Thompson’s Cider Mill and Orchard traces its modern-day beginning to 1975 when Geoff Thompson became interested in apple varieties while working as a newspaper reporter and as a part-time assistant at the Teatown Lake Reservation Nature Center near Ossining, NY.
By chance, Geoff participated in a program of making fresh apple cider on several antique apple cider presses that Teatown had acquired or borrowed for a special event. Although he had grown up in the Hudson Valley, a well-known apple growing region, he had never tasted pure unfiltered natural apple cider prior to that moment. It was at that moment Geoff’s now long-term interest in apple cider and apples began.
Initially, he purchased a hand operated grinder and juice press. Geoff then committed himself to expanding his interest and to attempting to preserve some of the lost traditions of cider making and apple growing in the Westchester County area of New York. In 1977 he purchased a set of cider-making equipment including an elevator to carry the apples up and drop them through a mechanized grinder, and a hydraulic press used to squeeze the ground apple
For three years he made cider in an old barn on the Teatown Reservation on 10 fall weekends. The cider was made from apples he collected from local orchards and was sold directly to those who came to the mill.
In 1980 the mill moved with the Thompson family to a home they built on a hill overlooking the Swopes’ Pond on Blinn Road near Croton-on-Hudson. Geoff was attracted to the 5.5-acre property bordering the Teatown Reservation because it had been an apple orchard since the 1870s, a part of the old Rickert Fruit Farm.
When Geoff acquired the land on the hill, Rickert’s original apple trees — mostly Baldwins — were still standing. To augment those trees, he began planting new apple trees, slowly replacing sections of the original Rickert orchard. He consciously planted what are now known as heirloom or antique varieties. These varieties are largely lost or rarely found, and they intrigued him. Many are bi-annual bearers meaning they have a crop only on alternate years, which is one reason they fell out of favor with commercial farmers. He has also planted some very new and experimental varieties, as well as some local favorites like Macoun and Mutsu.
Largely self-taught (and still very much learning) Geoff — with help from his two children and friends — continued to plant new trees that could be picked more easily than the old original trees. Today more than 500 trees make up the four-acre orchard.
In 1992, a serious fire destroyed the house that had been built in 1980 along with the mill barn that was attached to it. With his wife Liz Bracken-Thompson, a new cider barn was built on an ideal site separate from the house.
As many varieties as possible are blended to create a true, old-fashioned pure cider. Those who have tasted it over the years regard it as the best around. The Thompsons also offer a wide range of apple varieties, including many old and unusual varieties. The available varieties change as the autumn progresses and the Thompsons are happy to give tastes and impart information about them. Depending on available quantities, visitors can also pick apples in the orchard.
Among the varieties of apples found at the Thompsons are: Macoun, McIntosh, Rhode Island Greening, Northwest Greening, Jonagold, Winter Banana, Golden Russet, Idared, Winesap, Jonathan, Mutsu, Monroe, Baldwin, Fuji, Cortland, Spygold, Red Spy, Northern Spy, Pippin, Seek-No-Further, local Golden and Red Delicious, along with more than six varieties of pears.