For anyone interested in Husband’s recipe for home-made cider, here it is.  Nothing fancy needed, and it makes a strong drink.

Ingredients:    apples (naturally), sugar (quantity depends on your taste preferences but you need between 1 – 1.5lb sugar to every gallon of juice), brewing yeast (1 teaspoon per gallon of juice).

Equipment:     fermentation jars/barrels, bung & air lock, something to pulp the apples (yes, we use a garden shredder – it works really well), something to squeeze out the juice (we have a fruit press, but you can use your imagination and ingenuity), sundry other jugs/containers/household equipment for collecting the pulp/juice etc and measuring.

First, sterilize all your equipment. You can buy special sterilizing stuff from home brewing stores but we use the liquid for sterilizing babies bottles – you can get it from any supermarket.

Collect your apples and give them a quick wash in water. You can use windfalls and those that are less than perfect, but none that are going rotten or have been attacked by wasps.

Pulp your apples. DSCF1488This is where our old garden shredder comes in very useful, but we are pulping a large quantity of apples. For small amounts you may get away with some household equipment, or even slow but steady chopping and slicing with a knife. Don’t try to miss this stage out, it really does make a huge difference to the quantity and quality of cider produced. By the way, watch out for the wasps, they love the pulp!


Squeeze out the juice. Our fruit press has taken out the hard work involved and does produce a good quantity of apple juice with minimal effort. The juice is collected into jugs then poured into a barrel. This is where teamwork is involved: daughter collects and washes apples, I pulp them, husband puts them through the press and into the barrel.

Measure the juice. Put the juice into your fermentation container making sure you leave enough room to add the sugar. We don’t add any water although we know that many recipes do. With water added we have found that the taste and quality of the finished cider are seriously diminished.

Add sugar and yeast. 1lb of sugar to each gallon of juice will make quite a dry cider, 1.5lb makes a sweeter cider, but it isn’t an exact science. A lot depends on the apples, their ripeness and sweetness, your personal preferences and probably a deal of luck too. Then add the yeast, 1 teaspoon per gallon. It often helps to give it a stir around as the sugar can clump in the bottom of the container. Then put on the bung and airlock.

Wait. Ideally fermentation will start fairly quickly (the bubbles pop in the airlock) but a lot depends on weather conditions. This year it was fairly cool, and as the cider is made/stored in the barn (which doesn’t warm up much) fermentation was reluctant. So husband put the barrel into the greenhouse to give it a boost. Yes, it worked – rather too well. He discovered that there is a fine line between vigorous fermentation and explosions. The offending bomb – sorry, I mean barrel – was returned to the barn where it is now bubbling away happily.


Filter and bottle. Once fermentation has stopped (the bubbling has ceased) it is time to filter your cider and bottle it. Husband is sadly a little vague on how long it takes for fermentation to end, but it is weeks rather than months, and it seems not many weeks either. Anyway, once your bubbles have stopped, filter the cider into bottles (or into another container before pouring it into bottles). Husband filters through folded muslin which seems to do the job more than adequately. He usually does it just the once, but has done it twice on occasions. However, you can filter as much as you want to, hopefully getting a clearer/finer cider every time (though we have no proof of this, impatience being the key word here).

Drink and enjoy. Now you can sit back and enjoy the liquid fruits of your labours. The cider we produce is more of a scrumpy cider than the clear, fizzy stuff you buy in pubs and shops, but it is a potent and flavoursome brew.

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One of the great benefits of rural living is growing your own fruit and veg. One of the great drawbacks is knowing what to do with it all once you’ve grown it. I mean, there is only so much you can do with a cucumber! And industrial sized freezers do take up a lot of space.

We have a few apple trees in our garden, all but one inherited from the previous owners, and the one pictured above is a prolific cropper year in and year out. But the apples are an early variety and don’t store well so, unless we eat pounds of apples each day – probably physically possible but medically unwise – we had to find something else to do with this abundance. My husband’s answer: cider.

