AS I DRIVE TOWARD Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm, the suburbs of Olympia and Tumwater slowly give way to curving country roads. A few minutes later I see them up ahead: the bright red barn and farmhouse where Carolyn Lattin has been making apple cider for the past 32 years.
The farm has a working waterwheel, a woodshed-turned-bakery, and outbuildings housing pigs, goats, and chickens that visiting children can feed. Inside the store, I’m handed a warmed cup of the famous, award-winning cider. A mixture of 12 apple varieties pressed into juice, then flash pasteurized, the cider has a crisp, ripe flavor. Sipping it here on a sweater-weather day summons up that spooky-but-invigorating feeling I had during childhood Octobers; my mind turns to orange plastic spider rings and the smell of roasted pumpkin seeds. Then Carolyn Lattin starts talking about the price of apples, and it’s back to reality.
At 76, Lattin is a tough old bird in the best sense of the term. With her cheerful, no-nonsense attitude, you get the feeling that she could make cider for another half decade. She shares her small empire with grown daughters Sherrie and Debbie; her husband Vic Lattin died five years ago, just after eliciting a promise from the women to carry on the family dream. “We just love what we do,” Lattin says. “It’s a way of life.”
But only a handful of family-run cider mills remain in the state—most in Eastern Washington. “We’re getting priced out of the market,” she explains, describing how apple prices have risen. Shipping costs are up, too, especially in fall when they ship enough apples to fill two semi trucks every week. Even though Lattin’s sells to 250 retailers around Washington and Oregon, it’s not easy to keep the business afloat.
In response the Lattins have diversified: A sweet smell that permeates the shop comes from apple cider doughnuts, which the women bake and sell daily. There are also 24 pie varieties (using a family crust recipe), quick breads, jars of assorted pickles, and tubs of freezer jam and apple butter. But the cider is the farm’s signature, and all five varieties—spiced apple, blackberry, cherry, strawberry, and raspberry—have the ephemeral flavor of a really great fall apple, the added fruits lending sweetness. “It tastes so good because we make sure the apples are perfect…. If we won’t eat it, we won’t grind it,” Lattin says. “If you make the best, you never have to apologize for your product.”
Lattin’s cider is available at Whole Foods Market, www.wholefoodsmarkets.com. Visit the farm for hot cider, hay rides, and a u-pick pumpkin patch: Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm, 9402 Rich Rd SE, Olympia, 360-491-7328; www.lattinscider.com.