Waggon-loads of apples are heaped outside and inside the wring house at Lower Knapp Farm — Kingston Blacks, Morgan Sweets, Buttery Daws. Sweet Acme’s (known as Sweet Aycoms by the cydermakers). A few Wyandotte hens strut and peck and occasionally excrete on the piles of apples. “Twon’t hurt.” says Farmer Bale. “it all do come out in the fermentation.”
The interior of the wring-house is dark and cobwebby, with a smell of old cyder and straw. Two massive black screws rise nearly to the ceiling, and a baulk of elm that must weigh nearly half a ton is wound up to the top of the screws. The winding is done by vast iron spanners, very cumbersome, too heavy to pick up from the floor without effort,
First we drag out the wide oaken tray and fix it beneath the press, then the long wooden kieve or trough to catch the juice. Nearby the apple-crusher has been erected, with a high wooden hopper above, and Arthur Hawkins is already pitching pails of apples into this. A vast iron hoop, fixed to the handle of the crusher, helps to turn it, and now Tom Gallon and Ern Maidment are whirling it round, and we can hear the first apples bobbing and hopping and slurping as the knives bite into them.
George Merry makes the “cheese”. This is made up of alternate layers of apple-pulp (called “pommy” by George) and long wheaten reed. He tucks the reed up and over the layer of apple-pulp, and makes sure the cheese rises square and neat, eventually trimming off any out- sticking straw with his shears. The cheese is a four-foot cube by the time he finishes, and now we wind down the press with the great iron spanners and the first juice swells from a trickle to a steady stream pouring from the tray’s outlet into the trough.
Four or five small boys, seated on straw bales, are watching intently.
“Cydermaking’s a lazy job,” comments George, standing back. ‘We can let’n bide now, then tomorrow marnen we can jist gi’e the press a turn or two, and let’n bide agean till evening. And all the time the juice ‘ull be a-streaming out. Yurr,” he calls, “you bwoys can wet thee glutchers now, zno.”
The little boys swarm forward and set long “reed-motes” of straw into the juice in the trough. They are intent, sucking up the sweet juice as fast as they can.
“Tis always the same wi’ the boys,” George explains. “Always been the same ever since I were a bwoy-chap zucking cyder droo a reed-mote. ‘Tis the custom, like.”
‘Won’t it make ‘em drunk?’ I ask.
“Lor’ bless thee, no? This idden cyder yet, look zno, ‘tis only the juice. Might make the nippers run up and down the gearden a bit, to the dunnegan, but that ‘oon’t hurt ‘em.”
Tall, dusty hogsheads and pipes stand against the wall, one or two still containing cyder from the last cydermaking, two years ago. We sit on straw-bales, and Edwin Bale draws off cups of amber liquid, his own receptacle an ancient cup made from a cow’s horn. “Tis jonnick,” he says. “This were made vrom Kingston Blacks and Yellow Jerseys, and there idden no better mixture than that.”
We drink, and talk, listening to the dribble and plop and slow oozings of the cyder-press. The talk is reflective and reminiscent, often drawing laughter, as when George Merry tells of the time Farmer wanted to put up the wages of a simple man called Simon Foot. “Simon werden daft as a brush, more like a ha’penny shart in the shillun,” says George. “Farmer did zay to en, ‘Well, Foot, I be gwain to raise thee wages from ten shillun a wik to twelve shillun a wik.’ ‘Doan’ ‘ee touch my wages, Farmer,’ shouts Simon, ‘or I shall lef, I shall lef!’ Cor, he were a simple Simon, too,” says George, chuckling reminiscently.
“Mind thik time when you met Simon at Swillet, George?” says Tom Gallon, belching discreetly. He grins expectantly, knowing the oft- repeated story that will follow; George is acknowledged as a raconteur.
“Simon were a lusty yeller, zee,” explains George. “Thease time Tom’s a-talking o’ was much later — Simon were getting upalong by then, nigh on eighty years wold. I said to ‘n, ‘Dussen never make love to thee wold ‘ooman now, dost, Simon?’ He eye’d I like the Devil eye-ing a drop o’ Holy Water. ‘Hoo, hoo,’ er said — thee’s know how wold Simon did talk! —‘Hoo, hoo, I still like a little bit, zno,’ er said. ‘Takes I a little bit longer, you, but I don’t begrudge the time, George — I don’t begrudge the time!’
George then tells the tale again, word for word, as is the village habit, and it is greeted again by the same gusts of laughter. Good tales are not to be wasted.