‘Tis the Season – For Pumpkins!

My family has always gone to the pumpkin patch in the autumn for apples and doughnuts and ciders – and of course the aforementioned orange gourds. When I was a kid, we would go with my cousin Brian, and the cider mill was pretty basic, more farm than fall attraction. That orchard is still operation but I guess to jazz it up and draw in more business, they have added vendor booths and bounce houses and all sorts of things that we are not interested in. So when Wyatt was born, Billy and I found Bennett’s Orchard and it’s become our new tradition to go there. Sometimes with my brother and his family, sometimes just the three of us. This year, it was just the three of us.

We are early birds, and got on the road after breakfast for Wyatt and coffee for Billy and I. It was a quiet Sunday morning, hardly any cars on the road, with a blanket of fog enveloping the city and eventually farms around us. We listened to an episode of Campfire Monsters, and it was a great start to our adventure.

We arrived just as they were opening, and basically had the place to ourselves. The morning was very moody. Atmospheric even. We took a small walk around the grounds but not as far as usual as it was also very damp. I couldn’t get over how picturesque everything was – the photographer in me could not stop snapping pictures.

Not our dog, but he pretended to be while we were there. Such a sweet boy. As we strolled about, the fog began to dissipate, the sun was shining, and it was all of a sudden sweaty hot. Yay Michigan for your crazy weather changes.

There seems to be some sort of small imp peeking through my hair.

We started back for the store as it warmed up – definitely time to shop, try the hard cider that they make on site (not Wyatt of course), and pick out the main attraction, pumpkins. I filled my little hand basket with honey and cider and tiny pumpkins and a special one pot coffee pack of Maple Pecan coffee.

Then we headed outside for our pumpkins. My big cheeser was not in the mood to sit still for a photo though.

That’s ok, he is cute no matter what.

After the obligatory pumpkin photos, it was doughnut time. The best part, in my opinion. Wyatt had a doughnut and an apple. I don’t blame him, the apples are fantastic.

And with bellies full of apple cinnamon doughnuts and the Outback full of pumpkins, we turned toward home, happy and content.

Cider, The Cider Revival, and Fire

I have always loved apples, apple orchards, cider, and all that goes with it, including Johnny Appleseed (whom we chose as one of our family heroes for Wyatt’s studies this year). Every January, we pull on our boots and hats, and troop outside to our suburban front yard, and wassail our apple tree. If our neighbors were to look outside during this time, they would probably think we were crazy. If they came out to ask what we were doing, I would offer them cider.

It was I used to reserve all of my cider drinking for fall. I even took a tiny poll last year asking my closest friends when they thought the cut-off for drinking cider was. This year, I decided I didn’t care and started drinking it over the summer, sticking to the more fun ones like Virtue Michigan Cherry, and Virtue Rose. Now it is finally fall and I am branching out into new cider territory, finding new ciders to enjoy.

I recently read The Cider Revival: Dispatches From the Orchard by Jason Wilson, and absolutely inhaled it. Usually it takes me a while to finish a nonfiction book. That was not the case this time. Wilson states that cider is familiar, American, not exotic. It is seemingly “genderless” in ways that some people might view wine drinking or whiskey drinking (not me, whatever floats your boat!) And once was the drink of choice in America, until Prohibition left cider orchards to decay and die off. But cider is having a revival, with craft ciders and cideries, pommeliers and more commercial brands are becoming more and more popular again. And I for one am here for it.

There was no way that I could read The Cider Revival without wanting to explore different ciders. So, I texted my brother and asked if he wanted to have a cider tasting and fire at his house this weekend, and he of course agreed, as they are cider fans as well. We only had the ciders available at our local liquor store to choose from, and while they are pretty varied, it was still limited to one four foot section in an otherwise enormous store. They are pretty cool though and will order anything, so we are going to explore that option next time. However, we had a blast tasting the ones we did have, and there were some definite favorites!

The lineup: From Virtue: Michigan Cherry, Brut, and Sidra de Nava; From Shorts Starcut Line: Pulsar, Magpie, Octorock, and Mosa; then from a local orchard, Broken Barrel.

We didn’t know how to do a proper tasting, where to start and where to finish, so we started with the more appley, dry versions and worked our way to the more flavored ones, and decided to end with Sidra, because it was the most expensive.

The verdicts:

Billy: Hands down loved the Broken Barrel as his clear favorite, followed by the Michigan Cherry.

Me: My favorites were the Pulsar, which was mellow and dry yet had just a little more oomph that I wanted. My second favorite was the Michigan Cherry.

Chrissy: Chrissy had the same favorites as Billy, the Broken Barrel followed by the Michigan Cherry. She felt that the Broken Barrel was perfect, fresh tasting, and like pure apples. (she is right)

Devin: Again, Broken Barrel and Michigan Cherry were the winners.

Honorable Mention: The Mosa by Starcut Ciders. We all agreed it did not taste really like cider, but if you had to drink cider for breakfast, it was the one to choose. It was actually very delicious.

And the finale: The Sidra de Nava. I chose this one because it is a cider made in the Spanish style by Virtue Ciders, and I had read that Spanish ciders are pretty important in the cider world. I don’t know if it was just this one, but Billy, Chrissy and I did not enjoy it. It was too – astringent? I think Chrissy said it best when she said it smelled like nail polish remover. We even checked the bottle to see if had expired, as the three of us could not even drink it. Devin however liked it, but it was not a favorite. We will probably seek out a different version one day, hopefully an actual Spanish import to compare it too, but perhaps our palettes are just not ready.

We had so much fun, and we all felt so much more relaxed than we had felt in weeks. We plan on doing another tasting this next weekend, this time with craft beer. It should be interesting, especially since I am not a big beer drinker.

If you are at all interested in reading about cider, I highly recommend reading The Cider Revival. And then maybe have a little toast to the author over a warm fire on a chilly autumn night, for introducing you to a whole new world.