If Ithaca possessed a “spirit food,” it would be the apple. After living in Ithaca for the past three years, I have consumed way too many apples in solid, liquid, and in-between forms. In their own subtle way, I feel as if apples define Ithaca just as much as the gorges or the freezing cold winters. In light of this, here are the three most “apple-ly” things in Ithaca that you should definitely check out if you haven’t already:
The Apple Harvest Festival
The Apple Harvest Festival represents Ithaca’s celebration to its inner-self. Apple-themed commodities, quirky street art and products, and random carnival-esque food stands fill the streets of the Commons. Some of the apple concoctions may seem a little dangerous at first glance; for instance, when I first saw a stand giving out samples of apple curry at Apple Fest last year, I felt a knot from in my throat. Yet when I actually tried it, I discovered it tasted pretty good. The sauce wasn’t too sweet, and while the apple chunks did not have a delicious taste, they were certainly edible. However—year after year—the cider donuts remain the highlight of Apple Fest. Cider donuts replace the artificial, kinda gross sugariness of a donut with the natural flavors of a fresh apple. An extra coating of sugar adds an extra burst of energy to the taste, but certainly is not necessary for enjoyment, and may even sometimes subtract from the crispness of the flavor. In addition to the food, simply meandering around Apple Fest—taking the full view of a bustling Commons—is a “must do” for any transient Ithacan.
Taking one step up the supply chain, the Fingerlakes region contains some great orchards for collecting your own apples. Freshman year, I went apple picking at a place in the area surrounding Ithaca with my parents. Apple picking offers a number of advantages. Obviously, apples sit hanging around you on branches in reach. Biting into one, you taste the freshness, as if a puff of autumn air has burst in your mouth. Another benefit is the sheer number of apples that you can also grab and snack. Before you know it, you’ll have eaten ten apples, and now your stomach feels as if you swallowed a large stone.
Yet any adventuresome apple picker may also seize this moment to prove their mettle. At the orchard, long ladders stretched to the top of trees. I grabbed one, leaned it all the way up the side of an ambitiously tall trunk and began my climb. Now, apples at the bottom of the tree probably possess the same quality as those at the top, yet apple picking inspires a sense of bravery and adventure. As I clawed my way up the side of tree, I spotted one red jewel, its smooth side glinting bright against the sun. I stood on the top of the ladder and stretched my hand as far as possible until I could feel the ladder creek as it slid precariously against the side of the tree. Finally, my fingers grasped onto the gleaming surface of this sparkling prize. Then I bumped it with my hand and watched it tumble onto the grass and roll away. I guess that is the true spirit of apple picking in Ithaca. You eat some, you lose some, and you keep picking.
Cornell Apple Cider
During my freshman year, I obsessed over Cornell’s apple cider. Every day, I would go to RPCC or Appel, where a friend and I would just pour apple cider down our throats. They keep apple cider in the dining halls from October until April, so I probably had something like 150 glasses of the stuff over the course of the year. In retrospect this seems a little gross, but at the same time, apple cider fosters its own unique drinking experience. Long gulps of apple cider may feel cold and a little heavy in your throat, but they refresh better than anything after a long day of too many classes or late at night in the middle of a prolonged study session. Warmed up, apple cider contains flashes of flavor that dance with its concentrated tanginess. These flavors light up the taste buds with short bursts of sugar. Cold or warm, apple cider remains the staple drink of Ithaca and its surrounding parts. While, for whatever reason, Cornell’s Orchard does not allow students to pick their own apples, we can still taste these splendid delicacies any time in their purest cider-y form.