Monday, 26 April 2010

So can the National Trust make Cider?

Obviously I'm not talking about the whole of the National Trust, just the bits of it that claim cidermaking prowess, like Killerton - you have to love the name - in Devon or Barrington Court in Somerset.

I stopped by there on a madcap journey around most of the county recently. In fact I was en route to Burrow Hill from Perry's at Dowlish Wake when I spotted the NT sign and remembered that there'd been a wassail at Barrington this year or last. Something about burning wicker apples on a bonfire... So I stopped and went in to admire the small but informative cidermaking exhibition, and the large, beautiful orchards.

Not orchards like James Ravilious photographed, but lovely all the same, set against long ham stone walls and the tall chimneys of the Big House.

I got lost in a maze of walled gardens - I was concentrating on the espaliered fruit trees and missed a sign - but eventually found the shop. Did they have cider? They did. They also had earthenware wassail cups but that wasn't what I needed. I picked up a bottle, then looked at the price. A jingle of coppers less than £5, for a 70cl bottle. You can buy some quite nice cider for £5, or a lot more less nice cider. I'm sure you could get an extremely large bottle of White Death.

I resisted. Thought again. Resisted a bit more. Suppose it really was that good. The sun was shining. I caved in like a badly built shed.

For a couple of days the cider sat in the fridge. I didn't dare open it. Then, last night, I couldn't stand it any longer. The first sip had that slightly gassy quality of cider that's a bit young, but after that it was good. That delicious Somerset cider which is nothing but very good apples pressed and fermented sensibly. No sugar. No sweetener. No carbonation. No nothing except proper apples. I'd need to go to wine writer school to describe the flavour, which involved all the different qualities of the different varieties.

The point is, I think, that cider made on a small scale, with care and good fruit, can be wonderful. Somebody said to me recently that the best cider is the one you make yourself, and that may well be true...

Monday, 12 April 2010

Tirzah Ravilious and the Women of Bardfield

Tirzah Garwood, The Wife, 1929
 People who have delved a bit into the world of Eric Ravilious may know that his wife Tirzah, nee Garwood, not only tweaked one or two of his best-known paintings but was also a fine artist in her own right, and an excellent printmaker.

The range and energy of her work is impressive, particularly given that she abandoned printmaking after marrying Eric and devoted herself with great dedication to her children. Despite being widowed and fighting cancer she produced (and sold) marbled papers, paintings and relief works in paper.

She shared - and no doubt fuelled - Eric's fascination for toys and dollhouses, creating haunting interiors. She also shared the fate of many female artists, that of being overlooked by people fascinated by her famous husband's work.

The imminent publication of her diaries should shift the balance a little, since she was an outspoken, observant and energetic writer. So too will the exhibition currently showing at the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, which features:

wood engravings, box constructions and paintings by Tirzah Ravilious, oils paintings and pots by Charlotte Bawden, and remarkable marbled papers by both artists, often working together at the kitchen table.

Sheila Robinson invented the cardboard cut and there are a number of these together with an unpublished book Seven Dancing Princesses. Lucy, the first wife of John Aldridge, was a rag rug maker and one of her pieces is on show together with a portrait of her at her work. Marianne Straub had a distinguished career in woven textiles and there are examples on display. Many people will have sat on her work while riding on London Transport's buses or Underground trains.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Big Apple

Whatever fiscal follies come and go in Whitehall, people will keep making cider and perry, and drinking it - and judging it. On the subject of which, The 2010 Big Apple Cider and Perry Trials are almost upon is.

The big day this year is Saturday May 1, although you'll need to get entry forms in by about April 20 if you want to compete. The venue is the village hall in Putley, a Herefordshire village just north of Much Marcle which is surrounded by orchards. You can ride there from Ledbury if you fancy leaving the car at home.

The rest of the weekend is devoted to the Blossomtime celebrations, which means you can visit eminent artisan perry and cider makers like James Marsden at Gregg's Pit, enjoy the orchards and sample some of the best cider and perry around.

Visit The Big Apple website for more info.