Intoxicating aromas of apples and spice entice me past the covered wrap-around porch and into the Victorian-style building. Cars jam the parking lot and overflow along one side of the road so far that I can’t see the end of them but no one appears annoyed. I see lots of smiles. Happy chatter breaks out between friends and neighbors as the line winds out the door. Snippets of stories about favorite Clyde treats and first visits surround me. Generations of families create traditions and memories around autumn trips here. Grandparents share stories of visiting Clyde’s with their own parents back when drivers needed a paper map or a good memory to find it. Some kids I know only tolerate summer’s end because visiting Clyde’s is a back-to-school tradition. I’ll bet more than one parent has used cider donuts as a bribe. Maybe adults slip away on their own while the kids are at school. Everyone deserves an occasional treat and this place is all about treats and sweets.
On the porch and at picnic tables, little ones hold decorative red apple cups of cider with sip-top covers. Big kids have cider slushies. Adults sip hot cider or taste apple wine and hard cider. Almost all of them are eating a cider donut. A few are eating apple pie a la mode or a warm apple dumpling. One little face is smeared with caramel while its owner tries again and again to bite through to the apple inside. Everyone is smiling, and I mean every single person. A sweet toddler eats his first bite then lunges for the rest of the donut. Mom will need to get another one for herself. Children learn at an early age that this is a happy, special place. It feels a bit like Disney World for autumn enthusiasts.
I venture past mountains of apples and shelves of freshly-baked apple, pumpkin and cranberry breads. Cheerful helpers working behind the large wooden counter fetch freshly-prepared deliciousness for customers. The entire cider donut making process occurs directly behind the counter and the slushie machine churns icy apple-ness. Trays of freshly-made donuts are responsible for most of the irresistible aroma but I also detect pumpkin, chocolate, and maple.
Two recently-purchased donut machines expand production without sacrificing quality. I’m surprised to discover the store only began serving their iconic donuts in 1997. More than once I’ve picked up donuts to share but inhaled the first one before leaving the parking lot. The light, fluffy cake texture is irresistible. Expert tip: always plan for that one donut to disappear. You’re only human.
While in line, I make a mental note to take home an apple pie. A talented baker prepares breads and pies at night on two new gas ovens to ensure plenty of baked goods for the next day. This recent change focuses daytime efforts on serving each customer quickly. With four cash registers, even long lines keep moving. The apple pie’s flaky crust and flavor are perfection and will elevate Thanksgiving… if I freeze the pie and can actually wait that long. Or maybe I’ll eat this one and get another for Thanksgiving… and Christmas. Why bake at home when their pie is so much better than mine?
Shelves are packed with specialty pickles, jams, maple syrup and other New England foods. Each seems to have been thoughtfully-chosen from small local producers. I’m already thinking about the marvelous food baskets that could be made with these items. Who wouldn’t love a basket with maple syrup, pancake mix and hand-crafted mugs? Jams and jellies make wonderful hostess gifts.
Across the driveway is a building packed with handsome crafts. A smaller building is labeled “Tasting Room” and offers sips of Clyde’s own award-winning wine and 8 distinctly different flavors of hard (alcoholic) cider. The alchemy to create a perfectly-balanced sweet apple cider is amply on display here. In my opinion, this is the best cider anywhere and is critical to the success of all their apple products. Janet’s daughter Amy converts pure apple cider into a semi-frozen drink with luscious results. Hot cider is served just warm enough to drink which preserves their fruity flavor and prevents mouth damage. Caramel is a luscious flavor addition to the comforting warm cider. All are welcome to sit in the colorful Adirondack chairs on the wide 360 degree porch to enjoy their refreshments.
The barn contains the only steam-powered cider press in the United States. Both the building and the cider press were produced and installed by Boomer & Boschert from Syracuse, NY. November cider-pressing demonstrations are on Saturdays & Sundays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., weather permitting but they also press as needed during the week.
One weekday morning I watched an entire truckload of apples (250 bushels or over 10,000 apples) being carefully inspected then dumped into the chute leading to the apple press. This last step took over 45 minutes which seemed like a long time until I realized the driver inspected each apple one last time before the fruit was pressed. Before the truck was completely unloaded, a steam whistle blew to announce cider being made. Inside the same building are displays of early cider-making components including dozens of pottery jars hanging from the rafters. There was a time when families left their jar at the cider mill until it was time to bring product home.
Owner Annette Bucklyn Moore explains how 100 TONS of apples are pressed each week to make cider. That’s 200,000 pounds of apples each week! It takes a bushel of apples (40-45 pounds or about 25 medium apples) to produce 3 gallons of cider. Twenty bushels are in each wooden bin stacked atop each other in the parking lot. The hardest, freshest apples are used for each pressing and all apples have been hand-picked. None have touched the ground. This is key to superior quality.
tons of apples in crates
Early season cider is a bit on the tart side because McIntosh are used. Today’s pressing was a combination of Ginger Gold and Fuji apples. Late season cider is sweeter due to the reliance upon Red Delicious apples. Each batch of sweet cider is unique and should be enjoyed as soon as possible for best flavor.
The culinary rock star/TV celebrity Alton Brown recently posted photos of himself eating fresh donuts in front of Clyde’s famous brown and gold sign. Locals sent him suggestions on where to eat during his planned visit to nearby Foxwoods and he sure didn’t seem disappointed. Almost everyone I meet has a Clyde’s story.
