Quince cider – a new experiment for 2018

This year has been our best ever for Quinces in the orchard.  Much as we love Quince Crumble Tarts there is a limit to just how many of these you can eat.

BBC Good Food

Photo Credit:  BBC Good Food

Rather than simply leave the fruit to rot on the compost heap we thought we would explore another method of preserving them and enjoying them over the coming months.  Although we make cider from our apples every year we have not tried quince ‘cider’ before so this is very much an experiment.  I have used the term ‘cider’ as I am not trying to make a quince wine.  I am looking for something that is thirst quenching, fresh and sparking and not as alcoholic as a wine would be.

The fruits have such a fragrant bouquet that they should make a very enjoyable drink in theory but I can imagine that if you use too many the flavour could be over-powering.  Having read various recipes this is the approach we decided to adopt to make our first gallon of trial quince ‘cider’.

I decided to use eight large quince fruits per gallon.  Some recipes suggest 20 per gallon but I think this would result in a flavour that might be too strong.  As the fruits are so rock solid even when ripe they could not be crushed and pressed in the same way as apples.   The quinces were washed, cored and grated (skin on).

The pulp was then added to 4 pints of water in a large pan and brought to the boil.  It was boiled for 15 minutes and then the liquid was strained from the pulp.  Other recipes have suggested that boiling for longer than 15 minutes makes it difficult to clear after fermentation.  The resulting liquor certainly had a very pleasant flavour.

To increase the sugar levels for fermentation I dissolved 1kg of granulated sugar in 2 pints of water and then added this to the quince juice.  This resulted in a specific gravity measurement of SG1080 which is perhaps higher than I might have wished for.  If it ferments out then this would be in excess of 9% alcohol which is pretty potent for a cider.  Time will tell whether the result will be on the sweet side with a lower alcohol content or drier with a higher alcohol level.

A further 2 pints of cold water was added to the must to make up the 8 pints (1 gallon) and this was allowed to cool to tepid before adding a cider yeast.  I also added 2 teaspoons of pectolase to help the cider clear.

All that is left to do now is stand back, admire and wait for the result.  Usually my apple cider is ready to rack in mid-November and it will be interesting to see if the quince cider performs in the same way.

I will let you know how it goes!

Advertisements

Six on Saturday: The fruits of our labours

Harvest time is certainly upon us and this week’s ‘Six on Saturday’ highlights some of the autumn produce coming out of the garden.  It has been a rather strange year with some plants and trees setting really well and other producing absolutely no fruit at all.


One:  Grapes

Last autumn we described the process of pruning the red and white outdoor grape vines ( Pruning time for the outdoor grape vines ).  They have both really enjoyed the hot weather this year and produced (after thinning) large juicy bunches of sweet grapes.  When we planted these a few years back I was rather sceptical as to whether we would get anything worth eating here in the UK Midlands but they have both exceeded all my expectations.

You can eat them fresh but they also make a lovely grape juice.  This is simply done by putting them in the food processor for a very quick pulse to mash the fruits and then straining.  Absolutely delicious.

P1020102


Two:  Apples

It is not quite apple picking time but the Golden Noble, Bramley seedling, Lord Lambourne and Egremont Russet (pictured) have all done very well.  The Tydemans Late Orange, however, has no fruit on it this year and we have no pears at all (see:  The Orchard – beautiful in spring, productive in autumn for further details of the varieties we grow in the orchard).

Next month (October) will be peak harvest time for the apples and on a warmish, sunny day I will get out my cider making equipment for the annual cider making bonanza. ( see:  How to make cider from all those spare apples  ).  With so little water this year it may well take some time to get a decent yield of juice out of the apples.

P1020133 Russet


Three:  Greenhouse and polytunnel fruits

At the peak of the heatwave the greenhouse fruits were certainly struggling a bit and we suffered a lot from bottom end rot on the early tomatoes.  This is supposed to be caused by irregular watering but I seemed to be watering all the time.  I think the plants were just unable to cope with the temperatures and were in a semi-wilted state for a number of weeks.

However, as the temperatures cooled the tomatoes have recovered and are now producing a regular crop of large red, tasty fruit.  I have grown the variety ‘Shirley’ for the last few years and found it very reliable and full of flavour.

The cucumbers did not seem to mind the heat and produced a huge crop.  The variety I have most success with is the variety ‘Euphya’ from Marshalls. You only get 5 seeds but your get five plants from them and they produce far more high quality cucumbers than we could ever eat.  Most of the hamlet here receive free cucumbers at some point in the summer.

