A holiday to Herefordshire for the Brown, Malone-Brown family wasn’t just to go sightseeing, it was a trip to try out different regional ciders and to get to know the local cider culture. Eileen B. Malone-Brown lets us in on their trip.
Written by Guest-writer Eileen B. Malone-Brown, The Cyder Market
Photographs by Dale R. Brown and Eileen B. Malone-Brown
England’s record-breaking rain and cold weather did nothing to dampen our recent Herefordshire holiday in early May. We timed our trip to this renowned cider and perry-making county to correspond with the Big Apple Blossom Festival held in Putley each year.
Our daughter’s, Monica Munn, a strategic analyst for a merchant bank in Manhattan, delayed flight from JFK and our growing fatigue washed-out our first planned outing to CAMRA’s 2012 National Cider and Perry Championship held in Reading, just a small diversion from our driving route to Much Marcle where we stayed for the week. We could not have received a warmer welcome from Fiona and Rob Wilcox to their beautifully converted 300-year old stable, Shepherds Rest, a self-catering cottage on their Hill Top sheep farm. We knew we had chosen our accommodations wisely after discovering the cream tea, vintage cider and flowers that had been left to refresh our body, mind and soul! The Malvern Hills and the town of Ledbury in the distance, with fields of frolicking lambs next to those with yellow rape in full-bloom, framed each view from this bucolic base-camp. Two gastro-pubs, The Royal Oak and Walwyn Arms along with Weston’s Scrumpy House Restaurant were less than two miles away, ensuring a steady diet of traditional English food and cider!
On the first day of the Big Apple Blossom Festival (Yes, there was sun!), the tiny village of Aylton and Court Farm was our first destination for the advertised ploughman’s lunch in a Grade II medieval cruck barn. Afterwards, we visited the unusually small 12c church next-door, with its 15c rood screen, bell tower and sundial before repairing to Putley for the actual cider and perry tasting competition. This quintessential village hall was packed, cheek-by-jowl, with enthusiastic cider and perry-lovers. We met a number of the makers of Herefordshire ciders imported into the United States to include, Tom Oliver from Oliver’ Cider and Perry in Ocle Pychard and representatives from Gwatkin’s Cider, Moorhampton Farm, Abbey Dore (whose farm cider tasting room we later visited); plus many more cider-makers who would love to export their delicious drink to the States! We wandered just down the road to Dragon Orchard to enjoy a saunter around their orchard to see the wide-variety of apple trees in full bloom. For anyone who loves cider, attending the Big Apple Blossom Festival is the only way to taste amazing ciders and perries that never leave this local.
The Cider Museum in Hereford was the perfect way to spend a rainy day, cossetted by two expert museum docents, Bryn and Barbara Evans. We were fortunate that there were few visitors on this Monday morning so that we could fully immerse ourselves in their knowledge about the history of Bumlers, Lord Scudamore, who introduced the Redstreak apple in 1630, launching the beginning of the Golden Age of Cider in Herefordshire, and especially the creation of the various Pomona reference books to document the disappearing heirloom apple trees in the mid-to-late nineteenth century as country-folk move to the big cities and orchards were abandoned. The museum is indeed fortunate to have many of the original paintings created by Alice Blanche Ellis and Edith Elizabeth Bull over an eight-year period to create the Herefordshire Pomona, a catalogue of the apples and pears grown in 19th century Herefordshire. Their paintings with penciled-notes were captured in small sketch books and pieced together like a jig-saw puzzles to create larger pictures that were used to produce lithographs, hand-colored and printed in seven issues from 1878-1884. As a botanical artist, seeing these paintings was one of the highlights of the trip for me.
Cider-making at its essence was crystalized for us by our fabulous visit on a sunny afternoon to Broome Farm, home of Mike Johnson and the Ross-on-Wye ciders and perries. We began the visit with Phil Long in the tasting room and shop, who quickly provided an on-the-spot tasting-lesson about the virtues of single-fruit ciders and perries that quickly progressed to creating blends, in our mouths! Broome Farm with its collection of alpacas, B&B, camping site and historic collection of pear-trees seemed right out of H.E. Bates’ book, The Darling Buds of May. Most of Mike’s 65-acres of orchards provide cider apples for Bulmers, about half-an-hour away from the farm.
The fruit that remains is used by Mike and his crew to create many award winning ciders and perries, for which they received a first prize last month for dry and medium sweet perry at the recently held Cider Museum competition. We spent a couple of very happy hours with Mike and Phil tasting the ciders and perries made from last year’s harvest and enthusiastically endorse their first prize results. Ross-on-Wye perries were the best we have ever tasted. Fortunately for those of us in America, The Shelton Brothers in Belchertown, Massachusetts import a number of Ross-on-Wye ciders. Now we just need them to add a perry or two!
These are just a few highlights from a very quick-week exploring cider and perry-making in Herefordshire. For all the cider-loving readers, this is a must trip on your bucket list. The next major Big Apple Association festival, Harvestime 2012, will be held 13 and 14 October in the village of Much Marcle. Visit their website for the program of events. With that recommendation, let’s hope that all the cider-makers sang the lyrics to this song when a-wassailing in January to ensure the best harvest ever this year!
Hereford Cider Orchards
A-wassailing the apple trees
Pour cider on their roots
Dance a jig my Morris man
It stimulates the fruits
They stamp around the orchards
Light fires up the rows
They sing a song or two my dears,
And this is how it goes:
Bang your trays together, boys
And hold your torches high
Fire your gun – away we run
Call the spirits from the sky.
The spirits help the trees, my boys
So fruitfulness abounds
Then Lots more cider we will have,
When autumn comes around.