My favorite story is from a couple years ago when someone stole two antique earthenware pots from the property. Clyde family member/owner Annette posted her sad message and hundreds of people responded from all over the country. Individuals shared memories of Clyde’s and what this special place and people mean to them. The outrage and disappointment on social media eventually resulted in the culprit anonymously returning the family treasures unharmed. It was then that I realized how this local landmark is woven into the collective history of those who have and continue to claim this community as “home.” They may be open only four months out of the year but this 8-generation owned family business is at the very heart of Stonington and Mystic.
B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill circa 1960 (photo courtesy B.F. Clyde’s)
Annette’s great grandfather B.F. Clyde (Benjamin Franklin Clyde) and his wife Abby purchased the original house and land at an auction in 1881 and they lived on the property until 1938. The actual cider mill was installed in 1898. At that time, the only product they produced was hard cider which was, and still is, an alcoholic beverage. With no refrigeration, there was no way to preserve sweet cider so it fermented and developed into a popular drink. B.F. became The Cider King selling directly to neighbors but also to local bars and taverns. Prohibition (1919-1933) threatened to shut them down. They shifted to producing vinegar stock which was shipped by train to New York City.
The 4’11” strong-willed Abby accompanied the trains to NY. She was twice arrested for bootlegging but Annette says, “It (the charges) never stuck.” B.F. and Abby lived in the house for decades but eventually the house was replaced by the stunning painted Victorian-style retail store that stands there now. Instead of having a long line of people waiting to purchase cider from the mill building, 4 registers now speed up the process. Hard cider is produced in a 1000 gallon stainless steel tank then aged for a year in oak barrels. Added flavors include berries and citrus and tastings are available on weekends.
Jack Bucklyn (left), former owner of Clyde’s, is pictured standing in the mill holding a newly constructed rack with his daughter, Annette (sitting), Annette’s husband, Harold, and their daughter, Amy, circa 1977. (photo courtesy B.F. Clyde’s)
When Annette was about 6 years old she spent busy cider season weekends with her grandmother. She cried and said, “I don’t want to leave. I want to help Dad.” After that, the whole family stayed involved from preparations in early June until late December. Annette met her husband Harold at the cider mill when he began working there at age 16. They were married three years later and had three children. For years, Harold worked a full-time job to support his family but also worked many hours at the mill. Over the years, each of their three children came to work at the mill. Joshua has a background in construction and lives in a house on the property. Amy worked as a nurse but now runs the retail store.
John, 1981 (photo courtesy B.F. Clyde’s)
John left a construction career to come on board 4 years ago. When his mom asks him at work how he’s doing he replies, “Living the dream.” It is a dream but there’s hard work to making it a reality. Everyone’s talents and sweat are required. Preparations to open including maintenance of all equipment begins in early June. For the last four months of the year Annette and her family work 7 days a week accumulating 80 hours each. Annette arrives at 4 a.m. to begin the many preparations required to open at 9:00 am. And, yes, she makes those wonderful donuts.
The little cider mill has expanded their dream and capacity to produce more wonderful products. Annette’s sister just returned to Florida after 8 weeks of working shoulder-to shoulder with her siblings, nephews and niece. Annette’s parents Jack and Barbara never quit. Barbara still bakes a few days a week and the whole family hopes Jack, who passed away four years ago, can hear the steam whistle from beyond this world. Twenty part-time employees are hired each year for an average of 3 days per week. The work is hard and fast-paced and no one except family members are conditioned to keep full-time hours.
The existing retail store was built and stocked in 1997 which was also when cider donuts were first served. Cider slushies are a more recent but extremely popular addition to the menu. In order to stay current with changing interests and trends, all family members contribute ideas to strengthen their family business. Annette and Harold listen to their children. All are welcome to share and contribute ideas to maintain this vibrant business. In order to expand their hard cider storage capacity, a small addition to the cider mill building is being considered for next year. The original variance was granted in 1967 but this seems to be the right time to reinvest in their future.
Annette tears up when she describes how wonderful it has been to grow up with this business and how much it means to work hand-in-hand with family she loves so deeply. This kind of family business requires sacrifices, hard work and cooperation but what a legacy to leave both the community and her family. And the three children share a bond of love and respect forged by long hours and counting on each other.
B. F. Clyde’s is worth a day trip from anywhere and certainly worth taking a weekday off. If you’d like to justify your indulgence, the steam-powered cider press from 1881 makes this an historic landmark and an educational stop. You’re welcome. 🙂 Or come on a weekend when the festive atmosphere includes the intoxicating scent of kettle corn being made in an enormous copper kettle. The smell of the sweet corn wafts through miles of trees and houses. And be sure to arrive in time to watch the cider being made. Little ones will want to be in front of the group to see the action. Children’s toys and cornhole games encourage lingering. The property is spotless and you’re welcome bring a lunch to eat at a picnic table. The scent of sun-toasted leaves mixes with apple to create an authentic New England experience that is unparalleled.
Forget pumpkin spiced coffee or cereal and come get the real thing. Pick up a fabulous apple pie or pumpkin bread to enjoy later or send a bit of Clyde’s to someone you love. And grab an extra gallon or two of cider. If you pour a little out of each container, they’ll freeze beautifully. Clyde’s closes in late December when they run out of apples. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out. Annette’s son John fills a commercial freezer with 60 gallons of cider each December just for his own family. This is usually enough to last him until the first press of September. I think he’s onto something.
Open 7 days a week 9-5 September 1 – mid December
129 North Stonington Rd. Old Mystic (Stonington), CT 06372.
* Only 5 minutes from downtown Mystic or 10 minutes from Foxwoods. *
Despite recent bans on pets, well-behaved dogs on leashes are now allowed IF owners are carrying bags and cleaning up their waste. Dogs are not allowed on the porch or in the buildings. No smoking on the property.