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.
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.
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)
Two: Early flowering Pears eg. Winter Nellis (23 April 2018)
Three: Sweet Cherry (23 April 2018)
Four: Late flowering Pears eg. Conference (3 May 2018)
Five: Apples (Early flowering eg. Egremont Russet, Golden Noble – 3 May 2018, Late flowering eg. Lord Lambourne, Bramley – 8 May 2018)
Six: Quince (8 May 2018)
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.
Honey Pot Flowersare 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 orchard sits at the north end of the garden beyond the old rose garden. Originally planted in around 1994 it has been later extended with the addition of new pear and cherry trees and most recently an apricot.
The orchard looks wonderful in spring with all the blossom emerging in sequence, the white of the pear and cherry, the apple blossom pink and the huge dusted pink flowers of the quince. The orchard is planted in mown grassland and at the base of each of the trees are daffodils, narcissus and snake’s head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris)
We were looking to create an orchard that offered us fruit that you would not normally find in the supermarkets – a range of unusual varieties that offered us both cooking and dessert eating.
We also wanted an old-fashioned field-style orchard which had large (but not too large) trees. We therefore decided to buy new apple trees on a semi-dwarfing rootstock MM106 – small enough to climb in and prune but tall enough to be able to mow under.
Egremont Russet – an excellent golden russet with a distinctive nutty flavour. One of our earliest dessert apples to ripen and they are usually ripe by early October and over by late October.
Lord Lambourne – a decent sized cox-style apple with a rich aromatic flavour. Usually ripe around mid-October here in Warwickshire.
Tydeman’s Late Orange – a smaller red cox-type dessert apple with white flesh that ripens much later than the others. Usually ripe for picking early November but fine for cider making earlier. It has a good strong flavour with and almost floral undertone. It has proved to be a very vigorous and large tree and a little difficult to keep pruned and under control.
Bramley seedling- quintessential British cooking apple with reasonably sizes fruits with a red blush. Fruits can be small if not thinned early in the year. Our tree is more susceptible to scab than our other apple trees. Proved to be very vigorous and has developed into a large tree even on a semi-dwarfing rootstock.
Golden Noble – an excellent green cooking apple with large clean fruits, consistently crops well. Tends to crop earlier than the Bramley in September and October. Introduced in the early 1800’s.
Winter Nelis (Cooking) – a small cooking pear with a very good flavour. Although supposedly a cooking pear they are perfectly good to eat as a dessert pear later in the season. Nice and firm for pickled pears. Introduced 1818.
Doyenne du Comice – has remained a small and manageable tree over 20 years. Reliably produces good quality fruit. You have to watch carefully as the birds know when they are ripe (mid-October) and they will quickly peck at them before you get to pick them all. The fruits are so large that the branches do need to be supported to avoid damage.
Conference – a very well known pear which can be eaten as a dessert pear or cooked.
Williams pear (died 2015) – we have had two of these trees and they have always struggled before eventually fading away.
Warwickshire drooper – we had to grow this one (as we live in Warwickshire). It has proved to be a very productive and delicious plum with a strong rich wine flavour. Can be eaten fresh (mid-September) or cooked.
Stella – Canadian bred cherry with large dark red fruits which are easy to pick. Does not fruit reliably every year and the blossom is susceptible to frost. Needs careful protection from the birds as once ripe the cherries will disappear in a matter of hours (really annoying!).
Sunburst – very similar to Stella with large juicy fruits in late July.
Flavorcot – a very new and exciting addition to the orchard (c. 12 months) this apricot is a new variety bred specifically to crop well in the UK climate. I can’t wait to taste the first fruits!!
Some experiences in growing and managing our small orchard
Vigour – Many of our trees are well established and now over 20 years old. They are very productive. All the apples were purchased on a MM106 semi-dwarfing rootstock but they are all now different sizes. The Bramley and Tydeman’s Late Orange have been very vigorous whilst the Egremont Russet and Lord Lambourne have remained smaller trees and easier to manage.
Leaning – We mentioned in the introduction to the site that we only have a couple of feet of soil sitting above clay. This has meant that the trees have struggled to grow deeply into the soil and gain a foothold. The result is that many of the trees now grow at a jaunty angle having been subject to 20 years or more of south westerly winds! Nevertheless they produce far more apples each year than we need (and plenty for making cider).
Pests and Diseases – In the early years we suffered a lot from codling moth and plum moth damage at harvest time. Over the years we have used grease bands and pheromone traps and we have noticed a significant reduction each year in the number of insects we have caught in the traps. We now get very little damage.
The quince has always suffered from a fungal infection which can lead to early defoliation. Although we sprayed in the early years (and this worked well) we feel rather uncomfortable in spraying our fruit with pesticides. In recent years we have not sprayed and the crops are large and the tree comes back with great gusto the next year.
The Bramley is the only tree that seems to suffer from scab. It also suffers in some years from bitter pit which I believe indicates a calcium deficiency or irregular watering. The trees are all grown in grass and therefore in the summer there is considerable competition for any water that is available. Perhaps this is the cause but none of the other trees seem to suffer in the same way.
Biennial bearing – we have certainly noticed that the apple trees exhibit this trait sometimes especially after a year where there has been a very heavy crop. In the next year they have a bit of a rest.
Pruning – getting the pruning right over the years has taken us some time to get right I must admit. Too much pruning and you simply get masses of water shoots which don’t bear fruit. Similarly knowing which varieties are tip-bearing (eg. the Bramley) and spur bearing is key to making sure that you don’t prune off next years flower buds. You do eventually get to recognise the future flowering buds but it does take time. The subject of a whole new post in its own right I think!!
Overall – In general the apples have done extremely well but the pears have all struggled (though have survived). The quince took some years to start fruiting but is now a vigorous and productive tree. The cherries have established well but the blossom is rather subject to a late frost. Some years we get a wonderful harvest whilst in other years we get nothing.
Using the produce
As the seasons pass we will begin to post up some of our favourite recipes and how we preserve and use the orchards production. What are your favourite recipes?