Making apple juice and sowing sweet peas

Apple Juice. Until this year, the thought of it has always reminded me of our Scandinavian steamer, which habitually went onto the Aga each October. Apples would then be chopped and piled into it and a rubber pipe hung down from its lower half, like an umbilical cord.

My late wife, Julia, would then take hot, sterilised bottles from the lower oven and fill them from the pipe with the fruit juice, bunging a rubber cap on the top as quickly as she could. In a good year, she would put to bed perhaps 100 bottles, which were then stored in the cellar.

After she died, I thought that I simply couldn’t face doing it in the same way, and jam-making and bottling came to a grinding halt. But, seven years on, times are frugal and a wind of change blows through the garden. So out came the copper preserving pan, and I got stuck into making plum and quince jam, not bearing to see the fruit rot on the trees. But the apples posed quite another problem as Julia had collected 40 or more different varieties.

This has been an amazing year for fruit, and the trees have been bent with the weight of it. In the case of the plums, branches have snapped, unable to bear the load. For some years, all the apples, apart from some that I made into purée, were left to the birds. All of that changed when a friend introduced me to a professional juicer.

Simon farms and makes cider in Slovenia, but returns to his native Gloucestershire for the apple harvest, going from orchard to orchard with his juicer. In my garden, the Christmas Orchard, as it is known, is one of autumn’s glories. Simon reckoned that he could produce in the region of 5,000 bottles-which came as something of a shock. What on earth could I do with them?

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Well, for the first time in my life, I have a shop and therefore a sales outlet. So I said that I would take 2,500 bottles and see how sales went. The following week, Simon parked his juicer at the bottom of the drive and, with a colleague, went to work. Starting at 7.30am, they went on relentlessly until they had finished. Next morning, they delivered 1,500 bottles. The juice is so good that he’s proposing to enter it for a prize at the Three Counties Show next year. If successful, we could add a golden star to the bottle.

Why do we like it so much? Because the juice comes from more than 20 historic varieties. The result is a richness and intensity of flavour that calls for sipping rather than quaffing. So into the shop it goes next April.

My eyes fell next on the quince trees; I have at least 10 of them, in various varieties, and this year’s is an outstanding bumper crop of perfumed golden fruit. I began harvesting them with a stepladder and then recalled how the juicing gang shook the apple trees, so that is what I did. Down they came, a shower onto the grass to be gathered into baskets. It proved a short step to find someone who would manufacture Laskett quince jelly and membrillo for me. All of this takes me back to childhood memories of the Second World War, when everything in the garden was put to good use.

Otherwise, recent garden work has focused on clipping, planting spring bulbs and preparing beds for the onset of winter. The plenitude of berries on so many shrubs indicates that we may be in for another corker. And I notice there are other weird signs that things are perhaps not as they should be. One of the witch hazels has been in full bloom for at least a week, well ahead of its winter season, and a friend’s apple tree has also decided to burst into flower. It must mean something.

Horticultural aide memoire

No.41: Sow sweet peas

Sweet peas can serve for many pleasures. If you want to grow them to show standard, now is the time to set them away for next year’s display. Take a plant pot, fill with John Innes Potting Compost No1, firm gently to half an inch below the rim, make five holes, each half an inch deep, around the rim with a pencil end, and place a sweet-pea seed in each. Backfill each hole to the surface. Label with name of cultivar and date. Water. Place in a cold frame or somewhere equally spartan and wait. It won’t be long. SCD