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angelfeb

Mid February and it has finally stopped raining for a few days and the ground is beginning to dry out just a little, making the daily walk round the orchard with the dog less of a slippery slog through the mud. We did have some snow in January, by way of a change from rain, which gave the opportunity for a few seasonal photos, a bit of sledging and snowman construction. Ed Elliott of Trumpet Corner created an extraordinary Snow Angel. The melting snow just added to the general wetness. However it is now a good bit colder and drier. The cold is welcome as it keeps the trees dormant; the wet is not as it keeps their roots sodden. It is now time to get around the orchard for a bit of pruning which we put off while it has been so wet underfoot.

barn

Wassail 2013

If the purpose of wassailing is to ensure a good crop for the following harvest, it is devoutly to be wished that the ceremony held this year at Court Farm, Aylton, will produce a better result than the 2012 event held at Hellens House, Much Marcle. Last year was by just about every measure the worst harvest in living memory and the rainfall the heaviest since records began. The 2013 wassail was among the most memorable held as it was in the magnificent Manorial Barn next to the Church, where my father sang loudly and played the harmonium scratchily for over fifty years. The barn provided a magical setting for the Mummers play and wonderful shelter from the January chill, which was kept further at bay with mulled cider and Noggin Farm pork rolls. Surely a good year must follow!

Wassail photos courtesy of Richard Crompton
http://www.richardcromptonphotography.com/


wassail 2013










holmelacyhouse hotel

The Scudamores of Holme Lacy House
When one looks at the history of cider in general and of its role in Herefordshire in particular, a name that keeps leaping off the page is that of Lord Scudamore. His family seat at Holme Lacy House - largely regarded as the finest house in the county - is only just over the ridge from our orchard, so we decided it was time to pay a visit during our Cropsharers’ Winter weekend.

Lord Scudamore was Ambassador to France for Charles 1 and so a trusted member of the Royal Household. He entertained royalty and royally and was the patron of a Fownhope man, Tom Spring who became the bare-knuckle fighting champion of All England. Scudamore became convinced that the orchards of his home county could make drink to rival that of the vineyards of France and he eventually grew the famed Herefordshire Redstreak cider apple, which produced a drink of the highest quality. He wanted his cider to impress on the table so designed delicate fluted glasses engraved with the Royal Coat of Arms and his own insignia. His other and probably most important contribution to the industry was to put his cider into glass bottles. Local glass makers had been able to manufacture stronger bottles since wood powered furnaces had been banned to conserve this vital raw material and coal used instead, which burnt hotter and so produced thicker and stronger glass. So next time you pour a glass of sparkling cider make sure you raise a toast to Lord Scudamore of Holme Lacy.

jessAll in a Day's Walk is the title of a PhD performance and research project carried out by Jess Allen, who lives in a yurt at Caplor Farm near Fownhope. She has coined a new word ‘Tracktivism’ - ‘a field of activist performance that utilises walking and moving and talking in rural landscapes to address issues of environmental, social or political concern’ to describe her work. Jess, a dairy intolerant vegetarian, decided that in the long dark wet and increasingly muddy days of December, she would eat only what she could source within walking distance of her home. She told her story in our warm comfy house in January to an enthralled audience as she talked about different levels of activism and engagement. A fascinating project which you can read about online at http://allinadayswalk.co.uk/

rayessha
Rayessa's Indian Kitchen

Dragon House produces the most fantastic range of seasonal smells as Annie makes various preserves throughout the year. We are presently enjoying apple jelly with rosemary and apple chutney making has also been underway. However, recently the kitchen has had a visit from Rayeesa of Rayeesa's Indian Kitchen when we had a fascinating cooking demonstration from one immersed in the food of her culture. Rayeesa was born in the UK but spent her early years in India. She also learnt a huge amount about Indian food whilst a police officer in Southall, which re-engaged her passion for cooking from her childhood. She and her family moved to Herefordshire and we have met her at several food festivals. She cooked vegetable curry and dhal with the help of an enthusiastic audience and also made chapattis from scratch, finishing them off with aplomb on a naked gas flame. The simplicity of her ingredients, demonstration of her technique and love of her craft gave a great demonstration and wonderful tasty lunch. For further information about her products and workshops, see http://rayeesasindiankitchen.com/

2013-02-03 00.03.56-1Giant Jenga
The Flavours of Hereford Award ceremony has just taken place with a different format from previous years. The event has usually been held on the Friday evening before the Hereford Food Festival and this year's prizes were given for individual products rather than a single award for Drinks Producer. The actual awards were beautifully engraved oak boards, using wood left over from the construction of the Wye Trow, a replica of the 36' long flat-bottomed boats that used to ply their trade on the river. The Wye Trow, aptly named the Hereford Bull, was part of the flotilla on the Thames for the Jubilee celebration and is now a training vessel. Once Upon a Tree collected four golds and one silver so Simon ended up on his dinner table with a pile of wooden tablets, which Matt from The Crown at Woolhope immediately dubbed Giant Jenga.

