Sunday, November 6, 2016

Cider Days

Bottles of cider
Bottles of cider from West County gleam in the sun.
I spent yesterday afternoon at my state's premier apple event of the year, Franklin County Cider Days.

My trip to the western part of Massachusetts only scratched the surface of this two-day, three-ring collection of tastings, tours, meals, and workshops.

Note: yes, it's Cider Days, but where cider leads, apples are never far behind.

The event is spread thinly over a rural swath of Massachusetts. To the extent that Cider Days has a heart, it is the community center in Shelburne Falls.

Second Chance Farm grows more than 90 varieties of apples.
Here are panel discussions and presentations about making cider and caring for old apple trees, while outside farmers and cider makers offer free tastes of ciders and fruit.

Still, the only place I saw anything like a crowd was at Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Greenfield.

The scene at Clarkdale Farm
Turns out the subject was: pie.

Robert Cox, author of New England Pie: History Under a Crust (History Press, 2015) held forth on pie in all its forms, including mock apple, mincemeat ("evil"), and the correct mode for a la mode (vanilla).
Author Robert Cox declaims on pie: Julia Child meets John Brown
Cox is a historian and head of special collections at the DuBois Library at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Clarkdale also had a tasting table, one that included pear and quince.

Meanwhile, the line to taste cider was long at Tip Top Orchard in Buckland.

Cider fans belly up to the tasting table for Artifact Cider at Tip Top Orchard in Buckland, Massachusetts.
I was disappointed to discover that Tip Top, which grows about 100 upwards of 200 heritage varieties, had no apples this year. However, Artifact Cider had made about a thousand bottles of "Tip Top" hard cider made from the orchard's 2015 heirloom harvest.

(Overheard at the tasting table: "We just stuck the labels on this morning.")

Also at Tip Top I learned the story behind the name "Second Chance Farm" (the tasting table in Shelburne Falls, above). Most of the trees at Tip Top were planted, in the 1970s, by the couple who later moved to Greenfield and founded Second Chance.

I also stopped in for a tasting of West County Cider's varietals. Variety-specific cider is a logical point of departure for someone who knows more about apples than cider.

The West County Cider crew
The West County folks noted my interest in heritage apples and obligingly poured me a sample of an interesting BaldwinAshmead's Kernel blend that is not available this year.

I walked away with a bottle of West County's "heritage" blend, which leans on a cider apple called Rosemont. They had some drier ciders that I liked a great deal, but I judged the heritage blend to be more accessible generally and a good bet for the Thanksgiving table.

I also came home with a bottle of Artifact's Baldwin varietal cider and some unpasteurized sweet cider from Second Chance.

Two final notes about Cider Days.

First, in early November the hills of Franklin County, tended and wooded, are fairy-tale ravishing.

Autumn hills
The view from Tip Top: The Shire plus elevation.
Finally: A touchstone of Cider Days is friendliness. It does not take much to start an interesting conversation about cider and apples. I had a great time!


  1. "A touchstone of Cider Days is friendliness." That certain applies to Adam himself! We met as he was inspecting otherwise overlooked "low hanging fruit" on a tree at TipTop and he was a font of both good cheer and apple wisdom. Such complexity and balance certainly rates a *** "Exceptional", which comes through in the blog almost as much as in person. Thanks, Adam!

    1. My best to you and your wife! I had our conversation in mind when I wrote that, ours and others.

  2. beautiful! thanks for sending the link. xx t

  3. Last year at Cider Days I met Field Maloney, who runs West County. The day before he had just bottled a wild apple cider called Colrain that, at that point, was the most ambrosial cider I had ever had, perfect balance of tannins, tart, hint of sweet, full and complex apple flavor. Field was incredibly nice and generous — he offered for us to visit in the spring and exchange scion wood. Come spring I couldn't get away from work so I couldn't go and that's a pity, but what a nice guy. I have noticed cider people tend to be very generous with their expertise, a rising-tide-raises-all-boats community. I have had most all the varieties West County has produced and many ciders from all over the world, and IMHO West County is one of the best cideries anywhere.

    1. Hello Shelah, how are your trees?

      I've heard of West County's Colrain, but there was none on offer on Saturday afternoon.

      They did have a very interesting "West County Pippin" made from Tramblett's Bitter (you can see it in the photo above).

      West County is a real cider pioneer and I was very pleased to pay a visit.

  4. Mince pie is evil? Robert Cox has never tried mine, made with Bolton Spring Farm's Baldwins and Honey Pot Hill Orchards' unpasteurized cider.


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