Clusters of apples begin to decorate trees in Dennis Thatcher’s orchard throughout each spring and early summer, promising the reward of sweet fruit and jugs of freshly pressed cider in the fall.
Thatcher and his wife, Angela, who reside in rural western Logan County and who are members of Logan County Electric Cooperative, established Thatcher Farm in 1972, when he planted a few apple trees. Today, the farm has more than 420 trees that produce 25 varieties.
“Everybody has a favorite,” Thatcher says. “Some claim one variety is better for sauce and another is better for baking, and others have their own opinions.”
The telephone starts ringing around Labor Day as prospective customers begin inquiring when different varieties will be ready for purchase. Summer Rambo, a tart variety that Thatcher recommends for pie and other baking, is the first to reach maturity at Thatcher’s, in late August. Many of the other varieties will be ready for picking in mid-to-late September.
Maybe more so even than for those apples, Thatcher’s is known for its cider. Pressing begins in early October, and Thatcher admits he is fanatical about all steps of the process.
“If I’m going to drink it, the cider has to be clean,” he says. “We pick our apples off the tree and do not use fallen apples that could introduce contaminants.”
Volunteers inspect each apple and cut away any bad spots. The fruit is then washed twice before heading to the 3-ton press. Thatcher uses a mixture of sweet, semisweet, and tart apples for cider, tweaking the recipe as the season progresses to compensate for subtle flavor changes. The introduction of a tart variety like Granny Smith not only cuts the sweetness, but boosts the rich apple flavor.
Work begins long before dawn with sterilization of all equipment used in the process. The actual pressing does not take place until 6 or 7 at night — when there are no customers around to stir up dust, and insects have settled down for the day.
Each pressing yields 90 to 110 gallons of cider, which is strained through ultra-fine Dacron fabric to remove sediment, then stored at precisely 38 degrees for 24 hours before being pumped into plastic jugs for sale. The resting period is important to let any starch present in the cider turn to sugar.
Thatcher does not pasteurize the cider, because he claims the process ruins a natural product and requires the use of preservatives, additives, and coloring. “I sell natural apple cider that will stay at its prime in the refrigerator for 29 days,” he says. “A lot of people buy more than a gallon or two and freeze it for use at a later date. Freezing does not affect the flavor one bit.”
Since Ohio law requires that unpasteurized cider be sold no farther than 50 feet from the location of the press, all of his customers must come to the farm. At times, folks wait in droves until daily sales begin at 3 p.m. during the pressing season, which concludes around Thanksgiving each year. “I don’t have to advertise,” he says. “News of our quality apples and cider spread by word of mouth. People come to us and they are not disappointed.”
Where to pick ’em
The following is a sampling of family orchards around Ohio electric cooperative territory:
- Bachman Sunny Hill Fruit Farm, 3850 Pickerington Road, Carroll, 740-756-7572 (South Central Power Company)
- Brumbaugh Fruit Farm, 6420 Arcanum-Hollansburg Road, Arcanum, 937-692-8084 (Darke Rural Electric Cooperative)
- Charlie’s Apples at Windy Hill Apple Farm, 1740 Sportsman Club Road, Newark, 740-587-3632 (The Energy Cooperative)
- Clark’s Orchard, 20768 Township Road 164 (Morgan Run Road), Coshocton, 740-622-1881 (Pioneer Electric Cooperative)
- Fruit-Full Acres, 18680 Bellville Road, Marysville, 937-642-6961 (Union Rural Electric Cooperative)
- Geckle Orchard, 8729 Township Road 258, Alvada, 419-387-7305 (Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative)
- Haslinger Orchards, 7404 U.S. Route 6, Gibsonburg,
419-288-2567 (Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative)
- Heartland Orchard, 13029 Laurel Hill Road, Thornville, 740-787-1353 (The Energy Cooperative)
- Hillcrest Orchard, 2474 Township Road 444, Sugarcreek, 330-893-9906 (Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative)
- Laurelville Fruit Farm, 16181 Pike Street, Laurelville, 740-332-2621 (South Central Power Company)
- Legend Hills Orchard, 11335 Reynolds Road, Utica, 740-892-3090 (The Energy Cooperative)
- Moreland Fruit Farm, 1558 W. Moreland Road, Wooster, 330-264-8735 (Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative)
- Reed Orchards, 33245 Clendening Lake Road, Freeport, 740-658-4466 (South Central Power Company)
- Remerowski Orchards, 4035 Idle Road (off State Route 29 NW), Urbana, 937-362-3927 (Pioneer Electric Cooperative)
- Richards Brothers Fruit Farm, 2054 Orpheus Road, Thurman, 740-286-4584 (Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative)
- Volk Fruit Farm, 5782 Addison New Carlisle Road, Casstown, 937-857-9300 (Pioneer Electric Cooperative)
- Yeary Orchards, 11195 Yeary Road, Adamsville, 740-796-5922 (Guernsey-Muskingum Electric Cooperative)