oxroastLedbury Ox Roast Weekend
June 1st and 2nd 2013

An ox was roasted in Ledbury to celebrate the Queen’s coronation sixty years ago in June 1953. One of my earliest memories being the white clad butchers basting the beast with bass brooms, as wonderful a sight as it is alliteration. It felt as though a Jubilee celebration and re-enactment of the event could be a great way to put Ledbury on the map and provide a community event for the town.

So there will be another Ledbury Ox Roast over the weekend June 1st & 2nd. A date for the diary and details will be posted on the new website as plans develop www.ledburyoxroast.org.uk. I am off to view the selected animal next week to check its credentials. It will come from Awnells Farm at Much Marcle, bred by David Powell, who has a Hereford herd of the longest and purest lineage, 100% beef ...

BBC Radio 4 Logo

Food and Farming Awards 2012

 

Finding our seats - the tension mounts!

The 28th of November 2012, will be quite a memorable day for Once Upon A Tree.

The anticpation since learning we were finalists was unbearbale.  However I had managed to convince myself that we wouldn't win.  The oppostion was very strong after all...

Arriving in the theatre we looked for signs or signals of if we'd won or not.  "We don't have "Gold" tickets" I said to Hannah, when we were looking at the signs at the entrance of the theatre, "They must be the ones for the winners.  We haven't won, lets just relax and enjoy ourselves!"  But we were guided in to the front of the theatre with all of the other finalists...

We met Pete Brown who had judged us, but he had his poker face on!

Our reserved seats were at the wrong end of the stage "They wouldn't have us walking right in front of the audience to get on stage - we haven't won." I whispered to Hannah.

The show started - Gwyneth Williams, Director of Programmes for Radio 4, introduced the awards and the main presenters Sheila Dillon and Valentine Warner took up their stations.  Several categories came and went - all with incredible, inspirational stories. "Surely, we're not of that calibre?" I thought.

Pete Brown introduced the Drinks Producer finalists.  I was sure he was tallking about the Kernel Brewery.  Then he said "...and the winner is, Once Upon A Tree" and the cheers (and screams!) from the audience were incredible! (I didn't realise that half of Herefordshire had arrived!)

Wow.

We had WON!The BBC Food & Farming Stage....

BBC Food & Farming Awards 2012.  Best Drinks Producer.

We all walked on to the stage and eagerly shook Pete's hand.  The big screen was showing images of our orchard and ourselves, whilst snippets of the recording that were made when the judges visited were being played.  It was somewhat surreal!

Shelia Dillon & Valentine warner were up on stage grinning at us, saying "Well done" and Sheila asked me a question or two, and I answered, but I honestly cannot remember what I said - I wish I'd prepared something! But it's OK, I can talk the cider talk until the cows come home!

We returned to our seats and I realised that I was shaking.  I looked across the others and just saw grinning faces, and I realised I too must have looked like the Cheshire cat too! but I was thinking "I'm just some bloke making cider in Herefordshire - How did I get here?!"

It's taking a while to sink in...!  This is big. Actually, this is BIG!  REALLY BIG!

The phone hasn't stopped ringing, emails and tweets have flooded in.  James is labelling furiously in the Cider Shed just to keep up with number of mail orders going out...

5 Years is a very short time in business.  We have just pressed our 6th harvest.  Thats only six attempts at getting it right, and the latest lot is only just fermenting - Looks like we're doing things well enough though! 

Listen to the Awards Ceremony or read more about the awards and the other category award winners on the BBC Food & Farming web page

BIG thanks to everyone who has supported us so far - you can all take a share in this award!    
Once Upon A Tree - Damn Fine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

