Whilst I was doing research on the history of cider in Devon I came across an old book called " A dissertation on Cyder and Cider-Fruit making" by Hugh Stafford written in 1727. Once you get over the problem of the "F's" being "S's" there are lots of very interesting details about historic cyder making in Devon.
A section that really caught my attention was devoted to the method used in Devon to make a naturally sweet cider. In the autumn of 2015 we followed Hugh Stafford's method and the result was our amazing Grenville's Revenge. This is the section on sweet cider, without the "F's"
"I Come now to treat of that, on which the whole success depends, in making sweet Cyder, viz. Fermentation, which is attended with no manner of difficulty; but care and watchfulness is absolutely required, and to be well furnished with clean casks in proper readiness. In order to avoid a great deal of trouble, and to perform the work more effectually, by divesting the new made Cyder of what pummice and other impurities remain; after straining it through a hair sieve, on its coming from the Wring, or Press, it is necessary to be provided with a large open vat, keeve, or clive, which will contain a whole pounding, or making of Cyder ; or as much as can be pressed in one day: After the Cyder has remained in this vat a day, or sometimes less, (according to the ripeness of the fruit, of which it has been made, and the state of the weather) you will find rise to the top, the pummice, or grosser parts of the pulp, &c. of the apples; and in a day or two more, at most, grow very thick; and when little white bubbles or fermentations, of the bigness of the top of your finger, break though it, then presently draw it off* through a cock or faucet-hole, within three inches of the bottom, if large ; but if small, not nearer than four inches of the bottom, that the lees may not be drawn off, but quietly remain behind.
* Which in Devonshire la called Pricking
If the Cvdcr is not immediately drawn off, on the first appearance of these white fermentations, all the head which is then become a thick crust, will sink to the bottom; so that, if this crisis (which happens but once) of the first separation of the Cyder from its lees is neglected, the opportunity of making sweet Cyder will be lost and irrecoverable. On drawing off the Cyder from the vat, it must be tunn'd into close casks well scented, wherein, on letting it remain a shorter or longer time, with what lees and impurities it carried with it, depend the hardening or softening it at pleasure. To have -Cyder perfectly sweet, "" after it Is tunn’d into close casks, you are again carefully to watch and observe its state, and when you find white bubbles or fermentations, as aforesaid, at the bung-hole, as before in the vat, immediately rack it off again into another clean and well scented cask; after which, by making frequent trials of its fineness (and it commonly happens to be fine in two, three, four, or five days, or sooner, according to the weather) by drawing some of it into a glass from a spile-hole, you'll discover if proper to repeat the racking, which should again be immediately done, if found to be fine, which repetition of racking should be continued till the Cyder is as sweet as you desire, and ceases hissing. It is to be noted, that the weaker Cyders cannot support themselves under many rackings, one or two being all they can bear, for they have not body enough to undergo the operation. But as to the bolder and Stronger Cyders, when you intend to render them very soft and mellow, and perfectly sweet, which the frequent rackings will effect, you may repeat them till they are brought to your palate, and quieted to such a degree as to be entirely mute, which is an infallible indication of their being absolutely free of impurities, and not liable to be troubled by any future commotions."
This is how we make our Revenge cider using the exact method described by Hugh Stafford as being common throughout Devon nearly 300 years ago. As the weather warms up this year we are just at the anxious point of whether the fermentations have stopped as they should. "not liable to be troubled by any future commotions" as Hugh Stafford put it. It's looking very promising so far and we hope to be bottling this years Revenge in the next few days.