There was a time when a good day’s work didn’t mean clicking away in a cubicle. When networking meant getting along with your neighbors. And “real time” simply meant “fresh.” A little slice of that time lives on today at B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill. The heart of the B.F. Clyde’s cider operation is a 130-year-old steampowered cider press, the only one of its kind in the country.
The operation is so rare, in fact, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Machines, an honor denied to other mechanical marvels such as the Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine. Clyde’s makes all their cider products using the press, and if you visit on weekends, you can witness something rare these days—a product made from beginning to end before your very eyes. At Clyde’s, you are also treated to some of the delights of rural life at the end of the nineteenth century without any of the hardship. Indeed, a trip to Clyde’s is feast for each of the five senses.
Smell: As you drive past Clyde’s and see the red and white mill in operation, your interest will be peaked. Open the car door and you will be hooked. The intoxicating aroma of the cider doughnuts and kettle popcorn also made at Clyde’s surround the property like a magnetic field pulling visitors in. The pull is so strong, you will quickly understand how much more powerful the olfactory sense is within the brain than sight.
Sight: A visit into Clyde’s Cider Mill is filled with the sights of another time. If you visit on the weekend to see the mill chugging away, you will see stark white puffs contrasting with the blue of the sky behind, billowing from the center chimney of the barn. It is not the gray, sooty smoke from a fireplace but pure white steam more reminiscent of summer cumulus clouds or a steam train.
Speaking from the porch of the modern general store across the property, co-owner and B.F. Clyde descendent, Annette Miner, explains, “Over here in the store, everything can change from year to year. We have to keep up with what young families want. But over there in the mill, that always needs to stay the same, even if it means incurring what some would think of as unnecessary expenses.” When you are in the mill and if you glance out the windows, you’ll see a wavy world, caused by the old glass still remaining in many of the windowpanes.
Taste: B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill is a seasonal operation. Many (in the) family work seven days a week from September to December, putting in a year’s worth of work in only three months; perhaps this, too, harkens back to another time. The reason? Clyde’s uses apples from an orchard in the Hudson River Valley because there aren’t any Connecticut producers large enough to supply the 100 tons used each week during the season. If you visit Clyde’s at different times throughout the fall, you’ll find their product changes not in quality but in flavor. As different varieties of apples ripen throughout the season, Clyde’s cider changes in kind.
The Jonamacs in September make a more bitter cider, which gradually sweetens with the arrival of the Galas and Honeycrisps through November. The last to ripen, Red Delicious, are the most sweet and available now. This year, Clyde’s is celebrating the creation of 11 new apple wine flavors.
Hearing: When working today, we hear the staccato click of the computer mouse. At Clyde’s, knowing the rhythm of the machinery is central to the job. “We’ve been at this business a long time, and we couldn’t just sell this machinery even if we wanted to. No one knows the nuances of running this steam engine anymore. We know these machines like you might know the creak of a door in your own house. If it doesn’t sound right, you risk breaking a machine that isn’t easily repaired. That can only be learned by being around the mill over time.” The apples bouncing through the chute; the rapid shirp, shirp, shirp of the belts; and the rumble of the press as it squeezes the apples with 40,000 pounds of pressure all work together like a symphony. Stay long enough and listen intently and you, too, will start to appreciate the beat.
Touch: Driving away from Clyde’s, you can’t help but feel the care the owners put into what they do. They care about their family stories. Ask any member of the family, and they’ll fondly retell the story of how their great grandmother was arrested twice during prohibition for producing vinegar. Mention the story to any member of the family, and they each inevitably reply, “but she was never convicted!” as if it were the unofficial company motto. Clyde’s cares about the quality of their product. Although the press could process far more cider than they produce, the Miner family doesn’t want their cider sitting on a dusty shelf in other stores or in the off-season. Every drop of cider produced each fall is sold before the doors close. Most of all, the Miner family wants to be a part of the community and your family’s tradition. “You aren’t going to get rich selling apples, but we enjoy the process; we love the product, the people, and the history.”
By late December, B.F. Clyde’s does something unheard of during our 24/7 holiday shopping season—it closes. The harsh cold of winter ends the growing season of the apples and threatens to freeze the pipes of the uninsulated mill. In our era of realtime everything, we will just have to wait for another autumn to arrive to enjoy the sights, smells, sounds, taste, and feel of B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill.