The Bramley apple is one of England’s most well known and well loved apple varieties and has been the popular choice for pies and crumbles for nearly two centuries.
Incredibly the original Bramley tree that is the genetic parent of every Bramley tree in the world still lives today in a garden in Nottingham where it has survived for two hundred years!
The fruit from this humble tree was found to be so good for culinary use that grafts were taken from it to produce more of these trees all over Britain and around the world and the name “Bramley” was established as the premier cooking apple.
Less well known by most people is that the Bramley also makes good drinking!
The apple’s juice is fairly tart and a little acidic when fresh but when blended with a sweeter apple such as Cox’s Orange Pippin and left for about a year to mature this produces a great Eastern Counties style of cider.
The Bramley has been the stalwart of Kent cider making for centuries and today there are still vast orchards of this variety all across the county and these are used by most Kentish cider makers as well as being sold for culinary use throughout the land.
A well matured Bramley juice adds a refreshing bite to cider and when available is very important ingredient in my own Salt Hill Cider as it helps to balance the other varieties of sweeter eating apples.
2014 was a good year for Berkshire cider makers as my own “Autumn Gold ” took first place in the regional CAMRA awards which are held at Reading Beer & Cider Festival in May each year.
Another Berkshire producer, Tutts Clump were awarded first place at the same event for our regional Perry award so this really helped to raise the profile of Berkshire cider and perry.
There are now several cider makers in Berkshire and the ciders and perries made from local fruit tend to be quite different from the West Country “scrumpy” style ciders as they tend to be sharper with a clean refreshing taste and lack the tanin found in fruit in the west.
The long dismal winter period is the quiet time for cider making and orchards are in a state of hibernation awaiting the longer days and spring sun’s warmth.
The cider that was pressed in the autumn last year is still slowly fermenting and maturing in the barrels and will continue to improve and mellow until it is ready to drink in the spring.
A long established practice amongst cider makers is “Wassailing” an old english word meaning “be of good health” which is held in January usually around Twelfth Night.
This a traditional ceremony to celebrate the orchards and bless the trees in the hope of good apple crops in the coming year and a bountiful harvest for cider making in the autumn.
This year Salt Hill Cider was very pleased to be involved with a local event, the first ever Hedgerly Community Orchard Wassail.
On Saturday 10th January a group of people gathered and proceeded to the orchard where they enjoyed a barbeque and cider drinking around a bonfire followed by a tree blessing and reading of traditional Wassail songs.
The Hedgerley Community Orchard is a young orchard planted and maintained by a group of local volunteers and is still a few years from being fully productive.
Hopefully this Hedgerley Wassail is going to be expanded for next year and become an established local event.
Now that Spring has finally arrived the cider drinking season begins and pubs and festivals will start to stock the new season cider and perry.
The apple crop in 2014 was very low around many areas of the country and this will have an impact on the availability of good quality real ciders.
Around Berkshire and Buckinghamshire there was a real shortage of apples and as a result Salt Hill Cider had to buy in cider apples from the West Country where crops were rather better than ours.
The new season cider will be ready to drink from around Easter time and hopefully will be available throughout the year.
If you enjoy an occasional drink of cider then please ask your local pub to stock some this year and help to support your local producers and to make use of the fruits of local gardens and orchards.