Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cleeve Prior cider weekend

My good friend (and boss) Jez is the man behind Prior's Tipple, a cider that uses fruit from old orchards in the village of Cleeve Prior, Worcestershire (see 15/8/09 post). Each year he hosts a cider making weekend where friends from across the country get together to pick and process fruit, camp amongst the trees and drink cider. The old orchards of Cleeve Prior are being used, and because of this they are admired, maintained and play an important role in reconnecting people with the natural world. Old orchards that have a use stand a far better chance of surviving.

There are several orchards in the village, and on the Saturday thirty of us moved between about five different sites collecting fruit. Prior's Tipple is made from a 'geographical blend' of fruit and thus although there is no exact recipe, the same trees are harvested from each year ensuring that a broadly consistent mix of apples goes into the press. You don't want the juice to be too sweet since it is often the sourer flavours that provide levels of complexity in the cider.

We picked three tonnes of fruit from this orchard. It had some fairly ancient trees in it, including a couple of perry pears like the one in the foreground here. Interestingly this one had really sweet fruit whereas I expected all perry pears to be quite bitter to taste.

You can't really shake a big tree from the ground, but climbing fruit trees is often sketchy. Everyone was in quiet agreement about one thing though- knocking the fruit down is far more fun than picking it up again off the floor!

A beautiful apple that Jez calls the 'still life' apple. Not sure about the real variety but this shouldn't be impossible to find out considering how unusual it is.

Many hands making light work of a haul of fruit the weight of which almost became scary. That's about a tonne in the van there.

The business end of proceedings; apples are 1) washed, 2) roughly chopped, 3) scatted into pulp, 4) organised into 'cheeses' and 5) pressed. The juice is filtered and collected in large tanks to begin fermentation.

I was really impressed by the work of the Cleeve Prior Heritage Trust. They got the villagers to club together and raised thousands of pounds to buy land in the village to save it from development or misuse. This is a photo of the Cleeve Prior Community Orchard and Parish Ponds, a nature reserve with old plum and apple trees and several fantastic ponds. It is a wildlife haven, with unimproved grassland that apparently has fantastic wildflowers in the summer (including pyramidal orchids). The ponds are thankfully free of fish and gaps in the orchard have been replanted with cider apple trees that we harvested, a diversification that keeps the orchards productive.

In a cavity in one of the old plum trees I found the frass of the Noble Chafer (Gnorimus nobilis)! Unmistakable lozenge shaped droppings of a very rare beetle. (I think these orchards have already been fully surveyed so sadly no glory to be claimed for that spot.)

This was in another orchard, mainly plum again. Jez provided many of the maiden cider-apple trees that have been used to replant the gaps. There were also a few much older standard apple trees such as the one pictured. We saw a Little owl flying across the grass and there were huge ant hills along the fenced edge.

Oh apple tree, we'll wassail thee
And hoping thou wilt bear,
For the Lord does know where we may go
To be merry another year.

To grow well and to bear well,
And so merrily let us be,
Let every man lift up his glass
And a health to the old apple tree,
Brave boys, and a health to the old apple tree.

(Traditional English wassailing song.)


  1. Hey Henry, I found your blog, it's really impressive, and the weekend was amazing indeed! Sara, xxx

  2. Wow, a great set of pics and a wonderful example of a community working together. It's much like what we are trying to achieve in South Glos.


  3. I used to live in Cleeve Prior in the 60's, my parents managed the village shop. Nice pics!
    ~ Rosemary


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