Last Saturday we spent a sunny afternoon in an apple orchard. Even just saying those words conjures up autumn, don’t you think ? It was part of a series of events being held to celebrate the culture, heritage and food of County Armagh, also known as the orchard county.
The orchard is home to the Armagh Cider Company , run by a local family who also own a stud farm. We arrived early in the afternoon, to be greeted by various dogs and some curious goats ! And after admiring the lovely rural setting, we made our way to the top of the orchard to listen to a short talk by one of the owners.
It was during the Plantation of Ulster in the 1600s that orchards first developed here. At that time, local land was given to settlers from England and Scotland and one of the stipulations of owning land was that an orchard had to be maintained. Apples were the fruit of choice because of their use by the military. When soldiers went off to fight abroad, the cider that was produced then had enough alcohol in it to help sanitise the local water. Equally, it didn’t have too much alcohol in it, so soldiers could drink it neat if required and not get drunk !
Normally in the UK, apples can’t be grown any further north than Birmingham. However, due to the specifics of the local eco system (the orchard lies just a few miles south of Lough Neagh), it means the temperatures remain more moderate, allowing apples to grow in a location significantly further north.
In more recent times, and after many years of producing just apples, the family decided for financial reasons, to diversify into cider making and that’s how the Armagh Cider Company came about. We left the orchard then (reluctantly for me, as it was idyllic) and headed to a small production facility to be shown where the apples are pressed and left to ferment and how the juice is then bottled and packed for distribution. What I hadn’t known is that more apples are produced in Northern Ireland than potatoes. In fact, this year it’s estimated the region will produce around 45,000 tonnes….and that’s a whole load of apples !
Then, we were brought into a barn to sample some of the ciders (also called apple wine) and tea, coffee and apple pie were served while we sat down at a beautiful trestle table, made from local wood. I have to say, the homemade apple pie was the best I’ve tasted in a long time.
We each got to take home a bottle of cider of our choosing and after a final glimpse at the beautiful orchard, we headed back to the car for the journey home.
For more information about the Armagh Cider Company, you can visit their website here.
My favourite cider was their Maddens Orchard Bramble Cider … I hope to be having a little taste of it later for Sunday dinner ! What about you? Do you like cider or apple wine, as I might start calling it? Feel free to share in your comments below…
Whatever you are doing today, have a lovely Sunday x