Monday 17 September 2018

We make cider and survive

Benedict Ambrose and I share the same core values (very important in marriage), but we have very different personalities. This can cause friction although I have always appreciated that B.A. is very laid-back and presumably he admires my energy. I sure hope so.

I am often on the lookout for hobbies that we can do together that are not watching television. (Of course, being trads, we occasionally sit together transfixed before my computer screen, watching Michael Voris snark, or Michael Matt seethe, or Raymond Arroyo ask the Papal Posse what this all means for the Church.)

Unfortunately, swing-dancing is right out. One of the happiest moments of my life in Scotland was seeing B.A. across the swing-dancing class floor, but then it turned out he was just saying "hello" on his way somewhere else.

I no longer go to swing-dancing. The loneliness and having to smile all the time despite the In-Crowd just about killed me. Anyone who thinks traditional Catholics are snooty and judgemental should spend a year in the Edinburgh social dance scene.

Of course, anything strenuous is right out for now, as B.A. is still recovering from radio-therapy. This reminds me of his ill-fated night school French course. To my great joy, B.A. decided one year to study French. Shortly after his classes started, he got really sick. As he began to slowly slip into delirium, I was doing his French homework half an hour before his class.* That was it for French.

This year, having acquired this wonderful apple tree, we decided that we would make cider. While B.A. read Twitter, I watched two videos and bought all the equipment online. When the boxes arrived, I opened them up, and we decided we would being making the cider on B.A.'s next day off, which was Sunday.

On Sunday I got up at 7 and went outside with a ladder to pick apples as B.A. snoozed on. This was great fun although the ladder was very tippy, so once he got up I summoned B.A. to help. B.A. held the ladder and squawked with dismay when I gave up on it and climbed into the tree.

"Oh darling please be careful," said B.A.

"I'm fifteen again," I cried, 20 feet in the air.

"You'll never reach those ones," said B.A.

"Yes, I will," I thought and sometimes did, and sometimes didn't.

Once B.A. was back inside, sure we had enough apples, I climbed up the ladder again to get more. Thus, we ended up with 130 apples. Thirteen of them weighed 2 kilos (about 4.5 lbs), so that was 20 kg of apples, which the internet told me should produce 2 imperial gallons (9 litres)  of juice. After Mass I washed them in the bathtub.

Then we had a squabble about sterilising the equipment. B.A. has made a fair amount of elderflower champagne in his time and never bothered with Camden tablets,  champagne yeasts, disinfectants and all that modern stuff. However, the cider books I got from the library were adamant about sterilising all equipment, so I took the highly caustic disinfectant ("Oh darling please be careful") to the bathroom and sterilised the fermenting bin and its lid. The bathtub was as clean as newly fallen snow afterwards.

Meanwhile, B.A. had started chopping and blitzing the apples. Essentially, the way to make cider juice is to cut apples into quarters, put them in a vegetable chopper, blitz them to bits and then stick them in your  handy-dandy bag-lined apple press. This is more labour intensive than it sounds, and in hindsight is not the ideal Sunday-afternoon activity for a cancer patient and a journalist with tendonitis. It is fun, though, although it would have been more fun if we had invited friends to help, providing snacks and other people's cider to inspire us.

Another argument was whether or not we should bolt the apple press to the floor. It was a nice enough day that we could have bolted it to the lawn, but B.A. wasn't feeling well and wanted to stay indoors. We don't like our kitchen linoleum and will eventually tile the floor, but we don't have a drill for making bolt-holes, so that was that. When it got difficult to turn the handle to squish out the last of the juice, B.A. got me to hold the legs.

When we had about 50 apples to go, B.A. was really very tired. We had only 6 litres of juice--just over a gallon--but the thought of cutting, blitzing and squishing 50 more apples was too much for him.

"We'll never do it," he said and went to lie down.

"To heck with that," I thought (maybe not that politely). "I want 9 litres!"

