dar as Ap­ple Day. It’s amaz­ing to think that the first Ap­ple Day cel­e­bra­tions took place as long ago as 1990 with a launch event held, ap­pro­pri­ately, in the old ap­ple mar­ket in Lon­don’s fa­mous Covent Gar­den. It was the first time in 16 years that fruit had been brought to the mar­ket and it caught the imag­i­na­tion of thou­sands of peo­ple. Since then Ap­ple Day has spread across the coun­try and the Cotswolds re­gion has been a great flag-bearer for the ini­tia­tive. Ben­sons the juicers in Sher­borne first gave their sup­port to the an­nual event years ago, the Glouces­ter Life Mu­seum in West­gate Street has a long his­tory of demon­strat­ing its horse-drawn ap­plemill and Stroud’s farm­ers’ mar­ket can al­ways be guar­an­teed to get in on the ap­ple ac­tion. So what­ever you do on the 21st, here’s to a Merry Ap­ple Day!

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