Cider-making in Dorset

My neighbours have a heavy Victorian cider press in their barn, together with an orchard of Kingston Black apples – the king of cider apples. So today friends and neighbours met up for the annual cider-making day. We picked the apples – windfalls were fine- washed them, chipped them in a chipper, loaded the apple chips into trays in the press, and then the strongest man present turned the screw to press down the heavy weight. That last job was a major challenge – out of all of us, Shane was the only one who could do it! The juice poured out and tasted like nectar – and in a few months, after fermenting – it will taste like pure gold. How do I know that? Because we drank last year’s cider with our lunch – it was dry, fresh-tasting and absolutely delicious. No doubt, it was also very alcoholic!

If you ignored the electric chipper, and the plastic barrels, every other part of the process could have taken place in Hardy’s Dorset. That feeling of continuing a tradition that has prevailed every autumn for centuries was very satisfying, though I am thankful to be doing it today rather than in Victorian times. I don’t know why – maybe I lived a previous life in the 19th century (I believe in reincarnation) – but thinking about the Victorian age always gives me the shivers. I feel a deep gloom descending and I have to skip back in mind to the 18th century to feel more at ease again. My forebears were peasant farmers in the North West of England, and some then found employment in the cotton mills that sprang up with the Industrial Revolution, and others migrated to the rapidly growing city of Manchester, just at around the time that the condition of its working classes was being studied and publicised by Kay Shuttleworth (in 1832). A few years later, Friedrich Engels published The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, after he had been living in Manchester and had been horrified by what he had seen. He published his book in German and it was not until 1885 that an English translation was published. Both authors described the appalling conditions, and amongst my forebears it’s noticeable that those who left the land ended up dying at a much earlier age than those who stayed in agriculture. An interesting side note is that Karl Marx read the Engles book and was profoundly influenced by it.

Thinking about it, maybe I feel gloomy when anything Victorian or 19th century is mentioned, not because I lived a miserable life then, but because of some genetic or folk memory that comes into play here. I don’t know! But what I do know is that though present day society is unfair, it is nothing like as cruel or perilous as 19th century society was. On balance, I think that things have got better overall.

I was going to celebrate the fact that no gas or electricity was used in the cider-making process – and then I remembered the electric chipper. We could have cut up the apples by hand, but it was much quicker to use the machine. Still, other than that, this wonderful drink – totally organic – was produced without detriment to the environment – what’s not to love?

A lot of community endeavours have been lost because of mechanisation – so next week, though we will be having a Harvest Supper in the Village Hall, it will be but a shadow of the ones that they used to have years ago after a whole community had come together to gather in the harvest. Today, the harvesting is done by solitary drivers of huge and very, very expensive machines. It’s sad that the sense of community which must have imbued the village during harvest has been lost, but good to know that it still prevails in our cider-making! It’s kind of corny to write this, but – cheers!

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