The thought of those 3 extra litres gave me extra energy. So I cut up the 50 apples, blitzed them, emptied out the "cheese" (dry squashed apple bits), and filled up the press again. Then I turned the handle of the apple press myself, which wasn't that hard until the end.

Shortly after 8, I thought I'd better check on B.A. There are too many stories of husbands going to lie down and then simply dying.

So I stuck my head in the bedroom door. B.A. was under the covers with the reading lamp on.

"I'm just lying quietly with a book," he literally said.

"I'm not mad at you," I replied. "And I'm almost done."

And then I was. I can barely type now, but we have 2 gallons of juice sitting in the fermenting bin, its natural yeasts being killed off by the Camden tablets. Tonight I will add wine-and-cider yeast---which reminds me: I must get B.A. to show me how to turn on the heat as we need the cider to live at a balmy 20 degrees celsius for the next week.

The juice is really delicious, so I hope the cider is too. Maybe for our next batch we will not add the Camden tablets and just see what the natural yeasts do. On the other hand, this is all so labour-intensive, I cannot bear the thought of failure.

*One of the stranger aspects to B.A.'s 1.5 year battle with the brain tumour is my inability to grasp what is happening when it starts to happen. However, I've noticed that some of his doctors are like that, too. Some have insisted that he was fine, when I knew he wasn't fine, and others have admitted that they didn't know what was wrong. Our gentle G.P., who tried to care for B.A. but was stymied, has retired early. Was it us? We hope it wasn't us.


  1. I always suspected that making cider would be one of those pastimes that turns out to be more difficult than enthusiasts make out! I hope you do not get the beekeeping, er, bug, because it turns out that making honey is also a great deal harder than one might think. The second volume of Rumer Godden's memoirs contains an hilarious story about her husband-imposed efforts at honey-making.


    1. She wrote memoirs? Happy day! I must find them ASAP, for I love those of her novels I have read so far.

    2. "A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep" and "A House with Four Rooms" are the titles of her memoirs, in addition to the wonderful "Two Under the Indian Sun" that she wrote with her sister and deals only with their childhood in India and is probably the best as literature. There's also a biography by Anne Chisholm but I don't care for it much.


  2. What do you with the pulp that is left over? If I understood correctly there must be a lot. Also have you bought bottles to pop it in afterwards or will you swig from the barrel?

    Unless there is a clinical deterioration that they can pinpoint ( spiking temps, droopy one side of face, inflammatory markers, scan results) hospitals here are usually reluctant to admit people based on a hunch. Sure what do they fix, there are no beds, the patient may acquire hospital infections and end up worse off again. I was watching a programme where the geriatric consultant explained this to the wife, that he may not go home once he was admitted but she insisted that he was changing on top of the dementia. Turns out he had motor neuron disease. How do you even forecast that? You did right by your husband as did your amazeballs sis-in-law if I remember correctly. It's so hard to say summat is brewing and for doctors to appear take it seriously, but they understood what you meant, believe me.


    1. There's a ton of pulp, which even has the fancy name "the cheese". The pulp/"cheese" has been cast into the compost heap and dry leaves shovelled over it.

      I am no longer cross at the doctors. I know now that they don't simply know everything, especially when it comes to a very rare kind of brain tumour that, when it happens, usually happens to a child, not a middle-aged man. And thank heavens for my sister-in-law. She is indeed amazeballs although she modestly says that as a paediatrician, sudden and inexplicable weight-loss sets all her alarm-bells ringing (or however she put it).

      We don't find out if the radiation worked for another two months or so. How happy we will be if the tumour is gone and how unhappy if it isn't. Well, we live in hope.

  3. In my old job there was an intern who's brother was studying medicine he told us that the greatest gift of a medical student was the ability to be able to read lots of information and remember it. That a lot of medicine from a doctor's point of view to be able to associate symptoms with past occurrences of it. It makes sense in many ways but has given me a rather different outlook on doctor's since hearing that.