An Apple a Day….Or A Pint!

Yesterday was National Apple Day, but around here we are constantly reminded of the versatile fruit which first arrived on these shores with the Romans. Of course, we had our native apple, the Crab Apple, a small sharp fruit which is much underused yet still lurks in many a hedgerow, but the apple has come to represent so many things.

  
Living on the borders, with Herefordshire and Gloucestershire only a stone’s throw away, we have some of the finest orchards in the country on our doorstep 

Once famous for perry and cider, Monmouthshire is remaking a name for itself; small local producers almost always offering an excellent quality product. We drink it, mull it, use it in cooking.  It really is very handy to keep one of those imploding boxes of basic cider in the kitchen throughout the autumn and winter. It can be reduced to a sticky glaze for a free-range pork chop, poured into gravy or used to de-glaze the pan when making a cream sauce to serve with poached chicken. Inspired by the neighbouring  Forest of Dean, I often make a Chicken Forest-of-Dean-iere, my take on the classic Chicken Forestiere, replacing the mushrooms with apple and cooking the chicken slowly in cider before finishing off with a glug of cream, a little mustard and some finely chopped sage. This is perfect autumn fodder and even better with a glass of vintage cider on the side.

  
Monmouthshire’s Apple County Cider

www.applecountycider.co.uk

There are many farm Apple Days in October, the roads are filled with groaning trailers of apples awaiting their wooden crates. Cider Farms have their yards stacked with the crates which go off at all hours to be turned in the amber nectar. One of the loveliest local drives is from Ross-on-Wye to Ledbury, at this time of the year the air is scented with fruit, the road is slow (due to the tractors) but a leisurely half hour inhaling the country air is a very pleasant way to pass the time. There are signs to several Cider Farms on the road, the most famous, and most commercial, being Westons – famed Great Britain over – it even sponsors national sportsman. The visitor centre is definitely worth a visit, and be sure to squeeze in a tour if you can. The Restaurant is splendid and offers (as expected) a large variety of bottled as cask ciders and the food is really good.

www.westons-cider.co.uk
For a more ‘local’ experience, Broome Farm near Ross-on-Wye is also worth a closer inspection – the cider is sold from the cellar, a cool, slightly damp cider paradise located under the farmhouse itself. The steps down are hewn by years of use and the barrels sit temptingly waiting for you to make your choice. They cater for all tastes, including apple juice for the little ones. You can choose your favourite and they will vacuum pack it and box it for you to keep it fresh for 4-6 weeks after opening.

www.broomefarmhouse.co.uk
Of course, there are also the beautiful eating apples,  so many varieties and each one so different, some sharp and almost peppery which others are tinged with overtones of rose or peach. The tree at the bottom of the garden is groaning with fruit this year, it fruits every other year. Last time, we made fresh apple juice which I turned into jelly to accompany roast meats and belly and liver terrine, some apples were cooked and frozen for almost instant crumbles and some were eaten just as they were, with a large slice of unpasteurised local Single Gloucester cheese from Smart’s Dairy.

www.smartsgloucestercheese.com
I think that the British cider and apple industry in general is a wonderful thing, but so much more could be made of it – when I think about the huge wine festivals I have attended in France, with thousands of people eating,  drinking and dancing, all in praise of the wine it makes me a little sad.

  
Please….please seek out local Apple events, then, maybe one day British cider will again be as internationally famed as the wines of France.


Humbled by Pork!

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to a press day organised by porc.wales, a new, assembly backed initiative to promote small producers of proper pork in Wales.

Wales and Pork have a history which goes far back (although not too far, as the pig was sacred to the celts) but up until the early twentieth century, when it was finally outlawed, many Welsh families kept a pig which was sent for slaughter to keep the family in meat – no part of the pig was wasted – it was true nose to tail eating.

The porc.wales press event was held at Humble by Nature, the Monmouthshire farm championing sustainability and tradition. Owned by television presenter Kate Humble, Humble by Nature offers a wide variety of practical courses as well as being a good family day out – with an excellent cafe and regular supper clubs.

A study conducted into the Welsh pork industry found that in general the herds were substantially smaller than those in England – and often comprised native or heritage breeds.

At Humble by Nature we enjoyed a masterclass in faggot making from Gloucestershire charcutier Ruth Waddington who, alongside husband Graham, runs Lydney based Native Breeds www.nativebreeds.co.uk which make delectable products with the best possible pork (I can very much recommend their British Frankfurter) and very much enjoyed the accompanying talk about paring foraged ingredients with meats to create a storyboard for the recipe. Liz Knight, from borders based Forage Fine Foods www.foragefinefoods.com is obviously extremely passionate and introduced us to delightful flavour bombs such as acorns, giant hogweed and chamomile.


Having finally produced our faggots we had a guided tour of the farm from farmer Tim Stephens and met the pigs, of course! Humble by Nature’s dedication to sustainability is obvious – their animals are extremely well cared for and look extremely relaxed.


Lunch was splendid, as you can see, a few green beans and some creamy mash on the side, not forgetting my first ‘stock shot’ of cooking liquor which was packed with flavour – the sticky toffee Spotted Dick which was followed was equally yum! A glass of Humble by Nature branded cider finished off the day perfectly (along with a little bit of foodie debate)

For further info on foodie and countryside courses search www.humblebynature.com