A couple weeks back I headed over to the Old Cider Mill in Glastonbury, and decided I needed to write a diatribe about this place.
When I was a kid, I loved the Cider Mill. Hell, it would still be one of my favorite places if the town put any effort whatsoever into it. When I was kid — hell, even just 8 or so years ago — you could buy little cones of food to give to goats and sheep and donkeys and other barnyard animals. The store in the cider mill was filled with local honey, pies, and of course apple cider. I even have a vague recollection of going to the mill with school and watching the cider be made. (Tobey Maguire and Erykah Badu were no where to be found.) Outside there would be mums, pumpkins, gourds, squash, and all manner of veggies to be bought. At some point in history, I remember there being hay rides in the orchards.
But in more recent years that place has been a mess. The Cider Mill’s biggest draw has always been fritters, but a few years back the folks who’d been making the fritter for years lost their lease — or something like that — and new people came in. The new fritters weren’t really fritters — they were more like doughnut holes. Delicious doughnut holes, but still not fritters. The old fritter makers moved to Robb’s Farm out on New London Turnpike — which has the added benefit of a corn maze, an emu and some other animals, and homemade ice cream.
So a couple weekends ago I was on a search for cider doughnuts and I pulled into the cider mill’s parking lot, and my heart sank. The mill itself looks worse than ever, and the fritter shack has once again changed. My dog happened to be in the car and she perked up at the smell of barnyard critters but all we saw were a couple of sheep off in the woods — they looked like they might even be wandering over from Chip Beckett’s place.
There were a few sad pumpkins outside. I decided just to keep driving, and instead I went up to Dondero’s and bought my cider doughnuts. Since I’m obviously a visionary I started thinking about ways to make this treasure less pathetic, and I came up with quite a few.
- A Farmers’ Market: To get from my house to the cider mill, I drove down Main Street right past Glastonbury’s farmers’ market which is in the stupidest place I’ve ever seen. For years, the town’s farmers objected to one of these markets because they said it would bring in outside competition. I don’t know what happened, but eventually they caved and now there are a few pop-up tents on a sidewalk across from the fountain, and it passes as a farmers’ market. It makes no sense — they could move it across the street to the fountain but instead it’s crammed onto a sidewalk. Meanwhile, further down Main Street, the cider mill parking lot was virtually empty. It’s the perfect place to put a farmers’ market, and it would bring folks closer to the actual farms. I realize whoever has the fritter monopoly at the mill might object, but just about every farm in town has its own fritters… so cancel that fritter contract and let the other farmers take care of it.
- Press Tours: I get it, the cider press no longer meets health code standards, but as long as the frickin’ thing works, would it kill you to show people how it works? Kids love that crap. I’m sure Cub Scouts and Brownie Troops would love it.
- A Facelift: Remember how outraged the good people of Glastonbury got when the ferry was almost shut down? Well, something tells me that if the town were to ask for volunteers and funds to give the cider mill and overhaul — and make it stand up straight again — it would find plenty of help. And if it had a plan to get more use out of the space, I think people would be doubly happy. It could almost be like a little visitor’s center, where you could go to buy a whole bunch of crap from people all over town, instead of driving out to each individual farm. Right now, though, it kind of looks like it might fall over and crush your kids while they’re drinking cider.
- Events: Glastonbury loves events. Whether its the concert series on the green, the arts festival, or the Apple Festival — which I have a whole other set of suggestions for — that town goes crazy for a bunch of boring ass events. Well, the cider mill would be a great place to hold other, less refined, events. Sheep herding trials, horse pulls, ax throws…whatever… Hell, I’d take some kind of historical fair where we all dress up like it’s 1693 and we’re getting ready to steal Glastonbury from the Naubucs. Let some local artists teach painting classes there in the spring, or have a gardener teach a how-to class. I don’t care what you do, but that place deserves more love than we give for the two months of the year that it’s open.