Nan Jasinowski, one of the owners of Sweet Seasons Orchard in Concord, Michigan, watches the fresh donuts fry and then roll out on a conveyer belt. She wipes her hands on her yellow apron. The smell of freshly baked apple donuts meets customers at the front door of the orchard store.
Meanwhile, her husband Ed Jasinowski mans the cash register.
“No cards,” he said, apologizing to a customer who pulled a credit card from a wallet.
In keeping with its name, the 35-year-old business is only open for the season — from September through Thanksgiving.
Like other Michigan orchards, Sweet Seasons is bustling: Even in October, after the harvest is over, families flock to pumpkin patches and country stores for fresh cider.
Apple cider from Sweet Seasons, Jasinowski explains, is made from six varieties of apples. Jasinowski also claims their cider boasts a “tart-i-ness” unique to this orchard.
“If the cider is too sweet, then people won’t want to keep drinking it,” Jasinowski says with a knowing smile. It takes the Jasinowskis just a half-hour to press 30 – 35 bushels of apples into a batch of cider and then another two hours to clean up and sanitize it all.
For those over 21 years of age, another family fall attraction in this corner of Michigan, Meckley’s Flavor Fruit Farm in Somerset Center, offers a selection of award-winning, home-brewed hard ciders. For the children, Meckley’s apple cider is sweeter and alcohol-free. Chubby toddlers clutching tiny pumpkins follow their parents to the coolers as they grab a gallon or two.
Fall is the peak season for Glei’s Orchard in Hillsdale, too, said Tricia Bills, who works in Glei’s greenhouse. On Saturday, the orchard will host a customer appreciation day with orchard tours, store specials, and family activities, Bills said.
Honey-crisp apples and cider are the most popular products right now, Bills said.
Sheri Rose, professor of French, and her family joined the families flocking to orchards for the weekend, a family activity that brought back childhood memories for Rose, particularly getting lost in corn mazes.
“My dad had to get me,” she said, laughing.
Rose is raising her daughter, Melanie, in this Michigan tradition. Rose said that bringing 2-year-old Melanie on a wagon ride to a pumpkin patch allows her to relive her own childhood memories. Sitting with her daughter in an apple tree-lined pumpkin patch makes her nostalgic about her own autumn family experiences, Rose said.
While some orchards like Meckley’s offer a wide variety of autumnal festivities, each little orchard in Southern Michigan seems to hold a certain spot in the hearts of Michiganders.
“To me all this feels very American, more specifically, Midwestern,” Rose said. “People get their Halloween decorations out at the end of September. The crisper weather draws people out as well.”
Rose said visiting orchards is a way to get outside and enjoy seasonal changes, particularly because Americans tend to be out-of-touch with the seasons and walled-off from from the outside world.
Rose said the fall festivities have gotten her family outside to appreciate the natural beauty of the area and to become more familiar with the small-town culture around them.
“It’s almost like a fall ritual,” she said. “You go pick out the pumpkin, you have your cider and donuts.”
Jo Kroeker and Nicole Ault contributed to this report.