Cider in the hills

There are no commercial empires here. Just cider makers from small farms, villages and an Abbey who are inspired by the beauty of a completely natural drink and the alchemy of the apple.

Ampleforth Cider

We are as traditional as it gets here at Ampleforth. Although our orchard is the largest commercial orchard in the North of England, we are still running on a very small scale.

We are a big believer in tradition and everything we do in the cider mill is by hand. We pick all of our 40 different varieties of apples by hand, the apples are then pressed which produces delicious apple juice. Using natural yeast the juice is then left to ferment for at least eight months.

The final product is our award winning cider.

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Coulton Mill Cyder

Set in the heart of the Howardian Hills area of outstanding natural beauty, Coulton Mill has been working since 1218 and is now part of Yorkshire’s cider making revival. The farm is home to a collection of every known Yorkshire apple variety – as well as many old cider apple favourites from Herefordshire and the South West.

Yorkshire heritage varieties such as cockpit, Ribston Pippin and Dogs Snout are blended with the traditional cider apples Dabinett, Yarlington Mill and Harry Masters Jersey. The result is a cider that balances acidity and tannin, using the natural sugars of the apples to ferment to alcohol.

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Orchards of Husthwaite

Husthwaite has been known as the Orchard Village of North Yorkshire due to its history of growing fruit and trading the crops at market and with jam factories over the last 3 centuries. It is documented that the village traded with Captain Cook and the Whitby Whaling boat owners and a set of whale jaw bones were presented to the village in the 1800’s and were placed either side of Malton Street at the entrance to the village in a similar way as the set at the cliff top in Whitby today.

Many of the houses and cottages (garths) had large fertile gardens with productive orchards that became part of the economy of the village often paying the cottagers rent for the year by selling the fruit in the picking season. This fertility that the village still enjoys today is put down to excellent loamy soil and a micro climate that lets the village grow a variety of fruit like vines and apricots outdoor much farther north than is normal.

Commercial production of fruit peaked in the village around the early 1900s when the fruit was often transported from the now defunct Husthwaite railway station or by lorry to the jam factory at Hartlepool or to wholesalers throughout the North East. By the 1960s when the railway line was closed by Dr Beeching the orchards started to disappear or be grubbed up and the village’s unique heritage began to become history.

Orchards of Husthwaite began in 2009 with a project started by the village history society that produced a book based on photographs, recollections and anecdotes from villagers who were old enough to remember how the village was a commercial hub for fruit growing. On the back of the research and feedback from villagers it was decided to start a business that was run by volunteers to replant the village with fruit trees and commence making produce to generate a surplus to match fund projects within the village.

The first phase of the project saw over 1000 trees planted in and around the village and at the school with a nursery then started concentrating on Yorkshire and unique local varieties of apples to replace older trees and also to sell. The next phase saw a cider mill established in the original 12th century Saxon Manor house behind the church where we converted 2 byres and the old bull pen into a working cider mill. Since 2010 over £40,000 of profit has been generated and donations have gone to a variety of project in the village.

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Thornborough Cider

Thornborough Cider is a small-batch craft cidery on the edge of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. We produce a small range of natural ciders from our own and local orchards, made with nothing but pure apple juice, wild fermentation and patience.

We have over 500 trees in our orchard with 18 varieties of cider and dessert apple. These include traditional northern varieties such as Ribston Pippin and Keswick Codling as well as vintage cider apples including Kingston Black, Dabinett and Yarlington Mill.

We also use surplus apples in the local area, from wild hedgerow trees to country estate orchards.

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Eight Centuries of Cider Making in Yorkshire

The first English county to be recorded as making cider was Yorkshire, in the 1270 and the first written instructions for making cider were written by Elizabethan clergyman, William Lawson of Coxwold, in his book, ‘A New Orchard and Kitchen Garden’, published in 1618. By this time, Lawson was an old man and based his writing on 40 years’ experience of growing apples in Yorkshire (he did not care much for other counties!). He praises his benefactor, Henry Belayses, and talks of an even earlier book on apples written by him but he also gives precise instructions for making cider:

In France and some other Countries, and in England, they make great vse of Cydar and Perry, thus made: Dresse euery Apple, the stalke, vpper end, and all galles away, stampe them, and straine them, and within 24. houres tun them vp into cleane, sweet, and sound vessels, for feare of euill ayre, which they will readily take: and if you hang a poakefull of Cloues, Mace, Nutmegs, Cinamon, Ginger, and pils of Lemmons in the midst of the vessell, it will make it as wholesome and pleasant as wine. The like vsage doth Perry require. These drinks are very wholesome, they coole, purge, and preuent hot Agues. But I leaue this skill to Physicians.

 Forty years later, Sir Paul Neile MP, son of the Archbishop of York and MP for Ripon, wrote the first paper to be presented to the Royal Society. It was on making cider. His ‘Potgun cider’ is the first written record of what has become the ‘Méthode Champenoise’, some fifty years before it was described by Dom Perignon. 

 Maps from this time show a rich and varied pattern of orchards across the North Riding, from grand country house orchards to small farms and cottages with a few fruit trees, enough for personal use and a little extra to raise much needed income.  

Further evidence of cider making in Yorkshire comes from the ‘Treatise on Cyder-Making‘ by Hugh Stafford written in 1753. Stafford, writing to a friend in 1727 to discuss the merits of the Royal Wilding, a Devonshire cider apple, says, ‘…if I mistake not, I heard about two years since, that some of them were sent for from Yorkshire’. The Royal Wilding was only used for making cider, suggesting Yorkshire cider makers wanted to best fruit available and were prepared to search far and wide to find it.

 The Ancient Society of York Florists, the worlds oldest horticultural society was founded in 1768 in York by the gentry and merchant families in and around the city. It almost certainly existed much earlier and sought to promote excellence in horticulture.

The Manorial Court Roll of Husthwaite records that in the late 1770’s the landlord of the Black Bull Inn had installed a ‘crab mill’ to press apples and make cider. The village was known to have extensive orchards from at least the 17th century.

By the 19th century fruit growing in Yorkshire was extensive and highly praised. The Ribston Pippin apple, first planted by Sir Henry Goodricke of Ribston Hall outside Knaresborough in 1688, was praised by the Victorians as the finest apple in the world; Darwin described it in his, ‘Origin of Species’. Other regional apples, such as Yorkshire Beauty, Green Balsam, Yorkshire Greening and Keswick Codling were planted extensively in farm and cottage orchards. The orchardman Henry Warner of Garforth was corresponding with the experts of the day to introduce his Warner’s King apple.

Cider making continued throughout this time. In 1827, the Backhouse nursery in York listed Yorkshire Redstreak as a synonym for local apple Flower of the Town, suggesting it was highly esteemed as a cider variety.  

By the early 20th century fruit growing in Yorkshire was in decline. Remnants of the old orchard, many is use since the 17th century, remain. RV Roger of Pickering continues the great tradition of fruit nurseries in the area from William Perfect of Pontefract to Backhouse of York. There is now a resurgence of interest in both the history of regional apple varieties and cider. The Howardian Hills and its surrounding towns and villages are now a focus for this, with local cider makers leading the way in a northern cider making renaissance.

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