We’re all for making our own cider, especially with our farming friends, but on a trip through Michigan, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit one of about 160 remaining historic cider mills in the nation. At the Franklin Cider Mill, you can get a taste of history, with fresh-pressed apple cider to go with their still-warm cinnamon spice doughnuts.
Located adjacent to a year-round stream, in Franklin, Mich., about a half hour northwest of Detroit, the mill became the Franklin Cider Mill after changing hands numerous times and surviving floods. In 1966, the mill was purchased by Barry Peltz, the current owner. Other than a few coats of paint, the outside of the building has changed little since then. It's registered as a National Historic Site.
The mill's water wheel has operated since 1837, when the original grist mill was built by Peter VanEvery to grind flour for local farmers. The mill was completed the same year Michigan became a state.
"Come on Down ... Step 'A' Round" read the cider mill’s hand-drawn signs. People cue up happily, from the Saturday before Labor Day to the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
Even the numbers where lines form are hand-written. The Franklin Cider Mill attracts young and old alike, eager to get a taste of living history with cider that's made with an old rack-and-cloth press.
There's nothing foo-foo about this place—just hot doughnuts, fresh-pressed cider and hand-made caramel or candied apples, plus other farm-direct provisions.
Only hot, perfectly browned doughnuts are served at the mill. The doughnut-making operation is on the mill's lower level, where visitors can watch them being made.
The doughnuts come out of the deep fryer and move down the conveyer belt to be quickly bagged.
Doughnut bagger Kenny tries to keep up with the orders. Over Labor Day weekend alone, more than 3,500 doughnuts were served.
These doughnuts are awesome. We're not sure if that's because of the secret proprietary mix used on these German fried cakes or the fact that we—along with our son, Liam, and John's mom, Sue—savored them hot, washed down with ice-cold, freshly-pressed cider. They're not made with cake flour like other doughnuts, but instead with durum wheat flour, a high-protein wheat typically used in pasta.
The doughnuts are placed in plain brown bags by the dozen. Don't close the bags, however, or the doughnuts will loose their crispness.
The bags of doughnuts are pulled up to the main floor with a hand-operated dumbwaiter. Kenny makes sure no bags fall over in transit.
For the cider, only Grade A, hand-picked apples are selected. "In the late fall, we use Honeycrisp apples," says Marlene Hamlyn, who has been the Franklin Cider Mill secretary for eight years. (She's a great tour guide, too!) "They make the sweetest cider!" Due to the apple quality, the mill's cider is not filtered or pasteurized. Only Michigan apples are used at the mill.
The apples are brought in by the truckload and loaded into bins connected to conveyer belts, which eventually transport them to the grinder on the upper floors of the four-story building. Depending on the time of the season, there's a mix of eight to 20 apple varieties selected for the best flavor.
Next, the apple purée comes down through a stainless-steel chute. Brothers Joshua and Garret stack layer after layer of the apple purée, seven in all. Each layer contains about 12 bushels of ground apples. Then the press is attached on top.
The apple purée must be evenly distributed, to prevent the tower from leaning over.
Start to finish, it takes less than 25 minutes to make a batch of apple cider. On a busy weekend, as many as 24 presses can occur, offering a pretty good chance that you'll see the cider being made just before you get to drink it. The leftover pulp is then hauled away to the Detroit Zoo to feed to the animals.
Hamlyn shows off a delicious candied apple made onsite in the Candied Apple Room on the fourth floor.
The Candy Apple Room is managed by the "Caramel and Candied Apple Queen,"Wee, who has been perfecting each and every candied or caramel apple for more than 27 years.
Wee has mastered the technique of rolling the caramel apples for just the right amount of crushed peanuts.
Their caramel apple is a delicious work of art—which all food should be. Paula Red apples are used for the candied and caramel apples because they're firm and crisp, even after the toppings are added, Peltz explains.
Liam bites into a caramel apple, with Lisa eagerly looking on, hoping he'll share a bite.
Savoring the good life,
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