Fruit, Vegetables & Cider
Fruit and vegetables
One of the first things we did when we moved to Pool Cottage was to make a vegetable plot and, in the first couple of years, we grew the standard spuds, carrots, runner beans and onions. At the same time we added a small apple orchard with various varieties, and also planted 3 plum trees to complement the damson trees already in situ. Soft fruit came the same year and included blackcurrants gooseberries as well as a few corns of rhubarb.
1997 saw the arrival of our first polytunnel, which grew our initial batch of tomatoes and cucumbers, it also became home to 2 grape vines, which still produce excellent wine-making grapes today. As the years have passed the range of herbs and vegetables grown has expanded, making us self sufficient for most of the growing season with good use of freezers, the dehydrator and natural storage methods. The addition of 2 further polytunnels, as well as a number of raised beds, has also extended the growing season and the volume grown.
The fruit side of the smallholding has also evolved to include blackberries, tayberries and blueberries, as well as red and white currants. The original polytunnel now houses an apricot tree, which produces the finest fruits for eating and jam making and outside we now have a greengage and 3 new pear trees and a peach tree. We also invested in a walnut tree which, after just 3 years, produced its first nut (singular). The 2014 crop was 8 nuts and the local squirrels stole both the 2015 and 2016 crop!
Jams and relishes
Jam was always produced by my Welsh Grandmother (Nain) in a huge brass pot and, in her memory, we do just the same. At Pool Cottage we use all sorts of fruit from the smallholding. Our jams and jellies include:
Rhubarb (& ginger)
We also make other jams such as strawberry, as well as various marmalades, though this fruit is bought in fresh and locally for these. For jam making we tend to pick the fruit as it ripens and freeze it straight away. This allows us to collect enough fruit for a good session of jamming thoughout the year. The freezing process also helps break down the fruit cell structure allowing the release of more juice and hence more flavour. Once defrosted, the fruit is brought to the boil in the brass pan and allowed to simmer, we then add the correct amount of sugar and, when the setting point is reached, we bottle into re-cycled sterilised jars.
We don’t just use jam in a sandwich either, a Victoria sponge made using our duck eggs with layers lavishly spread with jam is always well received. Redcurrant jelly and mint from the herb patch rubbed into a leg of lamb, slow roasted until the meat can be carved using a spoon, happens to be another favourite. A good blob of jam in a pot of natural yogurt is a tastier and cheaper option than a commercial yoghurt corner. Yum yum jam, just like Grandmother used to make (proper lush)!
We cater for our savoury tooth as well at Pool Cottage. Any surplus tomatoes are pulped down to make passata for the pizza toppings or we make a good batch of soup that can be frozen for a wonderful broth on a cold winter's day. Any extra fruit such as apricots, plums or rhubarb go into our relishes which compliment the cured meats a real treat. One of Ruth's specialities is red onion marmalade. It's not a marmalade in the jammy sense, but from our red onions softened over a low heat, with the addition of red wine and port, along with other ingredients known only to her, she produces a marmalade that is unbeatable with our pastrami and indeed any cold meat imaginable.
Cider making at Pool Cottage is a celebration of the apple (and the pear) and a weekend in October is put aside especially for this celebration. Friends and family gather and we pick the apples directly from the trees in our very own orchard. We then set in place a mini production line where the apples are first crushed and then pressed, with the resulting juice transferred to 5 gallon fermenting bins. The only other ingredient is some brewer's yeast, making our cider some of the purest available.
Throughout the weekend, the previous year’s cider is used to quench the thirst of the pickers, crushers and squeezers, as well as a supply of yummy apple cake to soak up the brew. In the evening the clay oven is fired up, and fresh pizza and other treats are cooked. As everyone drifts off to bed, a leg of our own pork is put in the clay oven to slowly cook overnight, resulting in the best pulled pork ever the next day.
Approximately 10 weeks after pressing, the now fermented cider is siphoned into barrels and left to mature, though regular testing of the cider is carried out (obviously), with the first test of a new batch traditionally carried out at Christmas. We have different varieties of cider given the different trees in the orchard and all display their own individuality. We ferment 15-25 gallons each year dependent on the crop. Perhaps not enough to challenge Magners or Bulmers, but it keeps us very happy!