Cider, Fire + Biking: A perfect Hills weekend

It’s Sunday night of a delightful Mother’s Day spent biking through John Forrest National Park. The house is quiet except for the peaceful bubbling and burping of fermenting cider bottles and I’m reflecting on a perfect family weekend in the Perth Hills.

CIDER

Saturday, in particular, was a great example of why we chose to move here: a thoroughly “Hillsy” experience that began with the Mundaring in Transition (MiT) group’s third annual Community Cider-Making Day.

Not knowing what to expect, we arrived at a property two minutes down the road from us (our closest neighbour on that side), which I had often admired as I drove past towards the Mundaring Weir. Full of fruit trees, vegie beds, rustic structures and deliberate DIY renovation projects, it is a charmingly ramshackle place housing a generous family who opened their hearts, doors and wood-fired pizza oven to an eclectic group of about 30 cider enthusiasts.

Earlier in the week, a group from MiT had collected several hundred kilos of 100% windfall apples (fruit that would otherwise have rotted and gone to waste) from orchards in nearby Pickering Brook. With a global dearth of cider apple varieties, much of our modern ciders are made with dessert apples, such as the Fuji, Pink Lady and Granny Smith varieties we used for our batch.

After introductions and a brief but fascinating history of cider by the MC (of sorts), the fun and chaos began! Loose work stations were set up including washing, cutting out bad flaws, pulping, pressing and bottling.

Attracted perhaps by the sweet aroma of fresh apple juice, my kids soon abandoned the rope swing and treehouse in favour of mucking in with the adults. They scrubbed, they fed apples down the chutes, they twisted the old-fashioned press, they burned their fingers on delicious wood-fired pizza and they drunk more than a few cupfuls of unbelievably sweet juice.

After about five hours of relaxed yet productive work in a wonderfully convivial atmosphere, we left with instructions on how to make cider from our two demijohns (5L) and two flagons (2L) of juice. The demijohn kits included a bung and airlock, and a Mangrove Jack cider yeast sachet, which when added began to blip and bubble within about 10-15 minutes as the yeasts got to work eating all that fruit sugar. A hydrometer measurement taken during the day estimated the final alcohol content as likely to be in the range of 5.8-6%.

Waiting for my first ever batch of cider to mature over the next month will test my patience as I’m super excited to try it. Needless to say, we had an absolute ball and the kids made us promise this would become an annual family event.

FIRE

The only way to top off a day like this was with the first bonfire of the winter season. When we got home the kids went off into the bush with a wheelbarrow to collect sticks to add to our firewood pile. We ate an early dinner of homemade pea and ham soup with toast, which the kids followed up with singed marshmallows and sickly sweet “smores”, just in case they hadn’t already consumed enough sugar in all that apple juice. Personally, I can’t abide smores, so I stuck to peppermint tea and Lindt Dark Sea Salt Caramel chocolate (which was not wasted on the kids!)

We told ghost stories, stared into the mesmerising fire, lay on our backs and watched shooting stars. Then I read aloud short stories from an anthology of Henry Lawson’s Favourites that I’d recently picked up while fossicking in the secondhand op shop. It seemed apropos, given the bush setting and flickering firelight. I was surprised and delighted as the kids laughed their heads off at several of the comedic stories of this iconic Australian bush poet who lived from 1867 to 1922. Interestingly, I noted afterwards, the inside dust jacket of the book that read:

“Henry Lawson’s short stories are as fresh, moving and funny today as when they were first published. ‘The Drover’s Wife’, ‘The Loaded Dog’ and many other Lawson classics have become part of the Australian legend. They are the kind of stories which parents read to their children, and which are loved by generation after generation.”

Apparently, I was onto something.

BIKING

Sundays mean basketball, Mother’s Day or not. But after both boys’ games we loaded up our bikes and headed over to Parkerville where we started our ride on the Heritage Trail so we’d have easy access to our favourite pub, the Parkerville Tavern, for a late lunch afterwards. Glorious weather meant there were lots of people out and about taking in the scenery that John Forrest National Park and the escarpment hills provide.

biking

It was a memorable weekend that felt so right in so many ways. This is why we moved to the Hills, six and a half years ago. It’s good to be reminded every now and then. I love meeting like-minded people in a such down-to-earth, convivial community setting, especially for an activity that revolves around food. Saving all those apples from waste, preparing them and turning them into something magical created an incredibly rewarding sense of shared accomplishment. And it was such fun! Judging from their enthusiasm and pure joy, my kids will remember this experience for a long time.

And that’s priceless.