We lived in Michigan for about two minutes (okay, I’m exaggerating…. 10 minutes) when people we met started talking about apples. And cider mills.
“What? You haven’t been to Franklin Mills? You HAVE to go for the doughnuts and CIDER.”
Like Blue vs. Green football. Like old-time souped up roadsters, come the fall, apples are a big part of the culture here in Michigan.
I thought I would be missing the sweet, hard crunch of my favorite fruit when I left New York. Not to worry. It seems Michiganders are just as boastful if not more than New Yorkers about their apples.
Though fourth in the nation in apple production, the state grows many varieties and nearly every supermarket sells the red, yellow and green globes picked from orchards less than 100 miles away.
Then there are the cider mills. It seems the granddaddy of them all around these parts is the Franklin Cider Mill. It is named for this tiny town in which it is located, a bucolic village that somehow dodged the suburban bullet in which it is surrounded. The mill is only open from Labor Day through Thanksgiving, so all it’s business is pressed (no pun intended) in these short months. But they do more than okay. Check out the line on a recent Sunday to get cider and Donuts:
And they have a huge press:
A few Sundays ago, these friends invited us over in the early evening to press some cider. Now, they had invited us to do this twice before and we just could not fit a press into our crazy early fall schedules. But the night was crisp and cool but not too cold, so why not? We went over to hang out and learn about pressing apple cider.
Several years ago, our friends purchased a small press. After realizing how much they were into making cider, and had an ample supply from several apple trees on their property, they decided to invest in a larger press from the Happy Valley Ranch Co.
Now, after marveling at this hand-cranked, Amish-looking contraption, I thought the evening was over. It was a school night, after all. But oh NO. This was not a mere social call, we were about to get put to work! We happily obliged because we know we would be treated to the freshest cider one could gulp at the end.
In advance of our arrival, they had cleaned and cut away bruises from apples they were storing in their garage.
We started throwing the apples into a wood hopper that fed the apples through a mill fitted with some sharp teeth.
That’s me cranking some apples, the pulp getting caught into a wood bucked lined with a cheesecloth like sack. Hubby also took some turns cranking the apples. (Note that from his cap and sweatshirt, he has not changed his allegiance to Michigan teams):
Already, without even turning the crank, juice stared oozing out of the pulp to be caught below in a pitcher. Luckily, it was too cool that night for the bees:
Then, the pulp is pressed and pressed by a hand-turned crank. A whole bucket’s worth of apple pulp is compressed to the thickness of a manhole cover. The result is homemade freshly pressed cider, the best I’ve ever tasted.
I will work for cider any time and hope we’ll get invited back soon.
This summer, I traveled around meeting great people in the Great Lakes State. And I’ve also taken up palm reading as a new hobby.
When you meet a Michigander, one of the first things they will talk about is where they are from. And to do this properly, they will show you on their palm. Their right palm to be exact.
Michiganders proudly refer to their state as the Mitten. So much so that you can buy Michigan Mittens or oven mitts at kitschy and cute tourist shops Up North (yes, it’s capitalized) or like the ones I found on Karin Marie’s “talk to the mitten” Pinterest site.
To demonstrate, I will call upon my lovely assistant and local hand model.
See, we live in the Detroit suburbs, right here:
If you want to vacation on Lake Michigan and swim and sail where the water is warm and mostly calm all summer, go to any town located here, like Bay City, between the thumb and the index finger.
Last week, I went “Up North.” for a quick getaway. We stayed at a lovely Inn in Leland, on the Leeelanau peninsula. That’s here, in the pinky:
While up in the pinky, we went on a hike in one of the last remaining Cedar forests in North America. On the trail, we met an older woman who lives in the thumb, near Port Huron
We stayed at a wonderful place called the Whale back Inn, named so because the area where it is situated, when viewed from Lake Michigan looks like….
yes, you get it.
The grounds of the Inn overlooked a pristine and inviting lake (of course it did, we are in MICHIGAN!). There, we met native Michiganders now living in Palo Alto, Calif. (I don’t know what body part California looks like.) They have relatives who farm land in the center of the palm, right between the fate and life lines.
