Farming and growing is a time honored tradition and still very much part of the fabric of life in the Hudson Valley region. When summer wanes and autumn begins to bring crispness to the air and a blush to the trees, out thoughts turn toward hayrides, raking leaves, and eating apples. Apples are of course the official fruit of New York, and for a very good reason, we have some of the best apples found anywhere.
Recently, my family visited Thompson’s Cider Mill, nestled on a bucolic lane in the town of Croton-on-Hudson. Unlike the standard apple picking experience many of us have during the fall, Thompson’s is unique. The mill doesn’t offer the pick-your-own experience, but you can purchase exquisite apples here. Small by most orchard standards, Thompson’s features several varieties of apples not generally found at larger orchards, particularly so-called “heirloom” varieties when they are available. Thompson’s also has perennial favorites such as Macintosh, Macouns, Galas and several varieties I had never heard of, such as Honeycrisp and Pippins.
While my wife and I browsed, our kids made frequent visits to the complimentary samples of freshly pressed cider. Apple cider is truly what makes Thomson’s unique. Geoff Thompson, the purveyor of the mill is a cider aficionado. Thompson regaled us with his experience years back when he drank his first freshly pressed apple cider. The experience was so profound that he realized this was more than just a passing fancy. In very short time, Geoff had purchased five acres of the old Rickert Fruit Farms.
Today, half of the small red barn that is Thomson’s Cider Mill is filled with Thompson’s pride and joy, his cider press. He was kind enough to show us the process as my wife and I, and several other families, gathered around. My kids even managed to pull themselves away from fresh doughnuts and cider long enough to watch. Generally cider is pressed each Saturday morning at 10 a.m. for those who wish to see the press in operation.
The process starts by dropping several bushels of apples into a hopper where the apples are washed twice. Thompson stressed that he uses a variety of apples in his cider in order to achieve a more complex flavor. After the apples were washed, we watched as a vertical conveyor belt brought the sparking apples skyward and into another hopper. This hopper was positioned above a grinding machine, which made short work of turning the sweet pommes into a beautifully creamy mash.
Thompson, with the aid of an assistant, then filled successive layers of wooden screens with the mash, each time placing a screen and filtering fabric over a metal frame, which holds everything together as the mash fills the form. When the forms reach about seven layers high, the entire tower of mashed apples is conveyed to the actual press. Thompson was nice enough to let me throw the switch, which activated the press. It wasn’t long before an amber stream of freshly pressed cider was flowing down the chute into a holding trough. From there, the freshly pressed cider passed through an enclosed powerful UV light, which destroys any harmful bacteria. Then the product is bottled and brought to a freezer.
Thompson invited us to sample a cup of his freshly squeezed cider and it was indeed a treat. Neither my wife nor I could compare it to store bought cider or apple juice –there simply was no comparison. Thompson’s cider is everything Geoff Thompson promises; sweet but not cloying, complex in flavor and thicker in texture. My kids, like many of their generation, grew up on apple juice and they were amazed at how flavorful fresh pressed cider is.
We completed our visit to Thomson’s Cider Mill by perusing the small store where they sell pies and other baked goods in addition to ciders and apples. We left with a huge variety of apples and pears plus one of the best homemade apple pies I’ve ever enjoyed. It was so good in fact, that dad only had got one slice before it completely vanished!
When You Go
Thompson’s Cider Mill is open from mid-September to Thanksgiving weekend. The Mill is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday only.
Thompson’s is located at 335 Blinn Road, Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., just minutes from the Taconic State Parkway. For directions, visit: www.thomps
Bob Berry is a freelance writer and illustrator and frequent contributor to Westchester Family.
©2012 Community News Group