Author Archives: jenkabat
It’s apple season in the sticks and it’s been a bumper crop so far. Trees so loaded with wild apples the limbs are brushing the ground. Which means the fruit needs picking. And pressing into cider. It’s also this very week Cider Week thanks to the Apple Project, which is dedicated to getting us to rethink cider.
And by cider they don’t mean those sippy bottles you give your kids. No, they’re talking the hard stuff. Applejack – fermented fizzy, that’ll give you a buzz. And, that was once a staple on Upstate farms.
Here in my part of the Catskills we went with friends and 24 bushels of apples to press cider a couple weeks back at Hubbell’s. They’ve been making cider in the barn there since the 1860s, back when every farmer came with a wagon of apples and the cider was a necessary part of life – both the vinegar and the fermented beverage. Now the farm only does private pressings. They don’t filter, there’s no pasteurization so don’t bring any apples that have been on the ground (we all want to avoid e coli, no?).
The operation is amazing. Some cross between Rube Goldberg and Willy Wonka as apples are spun and washed and chopped and then pulped into a press. The operation spreads across three floors and when we were there three generations of Hubells were operating it. The press was put in around 1864 and the engine running it in 1918 – it used to run a thresher and sawmill too. Now it only makes cider from early October to early November – call Bob Hubbell 845 586 4777 to schedule an appointment. He’s the 4th – of 7 – generations to be working the press).
If you leave it to age you’ll get hard cider, and others around here – like the descendants of the industrialist Jay Gould – lay up their own apple brandy and something akin to champagne. If you can’t make it up to Margaretville to make your own cider, the Apple Project promises cider friendly dining at such places as the Gramercy Tavern and the Breslin all week. Apparently even the lovely wine shop Dandelion Wine is in on the act.
Big trucks, big rocks, clawing roads from rivers…. If it isn’t (I’m tempted here to write “ain’t”) enough to fill you with the love of the fine folks who’ve been fixing the roads, this video from Jo Ostrander shows the incredible work it’s taken throughout the Catskills to recover from Irene. Oh, and there’s a commercial country soundtrack. Downstaters beware, moving here has given me a secret love of mainstream country music and most things redneck. The people who’ve repaired the roads have worked 7 days a week, pulling long days. Remember them the next time you drive up. And those machines.
Fancy yourself a farmer but don’t want to go the proverbial whole hog (or chicken or beef cattle or field full of broccoli, say)? Catskills FarmLink is for you – and more committed farmers. The website lets farmers find land not simply to buy, sometimes to borrow and share. Created by groups as diverse as NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection, the Cornell Cooperative Extension and Farmhearts, it’s got a back to the land, Seventies vibe like the ad for sharing 200 acres in East Meredith, where the owners have “several possibilities for discussion” concerning housing and are “looking for a farmer/ farm couple with expertise in any of vegetables, berries, fruit, mushrooms, medicinal herbs and/or livestock to help re-establish our farm, preferably using permacaulture….”
Despite how easy it might be to joke about permaculture, the site has laudable aims to keep land being farmed, no small thing in the Catskills where reforestation and parceling up old farms threatens not only existing farms but the ability of new farmers to start.
Personally I love the idea of the farm share in Bovina. Perhaps that’s because my husband jokes that he wants a summerhouse there. Just over the hill from Margaretville, Bovina has an excellent general store that does a fine breakfast. There, a couple offering to share or lease their 167 acres are also trying to talk their overseas neighbors into letting the sharing farmer live in their house.
While these places might not have quite cool factor of the baroque Beekman Boys (yet), Read the rest of this entry
The flood. Life in Margaretville now feels measured in before and after. And, the after I’ve been avoiding writing about. Nothing feels profound enough. I can never say enough and my take is not important enough. So where to start? Maybe with the piles of rubbish stacked on Route 28. Among the tires and shipping pallets, lumber, even an intact round wooden picnic table, was the cerulean blue siding of the Valkyrian Motel in Fleischmanns. It floated downstream, killing the one woman left inside. The sight is incredibly sad, the building reduced to stacks of kindling. The temporary flood dump in Arkville is testimony to the destruction: mountains of debris – refrigerators, furniture and trees all separated out. Or, there’s the person who set fire to his building on Main Street last weekend to collect on insurance. Everything feels transformed and oddly normal at the same time. But, when the air raid siren for the volunteer fire department goes off, you get an inner quaking of not-again.
The grocery store: gone, CVS collapsed and a row of shops on Main Street condemned with police tape around the doors that now stand perpetually open. One of the biggest issues here is the housing stock. Not the kind of fancy for second home-owners, but apartments and trailers, places lived in by the folks with the least. If that condemned row on Main Street is torn down (along with its 25 apartments) rebuilding there will be virtually impossible. Building standards would require it to be at least 8 feet high, the height of the highest flood.
The day after the flood I found an undamaged red, white and blue striped candle in the Freshtown parking lot. Now that candle is just the sort of thing I’d have thought tacky the day before, but among the slabs of torn-up asphalt, it seemed like hope itself. I put it at the foot of the store’s mascot, a chainsaw bear I wrote about in my first post on Margaretville. If anything is a marker of pre or post, it’s that the bear remains, and the area is tenacious in its rebuilding.
The region is open and businesses need support. If you love (or even like) Upstate New York, this is the time to visit. Leaves are turning, foliage beginning to take that brilliant hue of fall, and money is needed. Things are back to normal, or whatever the new normal is. And, despite the lingering raw feelings, businesses all along Route 28 are open – including most in Margaretville, Arkville and Fleischmanns.
I once looked at a place that was covered in the New York Times. Owned by the artist Rob Pruitt and covered not just once but twice in the paper (first in the Home section then panned in the Arts), the articles and provenance were both selling points and failings. The house was painted black, had fake headstones in the yard, fake silicone water drips down the walls, and at that very moment I was checking it out, a flooding basement. Here’s another covered in the Times, owned by artist and antiques dealer Sean Scherer, who last week, the very week his place went on the market, was moving Anderson Cooper into his new home. (Scherer is in charge of the interiors in Cooper’s former firehouse turned actual house).
Scherer has one of those reverse Catskills’ success tales: Moves to the sticks (full-time) opens a business, gets covered in the Times and then is hired by the likes of Cooper and opens a shop in the city and now is moving back down (where the shop is covered in the Times again). The story isn’t quite that simple and includes a breakup (hence the move and sale). The place in Treadwell is a sweet 19th Century farmhouse with a great addition (I personally have a huge love for those reclaimed wood floors in the studio and also the school lockers in the pantry used for the china). It comes with nearly 3500 square feet, four bedrooms, studio, two living rooms and a Dutch bed in the dining room (good for reclining after a heavy meal). And a wet bar. More gossip (including the goodies that come with the house) and stats on the jump. Read the rest of this entry