OCTOBER is cider month. Yay! Though I trust you’ll forgive me if I say that flagging it up as beer v cider on P.P.P is a tad contentious. Not really comparing like with like. Instead, consider if you would, cider v wine.

A leading light in CAMRA’s cider group Apple once said to me that anything that can be cooked with wine can be cooked with cider, and the guy was dead right.

The West Country is in many respects the heart of cider country but, perversely, I wasn’t thinking of that as I looked across Plymouth Sound yesterday and saw our majestic Brittany Ferry leaving port. It reminded me how much I enjoy a flagon of slightly tart Breton Cider served with their local Breton applecake or used to steam mussels in a Roscoff bar.

At present Roscoff may as well be on the moon. But on a golden autumn day in Devon, Fran and I comforted ourselves by crossing the Tamar Bridge into Cornwall, full of serious cider quaffers. (Fran says we must get out to pubs more as he senses another Lockdown looming over us like Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.) We had lunch in a jolly pub where the landlady called us both ‘my lovely’ as she delivered giant portions of fresh haddock and Westons Old Rosie cider.

We brought back with us a bottle of Cornish Orchards Gold bittersweet cider, 5% abv, pressed, blended and bottled at Westnorth Manor Farm near Liskeard, then finished our ‘escape day’ at the Stable Bar on the edge of Plymouth’s Barbican where they specialise in ciders and proper pizzas with freshly made sourdough bases.

Their cider menu is lengthy, but for a tenner we shared a tasting board of four ciders and a perry – Devon Blush at 4% abv, modestly pink with a distinct apple core note; hazy Devon Mist, 4.5%, with a bit of sparkle; two big hitters – mouth filling Barn Owl at 6% with a dryish edge (we felt longer ageing would unleash its full potential) and dark gold Craft Organic, strongest at 6.5 %; finally, pale complex Ramborn Perry made from Luxembourgish meadow and orchard pears, blending sweet and dry notes (5.8%).

A field of snorting pigs in Cornwall reminded me pork and cider are a classic combo so I’ve gone for sweet ‘n’ sour – the Cornish Orchards is sweet ‘n’ sour all on its own, with Herefordshire cider Dunkertons organic medium dry Black Fox providing the contrast. Although there are Chinese flavours in the pot this is intended more as a West Country casserole, using a cheap cut of pork; Penzance via Penang…Cheers – and bon appétit!

Sweet ‘n’ sour pork with cider duo (serves 4)

4 slices belly pork; chunks of peeled root vegetables (carrot, turnip, swede and onion) and sprig each of fresh rosemary and parsley for the stock; a bottle of each of Cornish Orchards and Dunkertons (or your own choice of a medium sweet and a dry cider).

Small red or orange pepper de-seeded and chopped, about the same amount of sliced buttons mushrooms and tiny cauliflower florets. 1 tbsp cider vinegar (I used Aspinall ‘with the mother in!’), 1 tbsp dark soy sauce, 1 dstsp light soy sauce, 1 tbsp Kung Po sauce, 1 dstsp tomato puree, 1 dstsp Seville marmalade, 1 dstsp cornflour.

Place root vegetables in a casserole with pork slices arranged on top and tuck in the herbs. Add 150ml each of the ciders. Bring to simmering point then put the lid on and cook in the centre of the oven (180C/gas mark 4) for about an hour until the pork is tender. Allow to cool to lukewarm then strain off the stock and put it into a clean pan, discarding root veg and herbs.

Add a further 150ml of the Orchard Cider, 100ml of Dunkertons, the cider vinegar, soy and Kung Po sauces, tomato puree, marmalade and tiny pinch of chilli to give the slightest kick; bring to a brisk simmer, then add the pepper, mushrooms and cauliflower. Lower heat and cook for a few moments until the flavours have mingled but the vegetables are still firm.

Place the cooked pork belly slices into a roasting pan and briefly roast towards the top of a hot oven until the meat is browned and the fat crisp. Blend the cornflour with a little cold water, then stir a little of the sauce into it and use it to thicken the sweet ‘n’ sour sauce. Arrange plain boiled rice on a serving dish, ladle some sauce over, place pork slices on top and glaze with a little more sauce.

Susan Nowak
Susan Nowak, pictures by Fran Nowak

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