Finally, a guy I met in synagogue the other day held up his palm and said he grew up around Benton Harbor, and that’s right here, at the heel of the palm.
All this palm reading and thinking got me thinking about a country famously known for its shape:
If you travel in Italy and converse with Italians, do they locate their cities of origin on “the boot?” Do they point to their knees, heel or toe when asked where they are from?
Or, what about New York, my home state? Sure, New York has the Big Apple, but what is it shaped like? My best bet, if I had to make a hand shape for New York, it would look like the Vulcan hand salute. Rotated. And reversed.
Or, or, as my hand model – his hand getting tired from twisting from these poses and working for me for 20 minutes -said maybe we should just leave the hand symbol for New York at this:
Guess what, everyone? I’ve made it to the other side. And I’ve unpacked enough boxes to rationalize that I’ve earned some time to write you my very first blog post as a Michigander!
The long months of goodbyes are over.
And the hellos to new neighbors and friends are beginning.
Most of the uncertainty is also gone. I’m sitting in my new house. The kids are registered for school. And after my first week of being a freshly minted Michigander, it’s not so bad. In fact, it’s great.
Off the bat, Michiganders are living-out-loud, go out-of-your way NICE. And they are proud to be from Michigan.
Take our first morning in town. With no pots and pans, and not even a table to eat upon, we had to dine out for every meal, including breakfast (oh well.).
It was a Sunday and I wanted to buy a copy of the Detroit Free Press from the vending machine outside this local diner. A woman seated in a booth next to us saw me fishing for some change. Without me asking, she offered me some quarters in exchange for some single bills. How nice was that?
The second (and third) instances I caught on to the kindness of the people of Michigan was at the grocery store.
Now, as I have written in some of my “Good Bye to Rochester” posts, and I knew this would come, but leaving Rochester has put me in a bit of a mourning period for Superior Mother of all grocery stores.
So, on one of my first trips to a supermarket here (and that’s all it is, just a supermarket), I must have been mumbling to myself on how much I missed Wegmans or how I couldn’t find anything in this dingy Michigan grocery store when another customer, a woman my age approached me, looked me in the eye, and actually inferred: “Are you alright?”
This brought me to some clear distinctions between Michiganders and New Yorkers: Most New Yorkers try to avoid looking one another in the eye at all costs. Ever look someone in the eye in a crowded subway car? Unless you want to start a fight, I bet you wouldn’t.
And, if you are in New York, and you happen upon someone mumbling to themselves, you walk the other way.
But here this woman was, actually caring about my well-being because of my grocery store aisle mumbling. I simply explained I was new in town, well, in STATE, and I was having a hard time finding my way around. Even in a grocery store.
When I found the stuff I was looking for, I got on a check-out line behind a tall African-American man. After putting all his items on the belt, he realized he had forgotten a few items he wished to purchase. He turned to me and said:
“Ma’am, why don’t you go ahead of me. I might be a while.”
Again, I was astounded by the kindness.
Another unexpected find at the supermarket: fireworks.
Two years ago, Michigan recently passed a bill allowing for the public and legal sale of fireworks. So, along with picking up your milk and eggs at the supermarket, in the days leading up to July 4, you could also stock up on Bone Breakers, Power Surges and Detonators
This new development is receiving mixed reviews from Michigander retailers and consumers. But, if increased availability of fireworks is making you edgy, you can also pick up a nice bottle of Chardonnay or Merlot. Sale of wine and liquor is also legal in Michigan supermarkets. You can even purchase some Mondavi “Private Label” at Target.
With the arrival of the moving van and the hard work of our movers (a shout out to professional movers everywhere: thank you for your back and arm breaking work. Our head mover in Michigan was working with four torn ligaments in his rotator cuff. Didn’t stop him from hauling in box after box and participating in bringing up some heavy dressers up to the bedrooms. I believe he is scheduled for surgery this week and I hope the moving company is picking up his medical bills.), it is starting to feel like home.
We couldn’t find our placemats right away. Instead, we are dining on the plethora of paper used to wrap all our possessions. Add some crayons, and it’s like we are eating out at Macaroni Grill!
Next time, I’ll write about walking and bike riding in the Motor City.