Country course review: cider making with Rural Courses

I’ve always loved Autumn; the crisp bright sunshine, the first fires at home, the crunchy leaf walks, the harvest and the glorious foliage. I love it so much that years ago, Mr Land Girl and I decided to have an autumnal wedding in a Portuguese vineyard near where I grew up. It’s unfortunate that neither of us checked what the traditional anniversary gift should be this year because if we’d realised it was “Fruit and flowers” I’m sure we’d have held off on ordering our orchard of fruit trees from the nursery! So in search for a gift that fit the theme, I thought I’d look for something we could do with all that fruit in potentia.IMG_0901

I’ve long had little patience with people that can’t admit they need expert guidance. Had I asked for help with my mysterious urban plums years ago, no doubt someone would have explained to me (hopefully using small words and a patient tone) that pollination of fruit trees isn’t a given, especially when your tiny London garden is surrounded by a sea of decking and patioed gardens and I’d have been saved years of frustration. But I didn’t know that there was something I didn’t know, I just assumed I had a dud tree. Usually I’m very proficient at admitting my ignorance and seeking guidance and it was in this vein that I booked a cider making course with Rural Courses.IMG_0905

The bright freezing sunlight of the early November Sunday morning today found us driving into a field in Kent to meet our instructor at his family farm. A quick hot drink (and opportunity for our toddler to sneakily consume his bodyweight in homemade fruitcake) later, we were sitting in the warm countryside barn kitchen learning about cider, the theory of. It actually turns out to be somewhat simpler than I’d realised, so fortified with our new-found knowledge we headed outside where our toddler was thrilled to help wind the handle on the scatter to smash the cider and eating apples we were blending. Mike, our instructor, has children of his own and was marvellously patient in ensuring that he felt included. We then used three huge buckets of smashed apples to fill up the fruit press and start extracting the juice. LandBoy the toddler gleefully drank at least a quart of the fresh juice pouring straight from the spout (and rhapsodised about it all the way home) and we quickly had enough to fill our bucket. A quick trip back to the welcome warmth of the barn and we added the cider yeast and voila, had a huge tub of cider futures to take home along with detailed instructions on how to finish the process. We ended the morning with a wander through the amazing setup on the smallholding, pausing to greet the pretty pigs and learn about hairy bittercress and various other interesting woodland edge finds. In short, a lovely way to spend a crisp Sunday morning, and we came away with a small bathtub of cider to boot, as well as some more ideas about smallholding in general. I think we’ll definitely be back, we still have a lot to learn!

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We farm a three acre smallholding in Hampshire, England, having fled London in pursuit of the good life for our little family. We mess about with an assorted menagerie and try to be as self-sufficient as possible in meat and fruit and vegetables whilst enjoying our plot and an outdoors lifestyle with our son. I am the luckiest person that I know.

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