A trip to this idyllic spot has become an autumn tradition for local folks and visitors
It's another idyllic autumn afternoon here in northeastern PA and time for one more edition of Wayne County Wanderings.
This week's episode takes us out of Honesdale, down the Owego Turnpike and deep into farm country.
Our destination? One of the area's oldest and best-loved agricultural gems: Rickard's Cider Mill.
So, jump in the car and come along for the ride as we pay a visit to a joyous anachronism: a family dairy farm still thriving in the face of modern technology.
On Our Way
Rickard's Cider Mill is located on the family farm just outside Honesdale. It is situated at the corner where Schoolhouse Road meets the Owego Turnpike.
For roughly six weeks every year, the mill becomes the centerpiece of this Wayne County agricultural enterprise.
In a portion of the state that's seen a rapid decline of family-owned farms, the Rickards stand as a happy contradiction. According to Inez, the farm now covers more than 500 acres, 350 of which are owned outright by the family.
It's a non-stop operation that runs 24 hours per day, 365 days a year. The focal point of this dairy farm is the herd of 80 Holsteins that are milked each day.
While the drive out of town is a short one, by the time you come within sight of the farm, it's easy to imagine that you've actually arrived in the middle of Kansas or Iowa.
The sky is a brilliant blue. The grass retains is emerald hue. And, enough fall foliage remains to make the scene as dazzling as your most Technicolor dream.
The mill itself sits about 50 yards back off the road. It's accessed by a well-maintained driveway that leads to a nice-sized parking area. Corn stalks and hay bales adorn the building, lending an air of seasonal good cheer to this bucolic setting.
There's a picnic table off to one side, while several stalls are set up with gourds and pumpkins of all sizes for sale. Two sets of barn doors front the mill itself, leading inside to where cider awaits.
In the Beginning
Louis Rickard founded the cider mill back in 1929, which means the operation has been going strong for nearly nine decades.
He and his wife, Jean, worked countless hours to build up the business.
It's an effort which paid huge dividends in that a trip to Rickard's Cider Mill has become a longstanding autumn tradition for many Wayne Countians.
However, the cider's fame has spread far and wide over the course of these past 88 years, as attested to by Inez Rickard, who's holding down the fort on this particular afternoon.
Inez welcomes me with a genuine smile and friendly banter, happy to answer my questions.
“We have people come from all over,” she said.
“Not just Pennsylvania, but a lot of other states, too. It's kind of a family tradition with some folks. If the kids move away or they're off at college, the parents stop by and pick up a gallon or two.”
The cider season here at Rickard's lasts from late September through the first weekend in November.
Rich Rickard is in charge of procuring the apples that feed the mill. Each week, he fires up the family dump truck and rumbles hundreds of miles to the Hudson Valley, returning in early evening with another load.
This is an “all-hands-on-deck” family affair, though, with everyone pitching in to churn out the cider.
Robert (aka: Bert), Rich, Jason, Chris, Dale and Cheyenne represent the next several generations of Rickards. They carry on the wonderful tradition begun by Louis and Jean, both of whom passed in 2011.
Everything is ground upstairs in the mill's main building, watched over faithfully by a friendly Pug mix named Remy.
Remy's main weapons of defense are … well, shall we say a wee bit on the unorthodox side. He jumps up and down, wags his little tail madly, nuzzles you with his nose and licks your hand enthusiastically.
It's as if he's saying: “Hi! Hi! Hi! Come on up! Pet me! Pet me! Pet meeeeee!”
Remy's domain is the loft-like portion of the mill building, accessed by a set of wooden stairs. Once at the top, you behold a fascinating set-up powered by a vintage Farmall tractor.
The apples are loaded onto a conveyor belt from outside, then run through the hydraulic presses.
The juice flows through canvas screens and then, by the magic of gravity, makes its way downstairs.
According to Inez, the entire process takes about half an hour. The cider rests in a state-of-the-art refrigerated holding tank, just waiting to make its way to your kitchen table.
A gallon of cider from Rickard's sells for six dollars and I can personally attest to the fact that it's undeniably delicious.
This weekend represents your last chance to stock the fridge, because the mill will close for the season Sunday, Nov. 5 at six p.m.
As for the future of this Wayne County treasure? Well, Inez is cautiously optimistic in her assessment
“It's a year-to-year business,” she said.
“Our family runs the entire operation and it's a lot of work. There are a ton of factors involved, especially what the apple crops are like. We basically take it a year at a time.”
And so, I raise a glass to the Rickard Family and their cider mill. Here's hoping that this “year-at-a-time” process keeps going strong for another nine decades!