Thursday, 20 October 2011

Apple Day (21st October)

I've got apples on my mind (again) which is just as well as its Apple Day this Friday 21st October. Got any plans?
It occurs to me that Apple Day is such a great idea, why didn't we realise it was missing from our lives sooner? Apples are such everyday objects that we take for granted the fact that we can, and jolly well well should, celebrate them. 'A is for apple' has be one of the the earliest things we learn. 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away' is a proverb we repeat to remind ourselves to eat well in order to stay healthy. Adam and Eve's moment came after eating a stolen apple... do you see what I mean? When did you last stop and fully contemplate the apple, the relationship and affect it has had on humanity. Our relationship with it goes back for thousands of years, its stronger than ever and we still love them.

Time taken to celebrate everything great about apples is a masterstroke idea and maybe I could go so far as to suggest something we owe nature herself? Aren't simple ideas always the best ones. For 22 years Apple Day has been gathering pace and is now bigger than it ever has been. It was an idea that came from Sue Clifford and Angela King at Common Ground ...  

"The aspiration was to create a calendar custom. We have a way to go yet, but some already think the event is traditional. We should like the day to become the autumn holiday – what better celebration of a new era positively linking culture with nature.
From the start, it was intended to be both a celebration and a demonstration of the variety we are in danger of losing – not simply in apples, but richness and diversity of landscape, place, ecology and culture too. Its success has shown what the apple means to us and how much we need local celebrations in which, year after year, everyone can be involved. In city, town and country, Apple Day events have fostered local pride, celebrated and deepened interest in local distinctiveness."

Recently BBC4 aired a fantastic documentary Apples: British to the Core where they highlighted Britains particular role in the modern evolution of the apple. It really is worth a watch if you missed it, I know many people enjoyed it. I like to think I inspire the people responsible for the photography of programmes like that, I hope I do.

Apple Day is itself an opportunity for celebration through theatre, fun, education, and provenance. Its a PR dream for genus Malus and is a chance to play and reflect simultaneously. Cider has two occasions annually where the producers and partakers get together and make the time to celebrate cider - Apple Day being one of them, albeit slightly less raucous and more wholesome than Wassail (the other occasion.) Maybe the natural appeal of apples in general has a calming influence over mans hand in the creation and celebration of cider?

I am lucky enough to get invited to Burrow Hill annually where they always lay on a great day where everyone is free to have as much fun and drink as much as they like. Last year Alex James (Blur) was sleb in attendance, but in previous years we've had MP's (Graeme Watson), writers (Tom Parker-Bowles) and regional success stories Michael Brown (a la Brown & Forrest) as well as other nationally known foodie and Somerset types. This year we have Mark Hix and a chance to witness the launch coolest label I've seen in ages designed by Damien Hirst for Somerest Cider Brandy Companys fantastic 20 year old (and recently PGI accredited) cider brandy -there are only 500 limited edition labels up for grabs. Crappy phone snap of it here...

Its saying something when one of the reach of one of the worlds most internationally renowned and controversial artists casts his gaze towards Cider and leaves a part of himself here in Somerset. I think I'm right in saying he is from the Westcountry... maybe he too has a softspot for apples?
Next time you eat one (or see a piece of art by Damien Hirst) pause for a thought about apples, their long relationship with humanity, many uses and just how fantastic they are. They deserve a moment to savour and are something teach our younger loved ones about.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Du Cidre Bretonaise.

In general, I find the French particularly difficult to break through to regarding the things I am trying to do; they seem a little more secretive and less interested. To put it into context, I've had more luck making contact Japanese applewine producers than French cidermakers, even though I've sent more e-mails and made more phone calls to establish a French connection but to no avail. They seem to make me want to work for it, which I enjoy, but it does cast a slightly different kind of light over them as a consequence. I started learning French at 7 and whilst I speak what can at best be described as pidgin French, I speak it with the confidence of a native which should surely count for something? Maybe they're just not that into e-mail or listening to their answer machines but you have to wonder - why have an email address or an answer machine if you don't use it? Anyway, I made some progress this year - I visited La Maison du Cidre in Le Hezo, Morhiban which was ok if a little tired. I had more luck and even a breakthrough at Domaine du Kinkiz just outside Quimper, Finistere. I already had an appointment nearby that afternoon at Paul Coic ciderie and needed to find somewhere local to visit in the morning. After a cappucinosworth of surfing I had turned up with a shortlist and these were the only guys that answered he phone. They were keen and seemed friendly. Unusually I had no idea what to expect after the essentials of cidermaking and it caught me off guard a bit. The cultural differences of shooting in another country really come into play from the moment the phone is answered. What was waiting for me at Kinkiz was fantastic and I wish I was more prepared for it and had allowed more time. Somewhere to revisit I think. I was fascinated with the passion for distilling, to the point where it's almost accepted that producing cider itself just a formality or necessity but less interesting than spirits. This is something I've encountered not so far from me in Somerset. These French spirits were really very good, I bought several bottles home and saving their opening for a special occasions. The 'Gwen' (Breton word for White) Eau de Vie tastes like nothing else I've ever tried before... it was amazing and I didn't particularly like Eau de Vie, until then.
The afternoon a visit to Paul Coic was completely different. He runs a small one man band Ciderie and didn't speak a single word of English. I didn't get offered any samples either so have no idea what his ciders taste like. However, I got a good dose of terroir at both places... the dusty cellars full of cobwebs and still, cool air.