three countiessm
The orchard is empty of fruit and the press has fallen silent after the most difficult growing and harvesting conditions we can recall. It is with some relief that I write these words as it has been a very trying year for all producers, but as a potato grower said to me recently “At least your crops grow above the ground”. Many of the potato fields have had to be abandoned as the machines simply couldn’t work and the mud on the roads has been a real problem for all concerned. However, here at Dragon Orchard we are able to grow a good range of apple varieties and some of these were fine. Plums and pears were all poor but the Kidds' Orange Red apples are excellent, as are the Herefordshire Russet, Red Devil and Tydeman’s Late Orange. We were short of some individual varieties to make our usual single variety juices, so have combined the earlier ones to make a Summer Blend and the later ones for an Autumn Blend. These are now in the bottle, labels are away being printed and they will be available by the end of November. As the ground was so wet and we had a lighter crop, we altered the way that the main cider crop was harvested, by only making one pass with the harvesting machine down each aisle. The machine could get down once without causing too much damage, but the ground became churned up if we tried to go again. So, after the first pass, the remaining apples were blown through the rows with a fan mounted on a lightweight orchard tractor and thus damage was limited, apart from the headlands. Come the spring we will flatten these out with power harrows and roll it and hopefully do a good reinstatement job. Other orchards have had harvesting machinery so bogged down they have had to be towed out and the enormous holes will have to be filled in with a JCB or a digger. Not a pretty sight. In spite of all the work and worry, it did all get done and we are glad it is now finally, as it says in the English Hymnal, “All safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin”, which have now begun with a vengeance.

three counties shop
Three Counties Cider Shop

These mid-November Wednesday evenings have seen a series of gatherings at 5a The Homend in Ledbury to celebrate the opening of the new cider shop, right in the middle of town, directly opposite the clock tower. The Three Counties Cider Shop came into being as we have been supplying more and more produce to various other shops. The Bristol Cider Shop, the Essex Cider Shop, the Real Cider Company and the nicely named Merrylegs, have all increased sales and we realised that in the three counties of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire there has not been a dedicated cider shop until now. 5a The Homend became available as the previous occupant, a sweet shop owner, has moved just across the alleyway to the other side of the Homend Mews. So after some debate and discussion, much crunching of numbers and scratching our heads, we decided to go for it. The licence was applied for and we undertook the fitting out and were able to go for a soft opening in time for the Autumn Big Apple and Cropsharers' Weekend in mid October. The shop looks stunning with the left hand wall completely covered with our wooden apple boxes, full of cider and perry bottles and backlit. On the right hand wall a fine dresser is arrayed with other local products. At the back, behind the counter, the end wall has a row of twelve wooden taps, dispensing draught cider and perry, the best the three counties can offer. Visitors seem genuinely impressed and positive and sales are on target and, like many good ideas, the simplicity and the elegance of design is what carries it through.

The Three Counties Cider Shop, 5a The Homend, Ledbury - where a warm welcome awaits.

draught cidercider jar















BBC Radio Four British Food and Farming Awards 2012

interviewbbc

In early October we had a call from Radio Four asking us to send some samples of our products to the Food Programme as we had been nominated and then shortlisted for the Drinks Producer of the Year Award. The shortlist had been whittled down from well over 100 nominees and we were delighted to have progressed that far in such a prestigious competition. We thought no more about it but then had another call to ask us to be sure to listen to the Food Programme the following Sunday. There it was announced that the three finalists in the Drinks Producer award category were Kilchoman Distillery on Islay, the Kernel Brewery in London and Once Upon A Tree from Putley, Ledbury, Herefordshire. The judges, Victoria Moore and Pete Brown visited on the last Thursday of October and we met them at Ledbury Station and immediately took them to visit the newly opened cider shop. We then toured round the orchard, having duly warned them to bring willies and visited the shed where pressing was going on and they were able to taste liquids dispensed straight from the tank. They then sampled the finished products, finishing off with soup and local cheeses for lunch and got them back into Ledbury Station just in time for their afternoon train. Now we are off to the Good Food Show at the NEC on November 28th to find out the final result. Whatever the result, we are absolutely delighted to be the only cider and juice producer in the final and have greatly enjoyed the whole experience.

winepressFurther pressings

Five years ago in 2007, just as my mother sloughed off her mortal coil, we had just begun our very first pressing of apples with the newly purchased Voran press. Now in 2012 we have pressed our first load of grapes from a vineyard in the Cotswolds with our newly acquired wine press. The equipment has come from nearby Coddington Vineyard, which has recently changed hands. Once Upon A Tree was able to purchase the wine making equipment so our green shed is now full of shiny stainless steel fermenting kit with all the caboodle that goes to turn grapes into wine. However, the press that we have acquired has also been able to crush perry pears, which are extremely slippery and difficult to do on the apple press. It has made it a much less messy and more efficient operation and Simon has been a very happy chappy playing with all his new toys.

ublUBL

In complete contrast Annie, Simon and I recently visited the cider mill just outside Ledbury, which is owned by Heineken and is the largest apple mill in Europe. The scale of it is mind boggling and it can process 2,500 tonnes of apples a day. At that rate it would take two hours to process our entire cider crop this year. All the juice it produces is evaporated into concentrate, which looks, tastes and smells pretty much like thin treacle. It is so heavy that the road tankers used to transport it into Hereford where it is fermented, have to be reinforced with a massive steel frame. I always wondered what those massive tankers carried and now I know.

