Cider Week Finger Lakes was a smash! And our cup runneth over with events. To start off this Cider Week, I went to two different apple festivals, one connected to Cider Week, and the other not.
On Friday afternoon on the first weekend of October, I left work early and headed for the Ithaca Apple Festival. In its 33rd year, the Ithaca Apple Festival had been, until recently I am told, bereft of much connection to apples. But with the advent of Cider Week Finger Lakes, the cider makers are now a big presence at the Apple Festival, which acts as a kick-off for the region’s Cider Week.
Walking down State Street, I could see all the trappings of a street fair calling – some small scale carnival rides, the twirling teacups, a carousel, two gourmet mac and cheese food trucks, a Columbian street food vendor. A skinny bearded young guy pulled a cart collecting compost. A tired carney checked his cell phone. College kids took selfies with their steaming cups of cider, and an old man in overalls stood behind an unglamorous but bountiful stall of vegetables. Two ladies sat beside a community quilt, selling tickets to raffle it off. A corridor of handmade jewellery and brooms and aprons funneled the crowd crossways.
A steady stream of young professionals and grad students rotated in and out of the Cellar d’Or Wine and Cider Shop, queuing up to taste and take with cider makers from Black Diamond Farm, Redbyrd Cider, South Hill Cider, and Eve’s Cidery, who stood with steady arms and long patience beside their barrels and bottles.
Outside, on the commons, the ciders and the wineries, the soup seller, and the orchards and apple vendors, all made the most of the festival theme. Fresh apples, apple soup, hot cider, hard cider, sweet cider, dry cider, turnovers from Indian Creek Orchard, and doughnuts from Little tree orchard – and a line 20 feet long to get them. The horticulture students hawked the fruits of Cornell’s research orchards.
The next day, I headed out to the Newark Valley Historical Society Apple Festival, an event in its 36th year, with no connection to Cider Week Finger Lakes. The weather had turned grey and misty and cold, but I got in my car and drove east on 79 out of Ithaca, turning south down 38, into hills and valleys. Route 38 is an old turnpike, and you can see the age of the road by its early farmhouses. As I approached the Newark Valley Historical Society Apple Festival, a sign warned cars to slow down, and pumpkins lined the road where policemen directed traffic into the adjacent field.
The small living history museum was filled for the day with demonstrators and vendors of historical, traditional, and rural arts. An enormous iron kettle filled with salt potatoes was boiling in the midst of the tents, and under two tall old trees, a mobile cider mill was hissing, spitting, grinding, and pressing.
Asking about the mill, I fell into conversation with the husband and wife operating it, who then introduced me to its builder, C.O. Smith, aged 92. Mr. Smith shook my hand and told me that the engine on the mill was over 105 years old, and that he had built the machine to replicate one that his grandfather had used on their farm south of Rochester. It was built for the festival, which he and others had started as a way to raise funds for the Historical Society.
I wandered through the festival and spoke to woodcarvers from the Catatonk Valley Woodcarver’s group, to a luthier who builds dulcimers in traditional and avant garde designs, and to a beekeeper whose honeys were made of nectars as varied as the apple blossoms of spring to the invasive Japanese knotweed that chokes the landscape and blooms profusely in late summer.
These two apple festivals, happening simultaneously and within 40 miles of each other, and yet in some ways worlds apart, show different sides of the region’s apple culture, speaking to different audiences, in different communities. The Ithaca festival is more obviously commercial, and the Newark Valley festival skews more historical and educational. While preserving the uniqueness of each festival and the communities they serve, it would be interesting to see what could happen if the commercial and the educational missions of each festival could enliven and enrich each other.
How much more rooted can commerce be if it can draw on a region’s historical identity? How much more present and emergent can history be if it is a living resource for the new commercial enterprises that Cider Week Finger Lakes seeks to promote? There are more apple festivals to visit, and an exciting possible future for the relationship of Cider Week Finger Lakes to long-running community celebrations.