November is a bleak month in the northern hemisphere. The clocks go back an hour at the end of October. A measure aimed to help us get up to a slightly lighter morning soon has the effect of plunging us in to darkness at four in the afternoon. The sun can not be truly described as ‘up’ from three onwards and will not return until March.
November does not have the excitement and activity of December. It does not have the frost and snow filled beauty of January. It is invariably cold and wet and grey. It is a time to make preparations for the winter to come.
In the UK November 5th has a number of names; bonfire night, fireworks night, Guy Fawkes. Falling in the first week of early darkness, explosions of colour and noise pierce the night as fireworks are released from parks and gardens. Bonfires are lit, sparklers burn names in to the black canvas of the sky, baked potatoes, baked apples, toasted marshmallows, comfort food abounds. Coming hard on the heels of the clock change the evening is well placed as a way to say farewell to summer, to welcome the coming winter, but this is just fortuitous timing and appropriation. What we are really marking is the failure of a plot to below up the House of Parliament in 1605. Gunpowder was the weapon of choice and so it is with explosions we celebrate the conspirators’ uncovering.
This Bonfire night I joined in the seasonal preparations with a first attempt at cider from scratch. We have recently moved house and are in the process of rescuing a garden that has been covered with paving slabs for decades. Part of the regeneration plans involve planting fruit trees, although it will be a few years before we get to taste their wares. Discussion of the trees revealed a colleague we had a glut of apples from an established tree and we quickly offered our services to dispose of them. The internet informed us that a local community orchard hired out their cider press for a small fee and we were soon set up for a firework watching, apple chopping, production line.
It took a few hours but we managed to press more than 40 litres, all of which are now fermenting nicely thanks to the natural yeast on the apples and some sultanas to stimulate it. Cider takes time to ferment, long enough to save up the glass bottles we will need for the next step when sugar is added to create carbonation, but at this time of year especially , it is good to heave something to look forward to.