It's just over two weeks before we know if we're winners in the BBC Food and Faming Awards for Best Drinks Producer...

We've met the judges, Victoria Moore and Pete Brown, and have a lovely time with them showing them what we're all about, and tasting the ciders, and I think they went away happy!  At the same time we were recorded by Toby Field for the Radio 4 food Programme, and this snippet has gone online on the BBC website, with Norman talking about Putley's long association with good cider:

 

 

Victoria also mentioned us in the Weekend Telegraph last weekend - click on the picture to read more:

Telegraph Article.  Photo by Jay Williams

 

Now we have the almost unbearable wait to know our fate on the 28th November at the awards ceremony at the NEC.  Everytime I think about it, my stomach does somersaults!  I've never felt quite so nervous and excited about an award before.  I have a feeling that this could be a "game-changer" and really get Once Upon A Tree & Herefordshire craft cider to a much wider audience.  We've already seen an increase in enquiries since being finalists, which is causing us to look at increasing tank space for next harvest....

The other two finalists look very strong and worthy contenders, Kilchoman Distillery in Islay and The Kernel Brewery in London.  Whatever happens, I'm very much looking forward to trying their products!

A HUGE THANK YOU to those who have supported us so far, have sent us messages of congratulations on becoming finalists, and to those who are keeping fingers crossed for us (and to those who are coming along to the NEC - I hope we don't dissapoint on the night!)

Cheers,

Simon

pressing
Harvest begins

Recently we have had some perfect autumn days that linger in the memory, to make up for the lousy summer. Harvest has begun and activity around the cider shed is hotting up. Last week we started pressing our first juice of the year, the Discovery which although it has a fantastic pink colour, the sugars are 20% down on last year. This is due to the lack of sunlight and the poor uptake of potassium due to the wet conditions which all slows the ripening process and the starch is not converted to sugar. This week the next batch of Tumpy Ground cider has been sent off to be put into bags and hence into box, along with the Worcester apple juice for bottling. The grass keeps growing as if it were April and has to be cut often to get it short enough for the harvesting machinery. Another of life's little balances.

kayandchris
Shows and Stuff

The show season is also upon us and there was great excitement when Kay attended Carfest where she rubbed shoulders with Chris Evans. He was a very good host coming round to all the producers for a photo opportunity. Ludlow has been and went and the re-scheduled Welland Steam Rally was last weekend. These will be followed by The Malvern Autumn Show, September 29th and 30th, The Big Apple October 13th and 14th and then our local Hereford Food Festival on the last weekend in October.

5a the homendThe Three Counties Cider Shop
Once Upon A Tree trade customer base is growing with the Midlands Co-Op Group and Countrywide stores now stocking our products and quite a few who focus on Tumpy Ground Draught. Among these are two specialist cider shops in Bristol and Essex, who have been doing good trade in the last year or so but there is not a similar outlet anywhere in our region. Well there will be now - 5a The Homend in Ledbury recently came up for rent, a small double fronted unit in a prime position right in the middle of town. We signed the lease, have applied for the licence and have begun to fit it out. We will sell Once Upon A Tree products but also feature a range of draught ciders and perries and probably a Wye Valley beer as well as other local cider producers. We plan to open in early October. Watch this space.

The Winery
When we originally set up Once Upon A Tree, part of the plan was to offer contract wine making at some point as a service to small local vineyard owners. Three Choirs deal with larger amounts, but do not have the capacity for smaller producers so their grapes usually end up in one ubiquitous pressing. However Coddington Vineyard has just been sold and the winery there will be used for the new owner's vintage car collection. We have purchased the wine making equipment which will need to be moved over to Dragon Orchard very soon so we will be able to carry out the whole wine making process. As you can imagine, this has initiated a massive move around to sort out our storage capacity, rather like an elaborate parlour game with some crafty moves we are still contemplating.

The Legacy of Bees
As a group of people interested in fruit production we are all aware of the role of honey bees in our orchards. The challenges facing managed bee populations are understood and research is relatively well funded. We recently attended a talk organised Putley WI given by The Bee Guardian Foundation, which totally changed our perception of these creatures. There are over 20,000 species of bees, including many living underground and in cavities, as well as in nests made from petals and leaves. Over three-quarters of our food depends on pollination and wild bees are an essential part of this, especially bumble bees which are able to operate at lower temperatures than honey bees. The hypodermic syringe, the microscope, sweetness, light and modular building techniques all owe their origin to bee technology and our future on this planet is closely linked to theirs. We are planning closer links to The Bee Guardian Foundation and hope to organise a talk at Dragon Orchard in the New Year. http://www.beeguardianfoundation.org/

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