He’s been making his own cider for a few years now with increasing success, so at the weekend it was all hands on deck to start this year’s process.


First we gather the apples (which means getting daughter up the tree, she’s the only one tall enough and agile enough). We quickly filled three of these green trugs, and still have more to go.

Then the apples are quickly washed before being pulped. We have our own (not patented!) method of pulping our apples. We use the garden shredder! It is simple, but effective, and husband assures me that it is the pulping that makes all the difference to the outcome. More juice is extracted and the finished product is vastly superior (and he should know, he has tried various techniques over the years).

DSCF1490Once the apples are pulped they are put into our small fruit press – an anniversary present to husband four years ago – and the juice is squeezed out. Until he had the fruit press he made a Heath Robinson contraption to squeeze the apples; it was effective but slow and tedious and although it didn’t produce as much juice as the press it does go to show that you don’t necessarily need to have all the right equipment when you start out.

Once you start squeezing then is it merely a case of keeping going until you have enough juice to fill a container of your choice, be it a gallon demi-john or a larger barrel. So far this year we have made seven gallons and have plenty of apples to make the same again. Once you know how much juice you have you then add your sugar and yeast and leave it to ferment. Then, when fermentation has stopped the cider can be filtered into bottles and enjoyed!










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We’ve just come back from holiday (hence lack of posts, sorry) and, as usual, we have taken our break in another rural area albeit one more popular but less populous than where we live. We love the area, as do many other visitors, and we do have a dream that maybe one day we’ll be able to live there, although that will have to be when we no longer have to work for a living – and who knows when that will be!

One of the biggest issues for the local population has to be lack of suitable work for themselves and their families. No wonder rural poverty is on the increase. Other than the large tourist trade (which certainly seems to have been adversely affected by the economic downturn) which is a large employer during the peak season, there is work in agriculture and forestry but not enough to sustain year-round employment for everyone. There are minimal opportunities for anyone wanting more than seasonal employment making it necessary for people to move away for work. Due to the topography the infrastructure is poor meaning that travelling any distance is difficult, and with poor communications (ie negligible mobile phone coverage and slow internet speeds) working from home isn’t necessarily an option.

So, moving to the country (at least, to some parts of rural England) is really only an option for those who are fortunate enough to secure one of the rare jobs in the area, or if you are able to leave the rat race behind. For us, in our rural retreat, we are close enough to a decent road network to enable Husband to travel, so for now at least, we’ll be staying where we are.

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It’s that time of year when we’re all feeling in need of a break and many of us are lucky enough to be going on holiday. For some it is jetting off to foreign places, for others is a trip to the coast or maybe some kind of activity. Each to his own.

When we lived in the city planning and executing a holiday wasn’t too much hassle. We had close neighbours to watch over the garden and house, and relatives living close by. Here in the country it is a little different, and for some people it can be almost impossible to get away.

We are still fortunate in that we have neighbours (albeit a couple of fields away) who will trudge over daily to see to our garden and greenhouse, both of which need quite a bit of attention and copious amounts of water during the summer. And we since we no longer have any animals we don’t have to factor them into our plans. But some people aren’t as lucky. A rural hideaway can mean no neighbours to rely on, and if you keep any animals – be they chickens, horses, sheep or whatever – you not only need someone willing to look after them, but they need to know how to look after them too. Not everyone is comfortable or able to see to your livestock, and if you have to ‘buy in’ help to cover for your holiday the cost can be prohibitive.

Our neighbours won’t accept any payment for their troubles, but what they will accept is a bottle of my special home-made liqueur. Their favourite is the Sloe Gin, although there have been few sloes these last couple of years so stock is low. They will be more than happy with a bottle of Raspberry Gin or Vodka, both very pleasing, or maybe a taster of Strawberry Gin which is now a year old. It’s a small price to pay for a holiday.

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There is something special about the first crop of potatoes every year. More than anything else we grow, it is our small potato crop that seems to make it all worthwhile.

