Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Friday, 24 April 2009

Why cider has a low profile

A rare week’s visit from grandson Ian – 23 years old, 6 ft 4 in. tall, manic computer gamer, trawler of popular music’s extremities. I expose him to Billy Bragg singing The International but he prefers one of my more obscure CD tracks - an anonymous choir doing Bandiera Rossa accompanied by a thousand bagpipes. Let’s put him down as inclining leftwards then. His pallor decrees something out-of-doors and we visit Hereford’s cider museum.

As proclaimed I respond to technology but it’s thin on the ground in cider-making. There’s a press, a bottle-washing machine and… well, that’s about it. To ensure Ian gets full value for his £3.50 ticket (as a person of advanced age mine costs £3) we are reduced to reading the info placards in some detail. It seems cider-making lacks mystique.

Industries create mystique by enshrouding themselves in jargon. But prolonged contact with apples rots the imagination. The press is called – dully – a press. Later, in an over-long explanation about reducing cloudiness, there’s a line drawing of a slightly tilted barrel on a rack. The caption reveals this process is known as “racking”.

Jargon is the route to greater earnings: think of doctors, lawyers, computer manufacturers and roof-thatchers. If cider is to prosper it must ape oenology with its vinification, maceration and its heavy dependence on French words. Since Hereford is close to the Principality Welsh words would raise obfuscation levels. Other than that… ah yes, more publicity for an aperitif (called inevitably, Apple Aperitif) bought at the museum’s gift shop. Il vaut le voyage but not if you live in, say, Prague.


Plutarch said...

Isn't the variety of apple an important feature of cider? I've always wondered about those orchards in your part of the world planted with gnarled cider apple trees with names that seem to go back centuries. Then there are the presses. What of the presses?

The Crow said...

My late, ex-FIL was a fruit grower in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Fred made the best cider of any in the area. I think his recipe was 15% tart apples, 25% sweet-tarts and the remaining 60% late season sweets. The cider house he took his fruit to is still operating, has its original wooden barrel presses and a vat that a family of two could live in quite comfortably. Oh, and the aroma! You can smell Kime's Cider Mill a good half mile away in fall when they run the presses deep into the night.

My favorite apple is one that is hard to find anymore: the Winesap, the pure variety, not the MacIntosh-Winesap cross. I remember an apple so dark red-purple it looked almost black, with fine speckles of creamy white. Crisp flesh, juicy like you would not believe, best used for eating out of hand, or with a fine sharp cheddar, and - of course - for cidering.

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: In fact the only memorable part of the museum was a gallery devoted to paintings of apples but intended simply to identify their differences. As to Herefordshire's orchards, many are being uprooted and turned into other more profitable forms of agriculture. There is a genuine danger that many strains of apples will die out. On the plus side, during the apple-picking season huge tractors pull even huger trailers full of apples along country roads and eventually the old Bulmer plant (acquired during financial distress by Scottish and Newcastle who have been subsequently acquired themselves) steams out an apply scent over the city.

The presses were (technologically) unimpressive.

I quite like cider but my aim with the post was to suggest it needed a touch of imagination to get its qualities across.

The Crow: Remember the advertising rule of thumb: you don't sell the hamburger you sell the sizzle. With cider that manufacturing smell could be turned into a PR tool. As it is, commercials for cider in its least interesting form appear on TV and are aimed at very young drinkers.

Talking about PR tools, how about that name Winesap? Saliva's built in. As to apples they were one of our greatest disappointments (along with cheese) during our stay in the US. Of course, we should have looked further than the supermarkets where consistent colour and shape were the dominant factors and one's teeth sank into damp cotton wool. I'm sure things have moved on since then. In any case there were significant compensations: asparagus and globe artichokes, luxury food in the UK back then, were inexpensive and commonplace. Pigging out on asparagus - ah, the tears well up from my memory banks.

Lucy said...

'I expose him to Billy Bragg singing The International but he prefers one of my more obscure CD tracks - an anonymous choir doing Bandiera Rossa accompanied by a thousand bagpipes.'

Oh the folly of post-modern youth!

Did you get to drink any cider? That might have reseemed the visit somewhat...

Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: Ian's public attitude is to refuse to be impressed by anything, but Bandiera Rossa sneaked up on him. He offered the track his most extreme accolade: "I've heard many rock bands who played worse than that."

To have tasted cider would have meant buying a bottle. There were tiny free tastings of Apple Brandy, Apple Liqueur and Apple Aperitif and I was so impressed by the latter I bought a bottle. Even Mrs B, whose preferences in pre- and post-meal booze can only be described as austere, approved.

Barrett Bonden said...

I fear my sarcastic comments about my grandson were misplaced and I have to admit his musical taste and perceptions have proved to be impeccable. This morning, via his email, I was drawn to YouTube where I was able to hear a comparatively hi-fi version of my atrociously recorded Bandiera Rossa. The singing was stirring and passionate and the words were easily followed. Far from being accompanied by a thousand bagpipes (or, rather, their drones as I had imagined) the backing came from a thousand electric guitars. I must also confess that when presented with an appropriate rabbit hole, Ian runs down it like a supercharged ferret. Mes félicitations, petit-fils.