Cider with Susie

WELL, that’s the plan. Laurie Lee sipped cider with the lovely Rosie in a haystack. I’m planning to do it with Susie (Sue is really her name) although I just know a haystack is out of the question so will settle for the comfort of our own home. But right now the scrumpy is on hold.

It’s bubbling gently in a plastic carboy in the corner of the kitchen. I can hear it plop as another bubble goes through the airlock. It seems to go to sleep at night but wakes up in the morning when the room warms.

It was hard work making that cider as I don’t have an apple cruncher and nor do I have a cider press. But I now have some pretty fit arm muscles and an awful lot of apples. Buckets full of them.

It all started with Brian next door. He has three apple trees, one of them a fine Bramley, and a crab apple tree. The Bramleys make him a lot of apple puree but the rest goes to waste.

A couple of weeks back I sauntered round to ask if I could have some for my curried apple chutney and came back with a couple of buckets. There are only so many jars of chutney a household needs so I thought about what to do with the rest (there are more apples stored in his garage).

I made apple puree for the freezer. Apples and prune are the main ingredients of my brown sauce recipe so I made some bottles of those. And an apple pie. Then I set about juicing them as an alternative to orange in the morning.

The price of a cider press at the home brew shop was horrendous so I grated some up, squeezed out the juice and put it in my blender, which won’t work unless it has some liquid in, then added chopped apples and whizzed everything up. Then I tipped the contents into a double layer of muslin and squeezed.

What came out was basically pureed apple, a dark brown liquid (the juice oxidizes very quickly) the colour of tea and, to be fair, looks pretty unappetising. But it tastes like apple juice. Adding some of Brian’s crab apples pepped it up.

This has been drunk most mornings for breakfast and is a welcome change from orange juice. Some surplus juice, with the addition of a slug of gin, also made a decent granita.

So we come to the cider. Each time I juice the apples I put the extra in the carboy and now have a gallon on the go. It took an anxious week to start fermenting. I eventually added some cider yeast although I expect it would have started fermenting as the juice stored in the fridge began to fizz!

I am now hoovering up spare apples to keep production going. Today I raided a box of apples put out free to allcomers in a neighbouring street. I nick a few from overhanging branches on the way to the shops. No local crab apple tree is left untroubled.

This has been a great year for apples. The bloke at the home brew shop says next year he will get cider presses for half this year’s price. I’ll be ready. I just hope the apples will.


Thanks for the calamari, Kam

IMG_1705 Perfect calamari 28-09-2018 19-25-17

Calamari reminded me of Malta

PROUST got it right with that Madeleine, didn’t he? Food is not only the stuff on your plate. A chef can devise layers of texture and flavour with a dish but sometimes, just sometimes, there is another layer of which he has no inkling: the diner’s memory.

For Proust it was a cake. For me the other night at Richard Smith’s Cricket Inn at Totley, it was two perfect rings of calamari. With one bite I was back in a seafront bar in Malta the year the Icelandic volcano blew its top.

In that bar, not far from where the famous Maltese Falcon yacht was anchored, I ate a dish of lightly battered squid, the coating so crisp, the flesh so tender, almost ethereal, that it blotted out years of chewing rubber. It was heaven on a plate. If only all calamari could be half as good!

I’ve not experienced it again until those two rings cooked up by sous chef Kam Bajorek, which he had partnered with a crouton of mashed avocado and baby octopus. They had, my wife enthused, the texture of silk.

We’d been invited as guests to a chef head to head night where each of the pub’s chefs draws a course out of a hat and cooks something up to a theme, tonight Round the World. Each diner marks his own menu card and the winner was the chef with the highest score.


Apple strudel

It’s a chance for the kitchen to show it can do more than fish and chips or burgers, the more usual orders in the dining room next door. We were in the room once used as a morgue for fatalities when digging the Totley Tunnel.

Despite my raptures for Kam’s calamari it didn’t get my highest marks. That went to executive chef Oli Parnell’s stonebass en papilotte, the eventual winner. This was an exceeding clever dish in which a portion of fish was tightly bound by ultra-thin layers of potato and pan fried. The flavour of the fish penetrated the spud and completely hid its origins, the outer layers at least.

It turns out Richard had suggested this one to Oli as it was a dish he had cooked himself 20 years before at his previous restaurant Smith’s of Sheffield, one he had taken from New York based French chef Daniel Boulud.


Winning dish – Stonebass en papilotte

Richard, who was also competing, scuppered his own chances of winning with that tip for he produced a slate of intricate cheese-based goodies, a medley of custards, candied walnuts, fruit crisps, poached pear – and cheese.

There was much to like here. I had my first taste of Brazilian fejoda cooked up by head chef Sam Parnell (he and Oli are twin brothers), a gutsy pork, sausage and beans stew, and enjoyed the light, crisp pastry of an apple strudel from another sous chef Pav.

“Just a nice, fun night,” Richard said later. Certainly – and for me a taste of the unexpected. Thanks for the invite and thanks for the calamari, Kam.

The Cricket Inn, Penny Lane, Totley, Sheffield. Tel 0114 236 5256. Web:

IMG_1718 Cheesey delights at the Cricket 28-09-2018 21-22-03

Cheesey delights at the Cricket