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.
Since we haven’t been to Margaretville ourselves, we invited a loyal Upstater reader, herself an accomplished writer, to weigh in. Jennifer moved to Maggieville, as she calls it, from London in 2006, after searching for a place that was both rural and walkable, full of amenities but unpretentious, which is a pretty hard set of criteria to realize. She calls Margaretville, population 643, a “cross between the cute and practical, quaint and quirky.” She can get pizza, fresh veggies and superb Internet customer service, but lacks a certain amount of privacy (it can be friendly to a fault), direct access to good restaurants and movies–it’s 40 minutes to the nearest theater in Woodstock. It’s not train-able, the only public transport being a Trailways bus which takes three hours from the City. For her, the deficits are entirely worth it, as you can read in her post below. We’ll be checking out real estate here this week — word on the street is that nice properties are cheaper here, deeper into the western Catskills, than they are closer to the river.
Take David Lynch, add some good ol’ boys (with Buddhist prayer flags even), a few gay couples of a certain age and a number of old people and you get Margaretville. (Or Maggieville as my husband and I like to call it). It’s got a population of 600 and some depending on the day, and moving here from Brixton was an odyssey too long for a blog post. Let’s say our escape from a place best known for being in a Clash song entailed a list of things we wanted: blackberry picking, hiking, home-canning and some amenities. We’d never owned a car, and in the midst of looking realized going too rural might risk a scene from The Shining so settled in a village Victorian and for being able to walk to groceries and liquor store.
And, Margaretville does have amenities you’ll want if you’re here fulltime. Bovina has a quaint general store, Andes edgy antiques and Phoenicia a great breakfast spot. But, in Maggieville you get Freshtown. Which, thanks to a benevolent owner and a several million-dollar renovation, sells local food and has an olive bar (don’t underestimate the draw of fresh olives) as well as twee chainsaw bears. (Tourists love them). There’s a well-stocked liquor store, CVS and a pharmacy whose owner you can call at home in an emergency. The village is a cross between the cute and practical, quaint and quirky. At Home Goods you can find a pizza stone in a pinch, that Le Cruset piece you’ve always wanted and ace cooking advice. We have an excellent second-hand bookstore, and a good (though a total scene) farmers market outside the village. There is also MTC, Margaretville Telephone Company. Problem with the modem? They’ll come that day, usually in about fifteen minutes. If you call, you never need an account number. They know your name. Once we had to RSVP to a neighbors’ Christmas party and couldn’t get through because of a problem on the line. I called MTC, and they RSVPed for me as well as fixing the issue. Read the rest of this entry