By Jeff Fox
It’s fall. Time to press cider.
Today at Sibley Orchards & Cider Mill the plan is to press maybe 300 gallons of apple cider. It comes during the busiest time of year for the orchard that sells apples, pumpkins and other squash, specialty jams and jellies, and cider.
Rita and Pat Farrell have run the operation north of Buckner for 20 years. Rita says there is no secret cider recipe. It’s a matter of mixing different varieties of apples to get the right taste. Start with Jonathans, which are tart, and go from there.
You have to wait until this time of year to get the sweeter apples to mix in because with apples “the sweetness comes from cool temperatures at night and warm temperatures during the day,” she says.
Apples are at the center of things at Sibley Orchards, but the produce also includes blueberries and blackberries (arriving in early summer) and peaches (June to Labor Day), and there are hayrides, parties, school trips, bluegrass concerts and even, two weekends ago, a tractor pull.
“It’s a seasonal business, so you’re trying to extend the season,” Farrell says.
Take pumpkins and squash for example. Sure, you can buy the standard orange pumpkin, with a thin enough rind that it lends itself to being cut into a jack-o’-lantern, but there’s also any number of other decorative and edible squashes.
“As long as they don’t freeze and thaw and freeze and thaw, you can cook with them for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Farrell says.
Why the uptick in popularity?
“I credit it all to Martha Stewart,” she says.
Still, apples are at the center of things.
“People are always asking about apples,” Farrell says.
One popular question: Which variety is best for baking?
“If you like the taste of it raw, that’s probably what you’re going to like cooked,” she says.
In the country
The orchard, about 100 acres, is a couple of miles north of Buckner, where Buckner-Tarsney Road bends to the west and becomes Blue Mills Road. It’s out in the country but not that far away, Farrell says.
“It’s a pretty drive,” she says.
The fruit stand also has shelves full of, among other things, apple butter, pear butter, corn relish, pickled green tomatoes and a variety of preserves – boysenberry, gooseberry and even tomato.
“You’re not finding a lot of this stuff in the grocery,” Farrell says.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except 11 to 2 on Tuesdays.
Over the years, tastes change and the business has changed, too. The orchard grows fewer apples than in past years, though it buys the rest locally. Apples take a lot of work – pruning, spraying – and labor to have them picked isn’t cheap. Also, insurance has brought an end to the once-popular U-pick option.
So the Farrells have added things, such as Peach Days in the summer.
“We’re trying to promote all of the orchards up and down 24 Highway,” Rita Farrell says.
For the second, third and fourth weekends in October, there will be hayrides to the pumpkin patch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Those are popular with school groups, too, and now some adults who come back say they first visited on one of those trips and remember “that Rita.”
“That’s just great,” she says.
So are the Farrells set for another 20 years?
“I hope so,” she says.