This week will see the last of the squash safely in store, apart from a few that we will leave for you to harvest on our pumpkin days this month. A sunny autumn has helped to set hard skins and develop their full flavour. For squash fans we are doing a mixed box with recipes for £7.95 on the extras list. Squash generally store better in a warm dry home than in our barns, with the harder-skinned varieties like Crown Prince often keeping through to spring. I know the hard skins can pose a problem, so this week’s ‘What’s what in the box’ video gives tips on how to get to that wonderfully sweet flesh, without losing a finger in the process.
When my father took on Riverford as a Church tenant in 1951, a quarter of the farm was made up of derelict cider orchard. Local varieties like Butterbox, Golden Bittersweet, Slack Ma Girdle, Whimples Wonder and Spotted Dick were under-grazed by sheep and the occasional pig. He was advised by the neighbouring tenants to keep his orchards; it had seen them through the depression, when they had been able to survive by part-paying their men in cider. By the 70s, the advance of bitter, then lager and wine, plus the import of cheap sweet juice from the continent, had seen the orchards shrink back to odd corners and steep slopes inaccessible to modern machinery. My brothers and I would earn about £10 for collecting a tonne of apples and delivering them to Hills cider works, where the one remaining press in the parish made traditional murky cider of varying quality but reliable strength.
Thanks to the modern rise in cider drinking, which mercifully is not all satisfied by Magners and Strongbow, my boys now spend their October weekends collecting apples. The price has gone up to £70 a tonne. Hills cider works got converted into desirable dwellings and the last cider making Hill emigrated on the proceeds, but Luscombe drinks bought the press, combined it with a modern bottling line and, along with Heron Valley and Sheppy’s, are at the forefront of a new breed of small and medium scale drinks makers using traditional varieties to make more traditional cider. We have replanted a few acres of traditional varieties, but I’m not sure anyone, except perhaps my 14 year old, would accept their wages in cider.