On Sunday, October 5, I attended the annual Applefest for the first time. This is a massive fair that is held in the town of Warwick (established in the late 1700s), Orange County, New York. I was informed that it was one of the biggest autumn festivals in the entire Northeast, with a projected attendance of somewhere around 35,000 people. My parents and I had a lovely ride through the rural hilly forest-covered countryside of lowerstate New York (I hate using the phrase “downstate” because it sounds depressing). As I stated in a previous post, I’m a country boy at heart, and I love to get out of the damned city at every opportunity, especially to experience “old time” things like quaint fall and country festivals.
Despite my very limited finances, I had a feeling that I would be spending an inordinately high amount of money there. At country fairs, things tend to be slightly on the expensive side. Local craftsmen and farmers need to sell their wares, and with many of them feeling the pinch from economically bad times, they need to adjust their prices higher to make up for things.
When we got there, which was at around 10:30 AM (only a half-hour after the fair opened), the place was already jammed. I was surprised how popular the fair was in both senses of the word. I was told to expect a large crowd, but I wasn’t prepared for this. There were at least 7,000 or 8,000 people when we got there, and the crowds kept increasing every minute. Almost immediately, I spotted various stands for things. They were giving pony rides to small children, the local town fire department had set up a barbecue, and there was a stand for adopting ex-racing greyhounds – they seemed to enjoy a more relaxed laid back lifestyle than the hectic energetic one that they had previously pursued. Next to this was a stand selling spices and varieties of olive oils. In the energetic spirit of the moment, and with a fervent desire to help local communities and craftsmen, I bought three different bottles: Italian herb, sun-dried tomato, and spicy pepper.
The Applefest was not just about apples, despite its name. Certainly, all things apple-related played a big part in it, but the stands were for far more: food stands, craft vendors, and environmental/community awareness booths talking out things like solar energy, banning plastic bags, and animal adoption. On top of all this, seemingly everybody in the town decided to have a yard sale!
I had many good experiences here, but at the top of the list was when I got to make apple cider myself, which was something that I had never done before. I have an immense unquenchable thirst for knowledge, especially pertaining to things that I regard as from the past, and I tried to get as much information as I could. I first began by carefully studying the construction of the portable press, which was about the size of a bicycle, and took a few pictures just to have a reference – I am determiend to get one of these things for myself, if I should ever be so lucky as to have my own farm somewhere. I also carefully watched the press in operation. I had a wonderful conversation with a teenager (at least I assume he was a teenager) named Rafael about the process of making apple cider. He told me that it takes about 40 pounds of apples to make one gallon of apple cider, and that you can make your cider of a specific flavor depending on the apple variety (some are sugary sweet while others are tart). Then came the best part – I got to help him. I started by tossing the apples into the hopper. The hopper is connected to a turbine, which is connected to a wheel-crank. The operator turns the crank, which turns the turbine, which crushes the apples. The crushed bits then fall out of a hole in the underside and down into an awaiting bucket. The buckets are not whole – they have large slats cut into the side so that the juice can escape when being pressed. Make sure that the bucket is lined with a mesh cloth! Not only does it prevent the apple bits from being squeezed out through the bucket slats, it also makes cleaning the bucket a lot easier, and you can carry the shredded apple chunks away like they’re in a bag. After I acted as the shoveler, so to speak, I acted as the presser. The bucket was placed underneath a large cast-iron screw with four spike-shaped handles on the top, and there was a circular wooden board underneath the screw, unattached. After the bucket of apple pulp was placed under the screw press, the mesh bag that the pulp was in was folded over, completely covering the apple pulp – this is to prevent the apple chunks from sticking to the underside of the board. Then, the board was placed over the pulp, lined up directly underneath the screw. Then, start turning! You have to make sure that you don’t turn too much, otherwise you’ll break open the bucket. As I turned the screw, which was easy at first but got to be rather hard work, I observed the tan-orange cider juice coming out of the slats, traveling a short distance down a decline and out of a drainage hole. Underneath the hole was a steel pot, collecting the juice. I helped Rafael out a coule of times with the process as the people watched us. I shook his sticky hand with my sticky hand and thanked him for all of the information that he gave me and for allowing me to participate. He smiled and gave me a free cup of cider for my work.
I love it when youth become involved in these sort of things. I’m noticing a greater interest among young people in “getting back to the land” and focusing more on simple things. First, I had a great talk with a student from VVS High School about the process of making maple syrup, and now this. I really want more young people to get involved in agrarian pursuits and having a greater appreciation for home-grown local produce.
We made our way through even further. The fair wasn’t limited to just one street – it seemed that half of the town had been converted for the Applefest. Along every street were food venders, craft vendors, and social awareness booths. I had talks with a person who made bows and arrows, a person who made fudge, and another person who represented a group that wanted plastic bags to be banned in the town of Warwick. I was rather moved by that, and I am contemplating starting a similar organization in my home town of Flushing.
After having some hamburgers made for us by the Warwick Fire Department, we looked around for a little bit more, and then decided to head back home. We left at 1:00 PM, and the traffic leading up to Warwick was backed up bumper-to-bumper for miles. By the time that we left, there had to have been at least 30,000 people there, and they were still coming in! Along the road, I passed by the barn of a nearby farm, and painted on the side were the words “LOCAL = GOOD”. I absolutely agree.
I had a great time. I heartily recommend visiting the Warwick Applefest at least once in your life. Certainly, it’s a must if you live in lowerstate New York. I’m already thinking about going back next year.