Where I come from, “fall” means pumpkins. It means changing leaves, chili dogs, hay rides, and corn mazes. It’s my favorite time of year, and I always imagined that any other place would be hard-pressed to match the best parts of the season as they occur along the Blue Ridge.
That’s why I think it’s fantastic that Michigan has all of these things, plus another local tradition that I was unfamiliar with before moving to the mitten: cider mills. Not only do we get to drink cider and eat fresh apples this time of year—we also get to enjoy these products while they’re still fresh and know that we’re supporting local farms and businesses along the way. It definitely feels a little more special than picking up a gallon of “I-don’t-know-who-made-this” cider from the grocery section of Wal-Mart.
This year, everything that could possibly stand in the way of a cider mill visit seemed to happen. Schedules got busy, trips got rained-out, and plans got canceled. Early autumn slipped through my fingertips, and I became a little anxious as I wondered if I’d be able to enjoy a little bit of fall flavor before Christmas season rolled around. I love gingerbread and peppermint as much as the next girl, but give me a little cinnamon and pumpkin spice until Thanksgiving comes.
I know that many cider mills stay open throughout November, but as I searched for one that I could visit in between work, church, and other plans, I kept coming across the same problem—everything seemed to be open during regular weekday business hours. Sure, there’s always Saturday, but that’s also the day I use to accomplish the ten thousand other things I didn’t get to do between Monday and Friday.
Then, I came across Parmenter’s Cider Mill in Northville. It promised me cider, it promised me donuts, and best of all—it was open until 7:00 p.m. Because this place was obviously tailored just for me, I had to check it out.
After work one day, I hopped in the car, drove home to change, and even had a few minutes to unwind before going back out and finding the mill. When I got there, it was dark (thanks, Daylight Savings Time!), and I was a little worried that I wouldn’t get the “full experience” since I had read so much about early-September activities, like eating outside and watching the apple press in all its glory.
Parmenter’s, however, is more than just a warm-weather activity. It’s a cozy hideaway when the air gets cold, nestled just far enough from busy roads, yet close enough to town that you can swing by when you’re craving something sweet. When I stepped into the barn, I found a comfortable, adorably-decorated store filled with old signs, whimsical decorations, and lots of fudge and apple treats. Telling the woman at the counter I had never been there before, she smiled and explained the selection, and I sat down with my husband at an indoor picnic bench to enjoy some deliciously-smooth cider and cinnamon-sugar donuts.
While I love the instant melt-in-your-mouth taste of “typical” cider mill donuts, the donuts from Parmenter’s were unique in that they were puffier and denser than others—and more practical for buying in large quantities. Case in point: a fluffier, cake-ier donut keeps longer because it stays soft instead of shriveling up like other donuts do after cooling. I approve, Parmenter’s—I approve.
After chowing down, I talked a bit with the staff and owners to find out a little more about the mill’s history. Parmenter’s, apparently, has been in business since 1873, being passed down by Benijah Parmenter to family members and eventually sold to the Bodker family (of Bodker Dairy Company) in the late 1960s. While the original mill succumbed to a fire in 1977, a new building with a modern press was quickly installed and business continued to run uninterrupted each year. In 1991, ownership changed again, but never slowed. Even 2012’s apple shortage along the Michigan “fruit belt” (did you know that was a thing?!) didn’t close its doors, and the Parmenter name continues to adorn the big, red barn today. Now the second-oldest, continuously operating business in Northville, Parmenter’s remains a local staple, serving up amazing fall goodies every year. The business continues to expand with the addition of the Northville Winery, where local bands provide live entertainment on selected evenings throughout the season.
I, for one, am glad for Parmenter’s resiliency and how it caters to everyone—from families to the after-work crowd. I mean, fresh donuts and cider that you can pick up on your way home or enjoy in-house on a cozy evening? That’s so Michigan. And I’m totally a fan.
Which cider mills do you love visiting in the fall? Do you stop visiting once the weather gets colder, or do you enjoy the late-season aspect of warm food and indoor entertainment? Let me know in the comments!
– By Jennifer Bowman, Contributing Writer