The final fruit crop in the polytunnels has been the Sweet Peppers.  The variety I have most success with in both hot and cold summers is the ox-horn type pepper Diablo.  They produce huge sweet peppers (pictured) and are currently ripening to red in the polytunnel.

P1020136


Four:  Plums

Our plum tree is now over 25 years old and beginning to show its age.  When we saw this variety (Warwickshire Drooper) in the catalogue when we were first planting the orchard we just had to include it.  We live in Warwickshire after all.

This year it has had a huge crop despite an increasing number of dead looking branches.  It is a lovely plum to just eat fresh off the tree with a slightly plum wine flavour. Yum!

P1020130 Warwickshire Drooper Plum


Five:  Quince

Another tree that has had a bumper crop this year has been the Quince.  You could grow it purely as an ornamental tree as it has a mass of large pink flowers in the spring.  When ripe, the fruit has a delicate and beautiful fragrance.

They are a lovely fruit to eat if prepared well (see:  Quinces ).

P1020114


Six:  Enjoying the harvest throughout the winter

Although it is lovely to eat all this seasonal produce at this time of year now is the time to preserve the harvest for those long cold winter months.  This is probably the topic of a separate blog still to be written but we do make a lot of use of a wonderful little kitchen gadget – our Tefal jam maker.

Home grown fruit jam on hot buttered toast on a cold winter morning.  I will leave you with that thought!

P1020138


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Six on Saturday: Blossom diary for 2018

What a wonderful year for orchard blossom we have had.  More importantly when the blossom has been out the sun has shined and the bees have been flying.  All bodes well for a bumper crop I hope.

I always find it fascinating to see the signs of spring moving up the country each year as I read other garden bloggers’ articles.  As the temperature rises and the days get longer the blossom slowly emerges across the British Isles.  I have always felt that the flowering here in Warwickshire is about 2 weeks later than where my mother lives in South Oxfordshire.

The 2015 study conducted by Coventry University in association with the Woodland Trust, British Science Association and BBC Springwatch concluded that spring moves up the country at about 2mph travelling from the south west towards the north east (how fast does spring travel up the country).  There is some evidence that it is now travelling up the country more rapidly that it did between 1891 and 1947 when the figure was around 1.2mph.

For this week’s Six on Saturday I have recorded the flowering dates for the blossom in our fruit orchard using the dates on the various pictures I have taken over the months.


One:  Apricot (16 March 2018)

IMG-20170316-WA0001 Apricot


Two:  Early flowering Pears eg. Winter Nellis (23 April 2018)

P1000922 Early Pear

 


Three: Sweet Cherry (23 April 2018)

P1000941 Cherry


Four:  Late flowering Pears eg. Conference (3 May 2018)

P1010104 Late Pear


Five:  Apples (Early flowering  eg. Egremont Russet, Golden Noble – 3 May 2018, Late flowering eg. Lord Lambourne, Bramley – 8 May 2018)

P1010106 Apple Blossom


Six:  Quince (8 May 2018)

P1010211 Quince

We are located near Warwick in the UK Midlands.  If you live in the south or north it would be very interesting to hear when your trees flowered so we can get a feel for how long it has taken spring to move from the south coast to the north and across the border to Scotland.

More information on the varieties we have in the orchard can be found on a previous blog (The Orchard – beautiful in spring, productive in autumn ) with a specific article on Quinces and how to cook them at: Quinces.  I have also previously written on our annual cider activities at:  How to make cider from all those spare apples.

 


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.


Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.

The garden in late January

The garden here at Honey Pot Flowers may appear cold and quiet but the new year is coming upon us quickly and there is plenty to do and much to see.

Despite the low temperatures here in Warwickshire, bulbs and flowers are beginning to emerge.  The snowdrops are now in full swing complemented by the pinks and purples of the cyclamen and hellebores.  The first of the primroses and yellow crocuses are beginning to flower and the air is filled with the scent of Daphne odora and Sarcococca.  And, what is more, the sun has started to shine!

Galanthus elwessii
Galanthus elwessii
Cyclamen coum
Cyclamen coum

The garden birds are extremely busy foraging for food across the garden.  Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatchs, Chaffinchs, Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Great Spotted Woodpeckers are all regular visitors to the garden now with Buzzards mewing and flying overhead trying to catch any weak thermals that might come their way.

Crocus
Crocus
Primroses
Primroses

With time marching on we are also trying to get all our pruning jobs completed before we get into seed sowing in earnest.  A few days bright and dry weather has allowed us to start pruning back the bush and climbing roses.  Ideally the climbing roses should have been done in November but better late than never!  With the climbers we are untying all last years growth, cutting out some of the old stems to shoot afresh this year, cutting off the side shoots to a couple of buds and then tying in three or four strong new stems to flower this year.  In March we will give them a good feed to set them on their way.

Helleborus orientalis
Helleborus orientalis

In the orchard we are also starting to prune the apple and pear trees.  There are three main tasks to perform here on each spur fruiting tree:

  • remove any dead or diseased branches
  • improve and open up the structure of the tree by removing crossing or unwanted branches (this also increases air flow and helps minimise issues with disease)
  • prune back any of the new leaf shoots from last year to three or four buds leaving the flower buds on the spurs to develop.

With partial tip bearing trees, such as the Bramley, remember that some of the flower buds are on the end of the stem and removing these when pruning will obviously reduce your crop.  The wood, or growth buds are much smaller than the flower buds that will eventually provide you with your fruit.

Winter pruning underway in the orchard
Winter pruning underway in the orchard

One thing to remember when pruning fruit trees is that if you prune hard the tree will grow back vigorously producing a rash of long ‘water’ shoots.  This will make pruning next year much more difficult.  Ideally you need to achieve a balance, just enough pruning to improve the health and structure of the tree and encourage the tree to put effort into fruiting and not too much that the tree produces excessive vegetative growth.

It really is such a pleasure to be out in the garden again at the start of a new gardening year.  There is much to do and seed sowing is just around the corner.

 

Pruning time for the outdoor grape vines

We have always been rather surprised at how successful we have been at growing grapes outdoors in the garden here at Honey Pot Flowers.  Anna Pavord in her Independent article suggests that it is difficult to grow them north of a line between Gloucester and The Wash so here in Warwick we must be pushing our luck a little.

We have two vines, one of red dessert grapes and one of white dessert grapes.  They have been in place for about 12 years now but unfortunately the variety names have become detached along the way.  Year in, year out they produce a good crop of sweet and tasty grapes and it feels rather special when it comes to harvest time.

In November/December we prune the vines ready for next year.  Writers indicate that if you leave this until the spring when the sap is beginning to rise there is a tendency for the cut ends to weep.

Next year’s grapes are produced on the laterals formed in the current year.  The plants grow very vigorously in the spring and can produce a huge number of floating laterals with many spectacular large fresh green vines leaves.  The aim of the pruning is to not allow the plant to produce too many laterals and encourage the plant to put its efforts into a smaller number of larger bunches of grapes.

Having said this we nearly always have to prune out some laterals next year as well as thin out the number of bunches of grapes on the plant as a whole.  In this way we get larger, juicy grapes.

Grape vines are very attractive climbing plants and we grow our vines up the same trellis supports as our climbing roses.  The main leader is trained in a spiral up one of the main uprights and allowed to clamber across the top so that the grapes hang down and can be picked as you walk through the arch.  A lovely thing to do when you are taking a gentle evening meander around the garden to appreciate your days work.

At this time of year (December) we cut back the leader by about a third and shorten last year’s fruiting laterals back to 2 or 3 buds.  These buds will create next year’s fruiting laterals.  Any unwanted, broken or crossing laterals are also removed to create a nice tight structure that is firmly tied into the supports.   It is very important to take time to tie in carefully and robustly so there is minimal chance of damage from the winter winds over the next few months.

Dormant grape vine before winter pruning
Dormant grape vine before winter pruning
After pruning
After pruning – the climbing leader shortened by one-third, the laterals cut back to 2 or 3 buds and the main stem tied in firmly for the winter

All of this work now will pay dividends next year.  In September/October next year the grapes will begin to ripen and be ready for picking.  Surprisingly we get very little bird damage and without netting we get a good crop for ourselves and also enough to share.  Despite being outside they are sweet enough to eat fresh but one of our preferred methods is to make juice (there is not usually enough to make any sensible amount of wine).

Making the juice is a very simple process.  Pick and rinse the grapes and give them a very quick pulse in the food processor.  This should be just enough to break up the grapes and release the juice but leave the pips intact.  Strain the resulting pulp through a course plastic sieve into a jug and store in the fridge until you need it.  Avoid using a metal sieve as this may impart a metallic taint to the juice.  No sugar needs to be added and the juice will keep at least 2 or 3 days by which time the family have guzzled the lot.

Drinking your own freshly pressed grape juice from your own grape vines is such a pleasure and a real taste of summer.

 

Further reading:  “Pruning” by Christopher Brickell (RHS) (ISBN:  1-85732-902-3)

Garden Ecology: Hornets – friend or foe?

