Patience is required. Although I wish that spring were here, it stubbornly refuses to be anything other than winter. For every beautiful, frosty morning, there is a day like today, when the clouds hang low and dew forms in my beard when I step outside. I can confirm that it does, indeed, drizzle in France. I have planted trees, but they do not yet bear fruit. I have dug vegetable beds, but they are still naked earth. The beehive is an empty mansion, awaiting the waggle-dance of its masters. Patience is required.
I had grown used to life in the city, where everything is available on-demand. The shops and the bars are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (or near enough), I could buy any food or drink or ingredient I desired, at any hour, any time of year. When one is able to access anything, anytime, the value of all is lost, becomes meaningless. The recent ‘lettuce crisis’ is a case in point. Why are we eating imported, often tasteless, lettuces and courgettes in January? At what cost? Why are we not waiting with baited breath for those first crisp leaves, in season? We are accustomed to reaching out and having our cups filled with whatever we want.
As a side note, there is plenty of crunch to be foraged in the forests and fields at this time of year. Wild winter salads are a marvel.
The shops here in Burgundy close for lunch. They are shut on Sundays. They often only open in the mornings on a Saturday. I have to wait. I am more aware of the worth of it, I think, for this very reason. It is a small thing, though important.
As my own apples are at least a few years away, I am lucky that ML’s brother has an orchard in the village, a scant mile or so away. It produces more apples than he can sensibly cope with, so we, selflessly, spent a happy afternoon in the late autumn sun collecting box after box. Some we have stored to feed to the chickens (they of refined taste). Some I cooked down into a compote. The rest I pressed into juice.
Not possessing a scratter (the marvellous name for the mill one uses to crush apples), I resorted to improvising; a bucket and a sledgehammer and aching shoulders the morning after. The apples were smashed and then pressed in the hand-turned fruit press we share with the rest of ML’s family, and the resulting juice was the colour of caramel, cloudy, and the sweetest thing I have ever tasted. We bottled around 20 litres, drank some, froze some, gave some away. Another 20 litres I decided to turn into cider.
I had never made cider before. I’ve brewed beer (from kits) and country wines and elderflower fizz and nettle beer, but never cider. I read on the subject a great deal beforehand, and everything indicated that drinkable cider was not an easy thing to achieve. Vinegar was probable. Success, it seemed, was not. There are many ways to brew cider; measuring of sugar content and acidity, adjusting specific gravity (oh the irony, Mr. Newton), pectic enzymes, double fermentation, it all seemed a bit daunting. So I decided to go full rustic. I transferred the apple juice to a fermenting bucket, gave it a good stir, covered it with a tea towel, and put it by the fire. After a week, it had certainly started to ferment, fizzing and frothing weirdly. I fitted an airlock, and left it.
I am reminded of a recipe I came across for ‘hobo wine’: take 5 litres of grape juice, leave it in the sun for a month, drink it.
The maybe-cider sat for 4 months, seemingly doing nothing. Fermentation appeared to stop after a few weeks, but I left it alone, too afraid of failure to test it. Yesterday I summoned up the courage to bottle it (if that is not an oxymoron).
And it is, in fact, perfectly good. A little flat in its ‘mouth feel’, not exactly delicious, but not too acidic, not sweet (which means most of the sugar is now alcohol), not too dry, not ‘eggy’ as some scrumpy can be.
Free booze. It was worth the wait.