This year marks the 30th anniversary of the apple festival organized by the Reformed Church of New Paltz each fall, rebranded since 2016 as “Applestock.” Hosting an autumn festival can be tricky in terms of the weather, but Saturday, October 5 dawned cool and sunny, the perfect combination for hanging out on Huguenot Street at a family-friendly event that felt like a traditional, old-time village fête.
Applestock puts the focus on apples, of course: one visitor was overheard saying he never misses the event simply for the opportunity to take home a freshly baked pie each year. The pies are made with apples donated by Dressel Farms, and according to festival co-organizer Shelly Bliden, some 60 volunteers were involved in peeling the apples, making the crust and filling and baking the pies in the church basement the night before.
Hot apple fritters were cooked up by the church’s youth group to enjoy on the spot, and an outdoor café set up in the parking lot offered apple pie, apple crisp and apple cake by the slice as well as a butternut squash apple soup. (Craft beer and sangria were available along with apple cider, coffee and tea, and for the non-apple-inclined, hamburgers, hot dogs and chili kept everyone full.)
Following the scent of a wood-burning fire led to volunteer Cheryl Alloway, who guided visitors through the all-day process of making apple butter in a huge kettle simmering over the burning wood. Sliced, peeled apples immersed in either cider or water are slowly softened by the heat, she explained, while a wooden paddle with holes, designed for the task, is used to stir the mixture and help break it down. Eventually, with enough stirring and with time, a soft, creamy apple butter results. A bushel of apples yields approximately ten and a half pints of apple butter.
Alloway found no shortage of Applestock attendees willing to take a turn at making the apple butter. Some Boy Scouts earlier in the day took quite an interest in the procedure, she said, curious about the whole process, and festival visitor John Pluchino put his own twist on stirring, literally; dancing to the nearby band’s rendition of “Twist and Shout” while he contributed some muscle to the mix.
The musical lineup at Applestock, performed throughout the afternoon on two stages, included Wind & Stone, Fishbowl, Hey Bub, Blue Plate Special, Club Swing, Big Blue Big Band and youthful performers from New Paltz Rock.
Kids enjoyed face painting and a variety of games and activities such as pumpkin-painting and a bean bag toss, all organized and supervised by the 7th and 8th grade Sunday School students. For later-in-the-day attendees, pony rides were available (the horses showed up a bit later than scheduled).
Craft vendors lined both sides of Huguenot Street, with wares that ranged from hand-knitted accessories and jewelry to handmade soaps and preserves and pickles. “Make-your-own-bouquets” were even available at $1 per stem, with flowers harvested from church members’ gardens. And the Reformed Church’s Twice Blessed thrift shop kept later hours than usual to accommodate the crowds.
Inside the church, an exhibit of more than 60 handmade quilts offered a quiet respite for festival-goers from the hub-bub outside as well as a first-rate exhibit of quilting artistry. A number of the quilts were hung from the upper level of the church with the rest draped over the pews, an interesting approach to displaying a soft object historically intended as utilitarian. Some of the quilts dated to the late 19th century, as interesting for their historical value as for their aesthetics, while others were contemporary examples of painterly design in quilt-making. And all of the quilts had stories, written out and pinned to a corner of the quilt.
One compelling story belonged to that of the 1977 quilt made by piecing together 30 squares sewn by 30 different New Paltz residents on the occasion of the town’s tricentennial. Each square represents a bit of local history; a stone Huguenot house, the now-defunct New Paltz/Highland trolley, Skytop Tower at Mohonk. The quilt was raffled off at the annual Elting Library Fair in 1978. While perusing the exhibit at the Reformed Church, this reporter ran into Carol Johnson, coordinator of Elting Library’s Haviland-Heidgerd historical collection, who noted that the library has photographs of the fair from that year and the raffled quilt at that time, along with photographs of the makers of the individual squares.
Back outside at the festival, Karyn Morehouse had her hands full at the welcome tent answering questions while helping run the raffle and silent auction. A church member who first got involved with Applestock to help out a friend, Kate Weston, one of the primary organizers of the event, Morehouse continues to volunteer, she said, because the festival is just plain fun. “It’s a really great event that brings the community and the church community together.”
Raffle tickets purchased at $1 each (or six for $5) could be dropped into a jar next to the item one wished to win. Potential prizes included themed gift bags such as the “night in” bag with gift cards donated by Village Pizza and Barner Books, and the “burritos and bravos” bag featuring Mexican Kitchen and Denizen Theatre. A separate raffle also offered the opportunity to win a reversible handmade quilt.
The silent auction offered a chance at dinner for two at Mohonk Mountain House or a shot at winning an original painting of an elephant, painted by a man in Uganda connected to the church’s ongoing mission work there for the AIDS Orphan Education Trust.
“It takes an army to put together a festival like this,” noted artist and teacher Kevin Cook, whose studio is located on Huguenot Street. “Pretty much everybody in the church gets involved in the festival in some way. People start asking what they can do to help weeks in advance.”