Country & Garden: Nature Notes

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THE APPLES now being crushed and pressed in cider houses all over the West Country are of innumerable varieties, many of them centuries old. Some, such as Michelin and Bulmer's Norman, are probably of French origin, as their names suggest, but most are native to Herefordshire, Somerset and Devon.

The art of cider-making lies in the blending of different varieties, some sweet, some sharp. Most are too bitter to eat raw, but one that can pass as an eater is the large, pale yellowy-green Sweet Coppin. Although genuine eaters, such as Cox's Orange Pippin, produce plenty of strong- tasting juice, they lack the character to make good cider.

Among the most widely used of cider varieties is Dabinett, which contains a lot of tannin. Another favourite, because it is a prolific cropper, is Yarlington Mill. The role of harsh-flavoured apples such as Foxwhelp (bright red, with stripes) and Kingston Black (dark red) is to give a brew colour and taste.

A century ago, cider orchards covered thousands of acres in the mid- west; and now, after a long period of decline, a revival has set in. Over the last five or six years there has been a great replanting, much aided and abetted by Bulmers, the largest cider-maker in the country, which keeps a museum and a mother-tree nursery in which rare varieties are coaxed back into life.