“Turn! Turn here!” I said, and my husband managed to bring the truck to a stop on K-68 quickly enough that we didn’t overshoot the entrance to the Louisburg Cider Mill parking lot. We were getting better. After nine years, we were finally turning into the parking lot on the first try.
We pulled on to patch of mowed grass that served as the temporary parking lot. I remembered to bring my camera this year. Despite the lack of rain, we were having the most beautiful fall weather–a perfect day for an outdoor festival.
The first year, we were a couple celebrating our first anniversary, and we were too broke to travel far from home. We climbed into the car and made the 90 minute drive to Louisburg to spend some time together in the sunshine. What we discovered was a wonderful little festival: lots of venders, families, pumpkins, bluegrass music, and cider and cider donuts that came directly from heaven.
What started out as a cheap day trip turned into an annual pilgrimage.
The Louisburg Cider Mill was once an old, abandoned hay barn. In the 1970s, Tom and Shelly Schierman bought the property and restored the old barn in 1977 and pressed their first jug of cider that fall. By 1978, they reconstructed another old barn to create a country store. Today, many Kansans know the best time to head for the mill is during Ciderfest.
During the entire drive to Louisburg, all I can think about is getting my hands on a fresh batch of cider donuts.
“Donuts, music, or vendors?” I asked as we walked down the dusty lane of parked cars to the Ciderfest.
“Let’s see whose playing now, and then decide,” Jim said. The bands were between sets, so we cruised the best collection of vendors we could remember seeing at the Ciderfest.
As we weaved in and out of the dense crowds, we made it back to the hay bails in front of the stage just in time to hear one of our favorite local bands, Bluestem, start their set. The guys of Bluestem are as much a part of our pilgrimage as the donuts. They were on stage that first year, and they’ve been on stage every year since. Jim Rood, a fiddler and vocalist, saw us sit down and smiled at us.
“It’s the folks from Emporia,” he said. “We were wondering about you!”
After Bluestem finished their set, we headed for the food.
Everyone else had the same idea.
My love for cider donuts began in college. I was far away from home, my first fall in Los Angeles, when my dad overnighted a box of cider donuts. Even a day old, the rich smell of cinnamon and yummy goodness filled the room when I opened the box. By the end of the day, the donuts were gone.
“They’re even better when they’re warm,” my dad told me, and he was right.
We wormed our way into the County Store. The Louisburg Cider Mill folks could barely keep the shelves stocked with cider. Customers were taking jugs out of the stockers’ hands as they walked by while in line.
We also decided we needed kettle corn and lemonade.
Arms loaded with two dozen cider donuts, a jug of cider, a bag of kettle corn, and two cups of fresh-squeezed lemonade, we had enough sugar and fat to make it through the rest of the afternoon. We plopped on another hay bale to watch another awesome band play – so awesome, that I can’t remember the name of their group to save my life.
As the band played, I pulled out my very first sweet, tantalizing cider donut of 2011.
As five o’clock approached, we knew it was time to go home. But we took some souvenirs with us.