This post was written as a guest post for the Cider Week Finger Lakes blog as a prelude to Cider Week 2016. Please visit their site to find out about all the amazing events happening during Cider Week Finger Lakes.
- Old Orchard west of Watkins Glen, NY
I’ve been looking forward to Cider Week Finger Lakes 2016 all year, and here’s why: I’m hoping Cider Week 2016 will be an opportunity to learn more about the history of cider making and fruit growing from you, the public. The Finger Lakes Fruit Heritage Project is making its debut to ask what you know about the roles that orchards, cider, and fruit have played in our region’s heritage. I want to know about the old trees and orchards in your back yard, and the stories, anecdotes, experiences, and skills that are woven into the fabric of your fruit landscapes.
Barrelling Apples – House, grain building, 1906, from the Verne Morton Collection: The History Center of Tompkins County
Cider Week has grown as our local agricultural entrepreneurs have rediscovered the craft of cider making and nurtured it in new and innovative directions. But cider was made in our region before, in the homes and on the farms of many people who settled the Finger Lakes region, travelling west from New England in search of better land. They planted fruit trees to supply their own families with food and beverage. And local people have made hard and sweet cider from them for generations. Keep your eyes peeled while you are driving through the countryside, and you might spot an old orchard you never noticed before.
Eric Shatt of Redbyrd Cider prunes and old orchard near Burdette, NY
Some of these old farm orchards still remain on our landscape today, and local cider makers, commercial and hobbyist, care for and use them, up to 150 years after they were originally planted.
What happened to these frontier farms? And the orchards that were an essential ingredient in their domestic economies? Some are still going, but many small hill farms that were unprofitable were abandoned during hard economic times. Some areas that were once farmed are now re-wilded as parks and reserves, like the Finger Lakes National Forest or the Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area. And some of them have long been sources for cider.
Home Cider Maker Steve Daughhetee near the remains of an enormous old orchard near his home west of Ithaca, NY. He believes these trees are Newtown Pippins.
Photos from an article on States Cider Mill in the Ithaca Journal, October 26, 1974
Carl States, whose father owned the States Cider Mill in Odessa, remembers how local people went foraging in the abandoned farm orchards on Connecticut Hill when he was growing up in the 1960s. They brought the apples to be pressed at his father’s cider mill, which was still being operated by another family into the early 1990s, when it finally closed down when new requirements for pasteurization were passed into law.
“Most of the old timers would bring plenty of apples, more that what they needed, and then Dad would buy what was left over with, or they would just take it home with them in gallons or give it away. Apples were pretty plentiful then. A lot of people when I was a kid – all the old orchards were still in production on Connecticut hill, because all the old farms were abandoned in the depression, but the orchards were still there. So you could go up and get all the apples you wanted for free – just go up and pick them.” – Carl States
A few local cider makers who are at the heart of Cider Week today, including Ian and Jackie Merwin of Black Diamond Farm, remember taking their apples to be pressed at States Cider Mill. Places like these are now receding into memory, but it is here where the connection between our modern Cider Revival and the local heritage of cider can be made.
In addition to celebrating our amazing local cider businesses, I hope Cider Week continues to grow in exploring the history of cider deep in our region’s past, and nurtures the growing networks of DIY enthusiasts, home brewers, gardeners, and farmers who are renewing the spirit of cider making and cider drinking as a part of everyday life.
Debbie and John Ball in the old orchard outside Watkins Geln they have restored over the past 20 years. The orchard may be over 150 years old.
This Cider Week, I am hoping you can help me document our cider history through events hosted by the Finger Lakes Fruit Heritage Project. This project, an initiative of the Folk Arts program at The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes, will explore the fruit heritage of our region and highlight the agricultural and culinary practices that have molded our landscape, from apple orchards, to peaches, cherries, berries, and of course, grapes. I’m hoping to find more evidence about the history of local cider culture, in your stories and photographs, and in the apples growing in your back yard or on your farm.
Cider Week is a celebration of an agricultural and culinary craft brought back to life. Our cider future looks amazingly bright, and new orchards are springing up to supply it. But there’s still much to learn about the cider past, and how it’s shaped our local landscape, culture, and palate. I hope you will join the Finger Lakes Fruit Heritage Project events to share your knowledge and connect our local cider history with our cider future.
The Finger Lakes Fruit Heritage Project is hosting three Documentation Days and one Apple Identification Day during Cider Week, and you are invited to come share your fruit stories and learn about their apples.
Documentation Days at the Elmira Wisner Market (September 29, 10am-2pm) and the Montour Falls Harvest Festival (October 1, 12pm-7pm) are an opportunity to stop by the Finger Lakes Fruit Heritage listening booth and share stories, photographs or documents for our archive of fruit heritage. Tell us about your memories of making cider, apple butter, pie, wine, preserves. Describe pruning, parties, people who were the local masters of theses crafts. Your stories will help us see the larger picture of fruit and cider in the Finger Lakes.
The Apple Identification and Documentation Day at Reisinger’s Apple Country (October 8, 9am – 12noon) invites the public to bring apples to be identified by our pomologist panel, including Dr. Greg Peck of Cornell University and John Reynolds of Blackduck Cidery. If you’ve been wondering what that old tree at the back of the property is, now is your chance to find out! Bring 3-5 apples from each tree you would like to identify. You can then log your finds and deposit any stories you have at the listening booth. For more information on directions and what to expect, visit http://www.earts.org/finger-lakes-fruit-events
These events are a project of The Folk Arts Program at The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes in collaboration with partners at Reisinger’s Apple Country, Schuyler County Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cornell University Department of Horticulture, and Montour Falls Public Library. This project is funded in part by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.