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After retirement, pressed back into service

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VERMILION — After languishing for almost two decades shuttered and used for storage, the historic Moes Cider Mill has quietly come back to life.

Housed in a small red building on the southern edge of town, the cider mill is owned by the same family and still uses its original cider press to turn fall’s abundant apple crop into autumn’s nectar.

The press — there were two, but only one is in use now — was made in the late 1800s and installed in the mill when it was built in 1916.

Jean Moes-Liljegren is the granddaughter of the mill’s original builder, Frank Moes. She and her husband, Jim Liljegren, opened the mill last fall for the first time since it closed in 1996.

Frank Moes built the mill on his 35-acre farm along the Vermilion River to press his and his neighbors’ grapes and apples. At the time, orchards and vineyards surrounded the area along West River Road; fast forward a century and the land has grown neighborhoods and developments instead of crops.

Moes, who was born in 1878, also built a house next to the mill. He and his wife, Rose, had three children, all born in the home. The house is still there but is no longer occupied by the family, and the family owns about 4 acres of the original site, Jean said.

Her father, Nelson, was the couple’s first child, born in 1911. He recalled when West River Road, which winds past the front of the mill, was “nothing more than a wagon path from Vermilion south to Darrow Road” that was almost impassable in wet weather. Cars were rare and foot-deep wagon ruts would make traveling the road unsafe even for a horse, according to family lore.

Nelson Moes remembers being so small he would stand on barrels to reach the presses that sometimes ran nonstop during harvest.

He married Alice on Dec. 6, 1941 — and fate intervened when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor the next day. He served in the U.S. Army, then returned to work as a millwright at the steel mill while still keeping the seasonal mill open. A small marketplace was added, and though the family no longer grew its own fruit, they continued to press cider and juice from produce grown on local farms.

The couple’s four children and nine grandchildren helped work at the mill until 1996, when it closed in anticipation of new laws that would require cider to be pasteurized.

“We always thought the flavor and the goodness would be lost if we had to pasteurize,” Moes-Liljegren said.

The laws did not come to pass, and the Liljegrens said they are only required to label the cider unpasteurized. Besides cider, the mill also sells cider doughnuts made on the premises, locally grown popcorn and apples, caramel apples and other items such as apple butter, jams and jellies.

The couple believe their traditional way of making cider adds to its distinctive flavor.

The cider is made on the original Boomer Boschert rack-and-cloth screw press. Some modernizations were made, such as converting it from gas-powered to electric, adding a stainless steel grater, an apple washer and replacing original wooden pans with plastic — but “we still make cider the way we did 100 years ago,” Moes-Liljegren said.

Between seven and eight layers of apples are pressed at one time, with each layer containing about 2.5 bushels of apples, making about 50 gallons of cider. They usually do two pressings each weekend. Each pressing has a unique flavor; early season cider uses a combination of Fuji, gala and McIntosh and is not as sweet as October and November cider, which uses golden and red delicious, Melrose and Stayman varieties.

The couple, who live in Vermilion and work at other jobs during the week, only open the mill on weekends through the fall. Though it reopened last fall to little fanfare, they discovered that many of their old customers were glad to see it once again operating.

“Business has been good. It’s been really fun to have people come in that remember the cider mill when it was open before and talk about bringing apples from their back yard and having them pressed here, coming out for cider in the fall,” she said.

“Fall is just a pretty time in northern Ohio, and cider mills and orchards add to that seasonal spirit. We thought it would be fun, and it has been.”

Moes Cider Mill is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from the second weekend in September through the weekend before Thanksgiving. It is at 6587 West River Road, Vermilion. For information, see www.moescidermill.com.

Contact Rini Jeffers at 329-7155 or ctnews@chroniclet.com.

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