Thursday, December 18, 2014

Good things # 3: the cider press cometh

'I think they're making moonshine up the road,' said Tom 'they've just dragged some big machine thing up with a tractor, and now there's all kinds of noise coming from up there.'

So I went up to have a look, and next to Victor's house, with Victor in attendance, was a big noisy contraption I'd never seen before, powered from the tractor by all kinds of filthy wheels and belts and other gear and tackle though not a lot of trim,

as well as a thick hosepipe emanating from Victor's sister Hélène's shed, and there were apples everywhere:

They were emptied into a big wet hopper, where they seemed to receive some kind of very perfunctory washing, then scooped up in these baskets and conveyed to the top of the contraption, then squashed between a stack of metal grids, from which the residue of pulp was tossed aside

and the juice squirted out from a tap at the other end.

'How old is it?' I enquired above the din.
'I dunno,' replied Victor, 'old.'

He's well gone ninety himself. I also asked if they did anything with the discarded pulp. He said they used sometimes to give it to the cows but not any more, there wasn't much left in it anyway. The blackbirds like it, he added, but he thought it was perhaps the pips they were interested in, which had never occurred to me before about blackbirds going for windfall apples. I assumed the juice would be sour and horrible, but he said no, it's very sweet, and as I ducked away I stuck a finger under the stream and licked it, and indeed it was, so I gave him the thumbs up and he gave me a grin. 

The people who brought and worked it would be moving on to the next job, they make a tour. It won't in fact become moonshine, but will stay as cider, though Victor is one of the only farmers still alive who has the right to make 'Calva' (a term which is not only geographically inaccurate but rather glamorising of the product in question), he no longer does so; the travelling alembic doesn't come round any more, though there's one at St Laurent, but, he said, no one really wants the stuff now. I bought a litre bottle from him for 50 francs when we first came, and in fact it wasn't bad, at least as hot grog with lemon and orange and brown sugar. 

Anyway, if my description of the workings of this formidable engin is not adequate, here's a video I spliced together  from three separate ones I took, so you can work it out for yourself, though make sure your volume levels aren't too high, it really is very noisy, and no one's wearing ear protection! Victor, as regulars of this blog will probably recognise, is the little Tom Bombadil-ish chap who stalks off across the shot at the end, and the fat dour bloke is his nephew, one of the many Marcel/les of our village, who looks as if he's more used to drinking cider than making it, and probably won't make as old bones as Victor. The two anonymous entities covered in apple pulp are the machine's owners. 

I came away from the event quite unwarrantedly cheerful and excited.


Lucas said...

Hi Lucy
Having seen that excellent video I most definitely want to drink rural Brittany. If you live to be that old and wear such great looking work clothes something must be right about it.

Roderick Robinson said...

This post is proof positive why Box Elder continues to have such a strong following. Like the rest of us you can do the chaise longue bits, languishing in a peignoir, alluding tangentially to Rilke and la Rochefoucauld, and watching your sloe gin mature. But you also get out and investigate. Better still you ask journalistic questions, come back and report.

When Works Well started, and I was Barrett Bonden, I used to do this. But along the way I got bogged down in other things and ended proving a point of my own - that there is nothing more boring than a putative writer. A writer's world is circumferentiated by his umbilicus and that's a very small world.

The laurels may be virtual but we may all imagine them, garlanding your brow. There may come a time when a Nobel Prize for blogging is awarded. Then I'll get off my ass and campaign. The key is a lively mind and diversity. And an ability to use self-deprecation by the back door. I look forward to Stockholm 2023.

Stella said...

I am happy to have this glimpse into your (idyllic) know such activities still take place and to see the ordinary romance of a stone house with the exceptional romance of a open window in December! I read that hard cider is making a comeback and of that my husband is proof......over beer he likes Strongbow. I wonder if these gents realize they are trendsetters? How do they move that rig?

Anne said...

What fun! I loved the video. Your story made me want to find some unpasteurized cider.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Wonderful post and wonderful machine - reminds me of those crazy machines drawn by...what was his name? You know who I mean?
I love the hand-made, rusted, wonkiness of it and also the fact that it actually works and makes cider! Bah humbug on slick soul-less modern machinery, this is the real thing.

the polish chick said...

loving that third picture - looks like the lurker made a run for it and got away!

HKatz said...

I learned a lot from this post, as I'd never seen this process up close - and somehow the cider still seems delicious even after the close up photos of the gritty equipment :)