Huddling under tents to get out of the rain, a diminished crowd flocked to Saturday’s Apple Festival at the New Paltz Reformed Church. As the downpour waxed and waned, people made their way between tents, tasting treats and looking at crafts. Between the church’s Doric columns, bands played Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young covers.
This is the festival’s 25th iteration, and while many traditional activities were honored, including selling pies and hosting vendors, the event’s organizers tried new ones too. Festival coordinator Kym Tiffany presided over a silent auction, with prizes including a $100 “Compass Rose Clock” by local artist Leonie Lacouette and a handcrafted bracelet with Swarovski pearls from Mélange. This was the auction’s first year, and by midafternoon several items were approaching their retail prices.
Most notably new, however, was the Apple Salsa contest. For two dollars, anyone could try each of the ten different salsas submitted by the public, scooping the condiment onto chips, pita bread and pork rinds. Bowls of yogurt with parsley stood by in case anyone might overload on the spice.
I tried all of them, and came back for seconds on several. The names of each salsa’s creator were kept hidden so as not to bias the voting process. My favorite was the Indonesian Empire, sharp and spicy, but all were good: The Snappy Salsa was almost like applesauce, while an Apple-and-Chile salsa clashed sweet and spicy flavors. Many were made with local ingredients.
Susan Kraat stood behind the table all afternoon, describing the process to anyone who might be interested. The salsa contest replaced a former apple pie bakeoff, she said, because the earlier contest often got “too contentious” and created a conflict with the pies being sold by the church. “Piemaking contests can be innately fraught with unhappiness,” said Kraat. “We’ll try it this year,” she added, “and see where it goes.”
Kraat and Tiffany were part of a team of volunteers who ran the whole event, from the junior choir members selling apple fritters to the older men making apple butter around a garbage-can fire, huddled against the cold. For Kraat, that sense of community made the event. “It’s more about spending time with people,” she said. Together they peel apples, bake, advertise and set up. Working together, said Kraat, is “all fun.”
According to Tiffany, the Apple Festival is the Reformed Church’s largest fundraiser for the year, and all money spent on apple pies, hamburgers and at the silent auction is donated directly to the church. The rain directly impacted how much money the church raised, but those present remained upbeat. “It is what it is,” said Kraat, “and we need the rain.”
Vendors, typically out on Historic Huguenot Street, were cloistered in the school building across the road. Anyone could vend, provided that they paid a $35 fee. I noticed American Girl Doll clothes, soap, scented soy candles. Carolyn Steele vended her ceramic coasters and crafts, something that she does as a “hobby and side business.” She attends local craft fairs, and this marked her second year at the Apple Festival. Though the rain dampened her sales, she remained optimistic. “I’m still making some sales,” she said, “and it seems like everybody’s still in a good mood.”
After voting closed at 4 p.m., the salsa contest’s winner was announced: Cheryl Alloway’s Island Valley Tango salsa, a fruity and sweet concoction with chunks of mango. For her efforts, she was awarded a $25 gift certificate to Russo’s Deli. Despite the rain and the damp and the newness of the contest, Kraat was impressed by the outcome. All told, 50 votes were cast: “Not bad,” she said, “for conditions!”