One of the things I love about writing a blog is that it encourages you to investigate around a subject more than you might otherwise do so.

Over the last month the hornets have been much more noticeable in the garden than at any other time of year.  I presume that they must be about all year but we only tend to notice them when the apples ripen and the cider production begins.

According to Wikipedia the European Hornet (Vespa crabro) is the largest eusocial wasp in Europe.  Certainly the ones in our garden at around 3cm in length make the ordinary wasps look petite and delicate.  The hornets have a very characteristic yellow band across their heads and brown hairs over their thorax.  They are brown and yellow compared to the black and yellow of the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris).

They just love any apples that have been pecked by the birds and it appears that they get rather intoxicated by the (fermenting?) juice.  From time to time they seem to just fall out of the apple onto their backs and onto the ground, lie there for a while with their feet in the air and after a few minutes fly back to the apple for more!

According to the UK safari website , the larvae eat insects taken back to nest by the adults.  As with wasps this probably makes the hornet a friend (rather than foe) in the garden helpfully eating unwanted insects and reducing their numbers.

This same website indicates that hornets are mostly in the south east of England and range northwards as far as Nottinghamshire.  Our population here in Warwickshire must therefore be part of this tough northern stock (the ones with the Midlands accents).

There has been concern about the arrival of the Asian Hornet (Vespa veluntina) in the UK which is an invasive non-native species.  As a predator of the honey bee its arrival is of great concern.  I am fairly sure that the hornet pictured in our garden is the European Hornet as the ‘Asian Hornet’ has an entirely dark brown or black velvety body, bordered with a fine yellow band and a much blacker abdomen.  Only the 4th abdominal segment is yellow/orange.

Further information on the Yellow legged ‘Asian Hornet

How to make cider from all those spare apples

We have been making cider with our orchard apples for over 15 years now. I find it hugely satisfying and it makes excellent use of an apple crop that would otherwise go to waste.

We try to use a mix of apples. Too many eating apples and you get a rather insipid cider. Too many cookers and it is rather sharp. The beauty is that every year is slightly different depending on the apples available. You certainly don’t need specialist cider apples to make a very drinkable cider.

  • First of all make sure that all your equipment is cleaned and sterilised to reduce the risk of off flavours getting into your cider.
  • Give the apples a good wash in clear water and cut into quarters making sure you take out any bruised pieces and any bugs! Some people leave the bruised parts of the apple but we like our cider to be fresh tasting and not of old over-ripe apples.
  • Put the apple pieces through the crusher. The aim is to crush the apples and not chop them as this releases more of the juice.
  • We extract more juice by a short pulse in a food processor. You don’t want to create a pulp as this simply oozes out of the press in the next stage. The pieces need to be crushed but still large enough not to escape out of the press.
  • The juice is extracted using a manually operated Vigo fruit press. You need patience for this as you need to give the apple time to release its juice. You then apply more pressure and wait again. (You can always drink the juice at this stage as well – in the interests of quality control of course!)
  • Gather all the juice together in a sterilised fermenting vessel with a bubbler.
  • We add about 1kg of granulated sugar dissolved in a small amount of water to every 25 litres of juice to increase the alcohol content of the final cider (to about 7%-8%). This means it keeps much longer and will keep up to a year once bottled with no problems.
  • We use cider yeast rather than a general purpose wine yeast. Sprinkle the yeast on the surface and allow to soak for 15 minutes or so before stirring in.
  • We also add about 4 teaspoons of pectolase to the must to get a clear, fresh cider with no cloudiness.
  • Place the cider to bubble away until around December. Keep it in a warmish place at around room temperature. Once the fermentation starts to slow decant the cider off the old yeast deposit into a clean fermenting vessel. Leave to ferment out until the bubbles stop.
  • We bottle our cider into normal, sterilised beer bottles that will take the pressure of a secondary ferment in the bottle. We add one teaspoon of sugar to each bottle before filling and then apply a crown cork to seal.
  • The cider is then left for its secondary ferment in the bottle. This is important as this secondary ferment will mellow the cider and create the natural sparkle in the bottle.
  • The cider will be ready in about February or March but will keep very well for at least 12 months.
  • Chill before drinking and enjoy!!

2017/2018 Timeline

22 October 2017 – Apple pressing completed and fermentation started

9 December 2017 – Racking the cider off the dead yeast as fermentation slows to prevent off flavours developing

31 January 2018 – Cider bottled and stored in cool area for secondary fermentation in the bottle to create the sparkle!

20 March 2018 – Breaking open the first bottle – yum😁