Saturday, 27 October 2012

Apple Day at Mansbridge Community Orchard

The day was overcast and I had been outdoors since 9:00, my son had been playing rugby at a tournament.  Now it was 2:30 and we were heading to Mansbridge, to take part in the Apple Day Picking and Pressing event.
I’m pleased to say that the Southampton Woodcraft Folk have taken an active role in the Mansbridge Community Orchard; this event was planned and organised by them, but open to all.
We arrived, slightly late and the scene was one of tremendous animation and bustling activity. There was a big tent, lots of tables and benches, two presses, a fruit mill or scratter and loads of apples and pickers.
Everyone was doing something; bodies were crowded around tables and children were scurrying about everywhere. There was even a group of people knitting, jointly weaving a strange and interesting article (Possibly a Christmas jumper for an oddly shaped child).
After brief greetings and introductions, we recruited a small group of friends and children and set off into the trees to fill our large bags and buckets with apples.
As we picked and collected, various other participants were ferrying the vast amount of apples back to the base camp in the containers.
Back at the trestle tables, a smoothly run sequence of events was being meted out, processing the apples into juice...
The fruit was first fleetingly washed. The cores were removed and the apples sliced, by deploying a cunning little kitchen instrument that did the job in one swift action (I must get one of these).
The chopped apples were tipped into the scratter, which was powered by strong and enthusiastic children. The pulp was then emptied into the press and the screw turned down by many keen helping hands and the delicious fresh juice flowed out into waiting receptacles.
Finally, the remaining apple mush, minus the precious juice, was taken back into the trees and left to nourish the ground and wildlife.
It was a lovely, friendly event and even when it started to drizzle about 4.00, most people seemed oblivious to the weather and carried on with the communal fun.

Monday, 22 October 2012

More Hedge End Apples

While wandering around Hedge End I located a few smaller apple trees by the roadside.
One of these trees was covered in lovely little, dark red eating apples. They were ripe, tasty and plentiful, covering the branches and causing them to droop down. Surprisingly, no one had picked them.
A few metres further on, another tree was filled with hard green fruit which had quite a sharp tang to it, cookers!
I came back to the little trees at the weekend with my son and he was soon up and at ‘em whilst I got busy with the apple picker.
In under an hour we had filled our two big builders buckets and were heading back home again with our boot full of booty (about 30 Kgs); even so there was still plenty of fruit left on both of the trees.
There was another tall tree with delicious rosy eating apples but this one was in a more dangerous place next to the road. I grabbed a couple for the store but decided to leave the rest until I could arrange some adult help…
The following weekend I popped back with my friend Loz and quickly hoovered up as many of these crunchy beauties as we could reach with the picker. We must have got at least 10 Kgs, which are now all safely stashed in the apple store. All the rest will be pressed into juice or made into cider...

Friday, 19 October 2012

Mansbridge Community Orchard

Is it just me, or is the weather becoming more interesting? I’m talking here about the forecast on the radio, not the atmospheric conditions outside. People have often stated the “interesting fact” that Eskimos have fifty words for snow; I think that the British must have at least that many for rain. I guess it makes broadcasting less boring if you deploy the odd euphemism and dig up ancient adages.
The other day the forecaster said, of the UK weather,
Regardless of where you are in the country - If it’s raining where you are, it will continue for the rest of the day. If it’s not currently raining, it will be soon.”
Pretty simple and direct but this morning, the lovely chap on Radio 4 stated that this weekend we will experience…
“The mists and mellow fruitfulness of autumn, as opposed to gales.”
All of which is pretty good news for anyone who wants to join in at the Mansbridge Community Orchard, where people will be picking and pressing apples (about 2:00 – 4:30 pm this Sunday) …

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Telegraph Hill

Telegraph woods has a wonderful avenue of coppiced chestnut trees there are also pine trees and broadleaved oaks.

Towering Chestnut Trees
The woods also play host to an old Armada beacon and an even more ancient Iron Age hill fort. A diverse and truly fascinating landscape all tucked away in one small spot.

