This particular weekend began in the same way most Sussex breaks do, with a spot of fishing. As the winter draws in the pike start to become more active in their violent ambushes on unsuspecting baitfish, so it is the best time of year to chuck your line in the water in the hope of hauling in one of these evil looking beasts.
I had gone down to see my friend Charlie. Charlie used to live down in Alfriston, as his parents owned one of the pubs in the village, University holidays were conducted in glorious states of lawlessness, both in the village and out of it. This was when we found our favourite pike venue a few miles from the village, which sadly has declined in productivity since those hedonistic days, but can still offer up some good fish.
The train ride down from London was fantastic, not just because I was about to go up against the most dangerous of all freshwater fish (at least, if you are another freshwater fish), but because I had a whole 3 days out of town. The day didn’t look at all pleasant. Dreary and grey with a dose of drizzle thrown in for good measure; your typical British weather if you like. It was meant to brighten up in the afternoon, but at 9am, looking out of the train window, it didn’t look hopeful.
Luckily, it pays to have a contingency plan up your trouser leg for just this kind of unforeseen circumstance. On the way to the Fishing spot I suggested that we pull into Middle Farm (mentioned in the Atomic cider post a couple of months ago. www.middlefarm.com) and pop in we did.
To the Cider aficionado, this place is stepping through the pearly gates...
As well as being a working farm, the cider barn is quite something to behold as you can see. Gallons upon gallons of the stuff line the walls, floor to ceiling. The best part is that you can happily wander around trying as many different Cider and Perry’s as you like, armed with a small, plastic tasting cup the world is your oyster. As you can see, when in the country, it is important to wear a Barbour jacket at all times.
We set about looking for the perfect Cider in earnest (myself more so, as I wasn’t driving), with all these different brews to get through, its damn thirsty work, which is just as well. 30 minutes later I was groggily filling up my 2-pint plastic carton with ‘Red Rooster’ a local brew with a head-splitting 8.4% alc. content. I couldn’t resist purchasing a pint of Lindisfarne Northumbrian Mead (14.5%). No wonder Vikings and the like went berserk back in the day, they were tanked up on this stuff!
As we stepped out of the barn into the cold light of day, sunlight burst through the grey skies, had we been in there that long? Outside a young maiden was in the midst of crates of apples, feverishly putting them through a sort of mincer/masher (the apples, not the crates). The pulp was then plonked in a press and the juice was unceremoniously squeezed out of what was a perfectly tasty looking bunch of apples, oh the sacrifices that are gone through for the delights of cider!
With the weather clear, fishing was to commence. There we sat, dead baits in the water, pasties and cider for lunch. I was the first to score with a pike and Charlie soon followed with an equally impressive fish. The rest of the day passed fairly uneventfully, although we saw some big fish moving none of them took the bait. I think just being there was good enough.
The next day, I put away the rod and line and out came the gun. Fur and feather were the order of the day and a friend’s farm the venue for an afternoon of hunting and gathering. This time of year the mushrooms are just clinging on to the edge of autumn before the first frosts wade in and put an end to free fungal feasts.
Armed with the trusty 12-bore and a load of cartridges, I set off on my jaunt. Three hours later, 2 squirrels, a wood pigeon, a pheasant and a bagful of hedgehog mushrooms were stuffed in my satchel, which was fit to burst at the seams. All these wonderful ingredients were destined to end up in a game pie. Sadly this never happened, next time perhaps…
Despite the fact I haven’t done a single bit of cooking for this post, it is still important to put in a recipe and this is an absolute corker! With the festive season upon us (almost), I have procured a small gem from the Middle farm national collection of Cider and Perry. So, feet up in front of the fire and get a batch of this on.
Sussex Mulled Cider:
- 4 pints of still, dry farmhouse cider
- 3 apples- washed, cored and sliced
- 2 oranges, washed and sliced
- juice and zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
- 2tsp ground mixed spice
- 8 whole cloves
- 2 cinnamon quills snapped in half
- 6tbsp light brown soft sugar
Put all ingredients into a pan, cover and heat gently for a minimum of 1 hour. Do NOT boil.
Serve with a few slices of all the bits and enjoy. If you have any crab apple jelly, substitute a few tbsp of sugar for a few of jelly for a uniquely pleasant twist on this old classic.
As I approach the end of this post, I start to question the relevance of this lost ramble about a weekend in the country, why put it on? I think maybe the point is that these pictures sum up my relationship with the countryside. I suppose it provides an insight into my life and the way in which I view the world around me and above all, the things that I appreciate most be it a fence post or a rickety flint-stone barn. Each tells their own story and have long been part of something that comes together to form a most impressive landscape. So here's to you Sussex…
Thanks for everything.
Above: South downs, as seen from Ashdown forest.