'I think they're making moonshine up the road,' said Tom 'they've just dragged some big machine thing up with a tractor, and now there's all kinds of noise coming from up there.'
So I went up to have a look, and next to Victor's house, with Victor in attendance, was a big noisy contraption I'd never seen before, powered from the tractor by all kinds of filthy wheels and belts and other gear and tackle though not a lot of trim,
as well as a thick hosepipe emanating from Victor's sister Hélène's shed, and there were apples everywhere:
They were emptied into a big wet hopper, where they seemed to receive some kind of very perfunctory washing, then scooped up in these baskets and conveyed to the top of the contraption, then squashed between a stack of metal grids, from which the residue of pulp was tossed aside
and the juice squirted out from a tap at the other end.
'How old is it?' I enquired above the din.
'I dunno,' replied Victor, 'old.'
He's well gone ninety himself. I also asked if they did anything with the discarded pulp. He said they used sometimes to give it to the cows but not any more, there wasn't much left in it anyway. The blackbirds like it, he added, but he thought it was perhaps the pips they were interested in, which had never occurred to me before about blackbirds going for windfall apples. I assumed the juice would be sour and horrible, but he said no, it's very sweet, and as I ducked away I stuck a finger under the stream and licked it, and indeed it was, so I gave him the thumbs up and he gave me a grin.
The people who brought and worked it would be moving on to the next job, they make a tour. It won't in fact become moonshine, but will stay as cider, though Victor is one of the only farmers still alive who has the right to make 'Calva' (a term which is not only geographically inaccurate but rather glamorising of the product in question), he no longer does so; the travelling alembic doesn't come round any more, though there's one at St Laurent, but, he said, no one really wants the stuff now. I bought a litre bottle from him for 50 francs when we first came, and in fact it wasn't bad, at least as hot grog with lemon and orange and brown sugar.
Anyway, if my description of the workings of this formidable engin is not adequate, here's a video I spliced together from three separate ones I took, so you can work it out for yourself, though make sure your volume levels aren't too high, it really is very noisy, and no one's wearing ear protection! Victor, as regulars of this blog will probably recognise, is the little Tom Bombadil-ish chap who stalks off across the shot at the end, and the fat dour bloke is his nephew, one of the many Marcel/les of our village, who looks as if he's more used to drinking cider than making it, and probably won't make as old bones as Victor. The two anonymous entities covered in apple pulp are the machine's owners.
I came away from the event quite unwarrantedly cheerful and excited.