October 8, 2014

Sugar, Spice and More at Ithaca’s 32nd Annual Apple Harvest Festival

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The beginning of October may have meant the real start of fall for many people, but as a senior in my final semester, it meant an ending as I attended my final Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival.

I can still remember my first Applefest: friends roamed up and down the open Commons on a sunny Saturday, clutching jugs of cider and bags of kettle corn. We indulged in fried Oreos and hot apple crisp as we perused the handmade jewelry and crafts offered by local artists.

Now, while it’s not entirely accurate for me to say that Applefest is the reason I decided to go to Cornell, it is fair to say that the apple celebration has been one of my favorite parts of becoming a part-time Ithacan. There’s a certain charm to Applefest that brings together college students and local residents in welcoming the changing of leaves, the warm, smoky air and the crisp, sweet fruit that upstate New York is famous for.

And while this year’s Applefest may have been a little wetter and more interrupted, you know that you’ve become (and will always be) an Ithacan when rain and construction fail to keep you away from embarking on one last Applefest food journey.

Potato Latke and Popeye Quesadilla

I started my journey at a stand whose banner was emblazoned with a simple name: Potato Pancakes and Gourmet Sandwiches. Since the stand seemed to declare its offerings so boldly, I thought it would only be fair of me to try two of its bestselling items: the potato latke and the Popeye quesadilla.

I’ve had latkes in the past, but this particular latke was one of the best ones that I have had in a while. Its generous size nearly covered my paper plate and its crunchy, browned exterior soon gave way to tender bits of buttery, shredded potato. The piping hot latke was accompanied by the usual sour cream and applesauce, both of which provided a much needed cool temperature contrast. I especially liked the applesauce accompaniment as it brought a refreshing, sweet flavor to the rich, savory pancake.

The Popeye quesadilla combined four of my favorite flavors: pesto, spinach, feta and mozzarella. Rather than using one large tortilla, the woman preparing my quesadilla used two smaller tortillas — one covered in pesto and one covered in cheese — and waited until the cheese had melted and the tortillas had browned before adding the spinach and putting the tortillas together like a sandwich. This technique worked great, as there was a perfect balance between the oozing melted cheese and the sharp, garlicky spinach with each bite.

Apple Pizza

When you go to Applefest every fall, you’ll inevitably discover your go-to favorites and develop somewhat of a routine. But this year, I branched away from the usual apple cider doughnuts and hot apple crisp to try something new: apple pizza from Bella Pizza.

Now, when most people think of apple pizza, they may think of the icing-drenched dessert pizza variety that puts everyone into sugar overload. Bella Pizza’s take on the dish, however, was more of an interpretation on the classic American dish, cheese-topped apple pie. The crisp, airy dough was covered with a light layer of applesauce, topped with diced pieces of apples and shredded mozzarella cheese, rather than the standard cheddar that normally accompanies American apple pie. While I’d originally expected a more dessert-like pizza, I did appreciate that Bella Pizza’s take was more sweet and savory. However, I would have liked a more enhanced apple flavor so that I felt like I was eating a true apple pizza, rather than a cheese pizza that happened to have apples on top.

Tarte Tatin

One of my favorite parts of this final Applefest journey was encountering the Ba-Li Cravings’s stand, where the owner told me that it was her family’s first time at the apple celebration and that she had pulled an all nighter in order to create and bring her baked goods to the festival. Her tarte tatin did not disappoint. The softened layers of tart, cinnamon-infused apple slices still had a nice bite to them and the thick layer of the sweetened dough was perfect in balancing the two elements together. A flourished swirl of whipped cream and a layer of caramel added a final touch of sweetness to the lovely, homey dessert.

Pumpkin Curry

After all the sweetness from the tarte tatin and even the apples in the apple pizza, my mouth was begging for something savory again, so I went to the Taste of Thai Express stand to get some pad thai and sample a new offering of theirs, pumpkin curry. While I thought the curry was flavorful and had the perfect medium level of spiciness, I admit that I lost the flavor of the pumpkin in the heat and the assertive spices of the sauce. It wasn’t until I ran my fork through the different vegetables and stumbled across a stray orange chunk or two that I was able to confirm that yes, there was pumpkin in the dish.

German Apple Loaf and Apple Crisp