Halloween weekend is the time when we make cider here at Higher Hacknell. This year we had Rosy, our eldest daughter, back from University, my nephew Mark and his mates - the usual crew, plus George, the amazing lambing student who helped us a couple of years ago! The hardest part is getting everyone to pick up the apples, but luckily the sun shone, it was a warm autumn day, and with lots of breaks for cider, and tree shaking to bring the apples down, we got enough to make the cheese. It's an annual dilemma, whether to keep the sheep in the orchard to keep the grass down so we can easily pick up the apples, or keep them out so they don't eat or do anything else on them, but then the grass gets too long and you can't find the apples. It was the latter this year! Then we build the 'cheese', layering apples and straw in a huge press which is squeezed between the pound in a very traditional way and the juice is poured into old oak barrels to ferment until after Christmas. It's our big weekend of feasting and celebrating the last harvest of the year after the summer months of making hay and silage and combining the barley.
Now that the clocks have gone back and we've got 4 barrels of cider fermenting away, it's time to start our Christmas preparations in the butchery. The Christmas catalogue is on line at www.higherhacknell.co.uk where you can order all the usual favourites and add to them with your choices from the other beef, lamb, pork and poultry sections. You'll be pleased to know that turkeys and geese are the same price as last year, but in slightly shorter supply, so please do order soon. If you leave it too late the popular cuts such as rib of beef on the bone, fillets of beef and gammons can 'sell out'! If you'd like an order before Christmas and another one for Christmas week, it is easier if you make 2 separate orders. Christmas orders will be delivered on Wednesday 21st December, and do tell us where it can be left if you are out. As well as ordering on line, you can phone me to order or discuss what you'd like on 01769 560909 as we are always happy to help and advise on sizes and cooking tips. You can collect from Exeter Farmers Market on Thursday 22nd December or from the farm on the 22nd and 23rd December.
In the meantime, Tracy our Higher Hacknell chef is busy making lasagne following our Gold Taste of the West Award. It was the winner of the 'best of ready meals, soups and light eats category' and Rick Stein, one of the judges, apparently enjoyed it's home made flavour. Our rack of lamb also won a Gold Award.
If you are following the River Cottage series on TV, don't be too alarmed by Hugh FW's conversion to summer vegetarianism, as you can enjoy delicious Higher Hacknell meat dishes in his Axminster and the 'about to open', Plymouth Canteen and Deli. We are also making all the sausages and bacon to Hugh's special recipes to supply his shops and restaurants. I was surprised at how much pepper went in Hugh's Herby Banger but the proof is in the eating, as they are very good and impressed the quality controllers in our butchery here!!
It is quite mild still in Devon, but we've seen flocks of starlings coming in and landing in the fields in their hundreds which is usually a sign of hard weather on it's way. There were huge numbers of them last year, so I wonder if we are in for more snow. I hope not! There aren't quite as many holly berries around though as last year, so I'm crossing my fingers that the Arctic winter will hold off until after Christmas!
Look forward to hearing from you soon.