Coppiced Avenue
It is a handsome and intriguing place for a short autumnal walk and also a great place to collect Sweet Chestnuts. In places an eerie quiet descends, all sound muffled by the pine needles.
Eerie Exposed Root Systems in the Fort
Always be prepared; bring boots stout gloves and bags or a coat with big pockets.
Steep Banks of the Enclosure Now Pine Covered
Your main competitors will be the vast number of squirrels that inhabit the wood as well as the noisy jays.

A Fairytale Vista
Fill the coat pockets with your brown beauties and collect a few dry sticks while you are there.
A Squirrel's Breakfast Table
Then you can use the twigs to build a little fire to warm your extremities and roast your nuts on when you get home.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Autumn in the Allotment

Last week, we thought we ought to visit the allotment to see if any autumnal produce was coming through.
The raspberries (safe in the rustic fruit cage) were bearing fruit. Nothing in the world tastes as good as a freshly picked ripe raspberry.
The rampant squash patch was still looking pretty productive but some of the large leaves looked as if the cold nights had scorched them.
I picked out any courgettes and squash that looked big enough to cook and realised that the substantial squash that I had picked previously was actually a colossal courgette! When we got home the head chef cooked up a tasty squash-based risotto.
This week we popped down to mop up any survivors and on the way back we zipped over to our favourite walnut tree; we were somewhat unprepared, so we had to use spare hats to gather them in.
On our return, we proudly displayed; two hats full of walnuts, two courgettes, a few big raspberries, two chestnuts and a solitary medlar, picked off a tree in the university that I had rattling around in my pocket.
I had been puzzling about how to store walnuts and, in a moment of inspiration, realised that I could upcycle the net bags that oranges come in...

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Sweet Chestnuts

You know that Autumn is in full swing when the Sweet Chestnuts start to pop onto the floor. Normally the first nuts to fall are the runts of the crop, too small and skinny to be of any use.
Meanwhile the finest, mahogany mammoths are safely swelling, encapsulated in their hedgehog-like homes.
There is a vast amount of substantial chestnut trees in some areas of Southampton.
In some places flour is made out of chestnuts but I find them dead fiddly; so I just build a fire in my BBQ and let the flames burn the shells off.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Cider House Rules

It has been a bad year for fruit and fruit trees generally but by using our map to remind us we still managed to pick plenty of apples to store and crush into juice. Apple picking and cider making are quintessential autumnal activities and I look forward to these days each year. 
We do offer a cropping service whereby, if people ask us, we will come and pick apples that they would otherwise not use.
Our friends Craig and Rachel, offered us the bulk of the apples on the trees in their garden; on tree was full of cookers and the other, a lovely knobbly old tree had delicious Coxian eaters.
That morning, with the enthusiastic help of the children, we had soon plucked about 40Kgs of apples, which in my book means only one thing, an afternoon of apple pressing.
This year I have invested in a small apple scratter, which Craig and I soon had clamped onto my battered old workmate.
Then in a whirlwind of communal effort (apple pressing is a very social event), we began the process…
One person chopping the apples and cutting out any bad bits (any parts that you would not like to eat but the skin and core is fine to leave in).
The next job was cranking the handle on the scratter and carefully feeding the hopper with more apples.
When the bucket was full enough, we then empty it into the press and the children turn the screw as far down as they can, before handing over to the strong arms of the adults.
The juice is collected in a bucket and I wanted 5 gallons of it because that is the size of my barrel.
That afternoon, after cleaning up all the equipment (we did achieve our goal); I cycled over to Shirley, where I had been invited to another sociable apple pressing.
Members of the Southampton Slow Club had deployed our fruit map in order to locate and pick a dustbin full of apples and hired a lovely big scratter and press from Ashurst Community Centre. I couldn't stay too long but they were a friendly bunch that were having great fun and making very rapid progress.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Wet Walnuts

Southampton Storm Warning
The day after our assault on the Hedge End apples, the weather took a turn for the worse. Storms were forecast for a few days, with plenty of wind and rain in the mix.
We knew that the walnuts were ripening. So, we thought that the elements would lend a helping hand.
During a break in the rain my son and I whisked off to check out the situation amongst the local trees.
We returned with a bucket load of wet walnuts and once the fall has started, it always continues apace; so now is the time to get busy gathering them as they drop.
Do remember that the green hulls will dye your fingers and clothes brown if you do not take precautions…