We’ve already had a decent harvest of rhubarb, and we’re picking the last of the tiny alpine strawberries. The redcurrents are ripening well, there will be a few blackcurrents, the raspberries are now making an effort so it seems we’ll have plenty of those if the sun keeps shining.  However, we may have lost our lone gooseberry bush. On the vegetable front the peas plants are growing well but there have been few flowers so, alas, there will be few peas. The onions, as always, are doing well but the beans are really struggling. I think it unlikely that we’ll be able to pick many.

In the greenhouse the warm weather – after the prolonged dismal wet and cold we’ve had to put up with – is at last paying dividends as the tomatoes and cucumbers race to make up for lost time, although I think they will be cropping late. At least we have something to look forward to.

But it is the potatoes that I really enjoy. Even though on our small plot we’d probably be better off growing something less mundane – they are ready at exactly the same time as the shops stock new potatoes at steadily decreasing prices – nothing can compete with the taste of home grown, freshly harvested potatoes steamed and served with butter. Even thinking about them makes my mouth water.

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We had a rude awakening this morning by something we haven’t experienced for a long time, but the 4.15am call wasn’t something we were particularly happy about. Nor were we best pleased when it went on, and on, and on. A cockerel crowing in the wee dawn hours may be some people’s idea of bucolic bliss, but having to put up with it is far from blissful, or restful, or charming, expecially if you need those extra couple of hours of sleep before facing a long, hard day at work. It is a pain in the – well, the where-evers.

I’m not fond of chickens, but many of our neighbours keep them and I regularly buy my eggs from one neighbour. However, our neighbours are fairly considerate people and there seems to be a general agreement amongst the chicken-keepers that cockerels are not particularly welcome due to their tendency to rouse everyone at the crack of dawn.

This morning’s herald does not belong to a neighbour as such, but to a couple who have bought a local field in which to keep their horses, subsequently filling it with all manner of ramshackle buildings and some chickens. This couple live a few miles away, far enough to sleep blissfully undisturbed by their early morning caller.

A few years ago they had two competing cockerels and were clearly untroubled as to the nuisance they were causing. In the end the Council had to issue a warning and the cockerels were penned up at night. Apart from an occassional bout of crowing during the day to remind us of their presence we more or less forgot about them. Until this morning.

We are hoping this morning’s episode is just a blip, an oversight on the part of the fowl’s owners and that maybe they forgot to close the door to the cockerel’s overnight quarters. But if this is to become a regular occurrence again we will keep our fingers crossed that Mr Fox will come visiting.


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Finally Spring has grudgingly given way to  what passes for Summer – mostly rain and wind with infrequent spells of tepid sunshine. This week, after a prolonged wait, the sun did finally manage to emerge for more than a few minutes. Women quickly rummaged in their wardrobes for summer dresses, men donned shorts, and a few optimistic souls fired up the barbeques.

Of course, the prolonged damp Spring and equally damp early Summer only put off the inevitable event which, once the sun started to shine, came along in its usual miserable fashion. Hayfever season. Urgh.

Like many I’m a hayfever sufferer, though not quite as bad as I was when I was younger. You’d think that the excess exposure to pollen I’ve been subjected to by living here in the countryside would somehow make me immune. Alas no. The culpret for me is grass pollen, and possibly hawthorn too. Some other people suffer when the oil seed rape is in flower (of which there is always plenty around here), others from early birch pollen (ditto) or any number of other plants.

The thing is, in the country you pretty much can’t get away from it. At haymaking time the clouds of dust and pollen rising from the fields to be wafted on the wind isn’t a cheerful sight when you’re reaching for a box of tissues to dab streaming eyes or you actually ache from sneezing so much.

On my worst days I use medication which I find lasts for two or three days (I try not to use it much, so seem to get a lot of mileage from it) but I do know some who struggle even whilst taking extra strong prescribed medication and they sit out their summers in perpetual misery when there is a high pollen count. Grim also for those poor kids sitting exams. As if exams in the summer weren’t bad enough, they coincide with pollen season too.

Today, though, the hayfever is gone. Yes, it’s Summer. But it’s raining again.

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