appea l i n g
Once a year, volunteers in Mendham crank up
the historic Ralston Cider Mill. The result: A
sweet and tangy juice that’s worth the wait.
By Drew Anne Salvatore S IT TING AT THE RALSTON CIDER MILL, sipping shots of 80-proof applejack, Raymond Nadaskay and Sammy Forna- ro Jr. look more like teenagers toasting their birthdays than 70-somethings at an annual apple pressing. Yet to these men, the restored red barn behind them is like their baby: Sammy grew up around the mill before his father shut it
down when he was a boy; Raymond has spent the past de-
cade rallying to restore Ralston to its former glory.
Today is a special day: The mill is producing cider, a feat that happens
only once a year now. For decades, the mill was empty, abandoned. But its
history of secret tunnels and clandestine commerce was not forgotten.
The original structure, built in 1848, was a water-powered gristmill on
the gently sloping grounds above the Burnett Brook between Mendham
and Chester. For nearly 60 years, the mill’s owner, John Ralston Nesbitt,
ground grain into flour and feed, until he died in the mill of an apparent
heart attack in 1904.
Perhaps ghost stories chased buyers away, or maybe it was the railroads that shifted milling westward. But for six years, the mill stood
empty. Ralston got a second wind in 1910, when Thomas Laughlin relocated his Tiger Applejack Distillery to the three-story stone structure. Laughlin replaced Ralston’s wooden wheel with a new water turbine; the milling
stones swapped places with two massive apple presses still in use today.
The days of grinding grain gave way to the sticky, sweet production of
applejack, or double distilled apple cider, fondly known as Jersey lightning.
By the time Ralston entered the cider game, New Jersey was an apple-growing powerhouse and the national leader in cider production, with 23
percent of the country’s output in 1899. Going back to
Colonial days, cider had been a staple of the Amer-
ican diet, and applejack a favorite potable.
“George Washington and John Adams each
had a tankard of hard cider for breakfast,”
says Nadaskay, chief architect of the mill’s
restoration, resident historian, chair-
man of the Mendham Township
Historic Preservation Commit-
tee and president of the mill’s
board of trustees. Even colonial
children drank a watered-down
cider, alcohol and all. Apples
were so valued that in New
Jersey, colonists paid
In time, however,
applejack gave way to
beer as the American PH
NJvenueswhere youcanpressyourown Garden State
Stickley Museum at Cra;sman Farms
Tena;y Nature Center Mood’s Farm Market
Great Swamp Outdoor
pumpkins and watch
as a story unfolds.
After the pumpkin
path, enter the farm’s
Entry times every 15
minutes from 6: 45-8 PM.
Adults, $12; children under 15, $9. Wagner Farm
Arboretum, 197 Mountain
Ave, Warren Township
The popular food
trucks of summer roll
into Mercer County
Park for a fall fiesta!
It’s a moveable feast
of food; beer and
wine; and live music.
11 AM- 7 PM. Admission
$5, plus food and drinks.
Mercer County Fairgrounds, 1638 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor
include a car show,
5K run and live performances by local
bands. Of course, it
wouldn’t be Oktoberfest without plenty of
food and beer.
11 AM- 5 PM. Free. 1960
Road, Columbus (609-
OC TOBER ;;;;;
celebration of New
harvest also highlights the culture of
the Pine Barrens.
A diverse group of
local artists, vendors
and craftspeople will
show their work.
9 AM- 4 PM. Free admission, $5 donations will
be accepted. Downtown
Chatsworth ( cranfest.org)
Spend the day
canoeing or kayaking
on Rancocas Creek
and Smithville Lake.
10 AM- 4 PM. Free.
Historic Smithville Park
& Smith’s Woods, 803
Smithville Road, Mount
Get a head start on
holiday shopping at
this festival featuring
art pieces, furniture,
and other creations
by more than 250
Fri and Sat, 10 AM- 6 PM;
Sun, 10 AM- 5 PM. $8 in
advance, $10 at the door.
Garden State Exhibit
Center, 50 Atrium Drive,
Somerset ( gsec.com)
Truck & Wine
Sample dishes from
trucks while enjoying Alba Vineyard’s
The event features
live music; wine tastings available at an
Noon to 5 PM. Adults,
$10; ages 13-20, $5. Alba
Vineyard, 269 Riegels-ville Warren Glen Road,
A night of fun for the
whole family. Enjoy
spooky stories and
a hayride—plus a
4-9 PM (Rain date:
October 31). Family of
2, $8; family of 3+, $10.