Between the Rows: CiderDays give cause to celebrate agriculture

  • Clarkdale Fruit Farms hosted a pear and apple tasting for the 24th annual CiderDays. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Andy Dulude and Sukie Kindwall demonstrate cider making equipment at Clarkdale Fruit Farms, beginning with the apple masher manufactured by OESCO Inc., during the 24th annual CiderDays. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Sukie Kindwall and Andy Dulude For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman


For the Recorder
Published: 11/9/2018 3:00:59 PM

The 24th annual CiderDays came with splashes and torrents of rain, but that didn’t stop the event from attracting fans of hard cider, sweet cider and apples from far and wide.

In fact, I spoke to a young man who explained he and his friends who own an apple orchard in Pennyslvania came to see what is happening in the cider world. He said CiderDays is the epicenter of all the latest news about cider and apple orchards.

I started the weekend with a stop at Apex Orchards to buy apples. The first CiderDays program I attended was at West County Cider in Shelburne Falls. Mike Biltonen, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Virginia Tech and Cornell University, spoke about “The Promise of Biodynamics: The Reality and Spirit of Nature.” I knew nothing about biodynamics in agriculture except for stories about the giant vegetables grown in Findhorn, Scotland decades ago, although those stories are now more accepted as myth.

Biltonen did not tell us Findhorn stories; rather, he began with Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), an Austrian philosopher and social reformer, who sought to find a synthesis between spirituality and science. Among his projects was the founding of the Waldorf Schools and biodynamic agriculture. Biltonen admitted that biodynamic practices can sound a little “woo-woo,” but when you considered the efficacy of herbal medicine, it was easier to think that herbal remedies could also be used on plants with good results.

The woo-woo comes from Steiner’s belief in the effect of the energies of the cosmos and the astral space beyond the planets, as well as energies around us.

“Now we are moving into a biointensive era out of necessity. Over the decades since World War II, agricultural systems have become more mechanical and non-organic. There is more use of chemical spraying and fertilizers,” Biltonen said. “It can take five to seven years of biodynamic practices to re-energize the land and make it fertile again.”

Biodynamic agriculture uses specific cures. Cow manure is packed into cow horns and buried for about 18 months to compost. Yarrow, German chamomile, stinging nettles and other herbs are used in potions that will cure particular problems with insects or disease. I did not understand how you can have enough cow horns or enough herb harvests to make this system work, but Biltonen said that it was better to think of the use of biodynamic preparations as effectively using small doses of homeopathic medicines.

An hour-long talk about a subject like biodynamic agriculture gives one just a taste of a big subject. Biltonen said there are very few biodynamic orchards, but he is working to increase their healthy number. For more information about Biltonen and his work as a technical agriculture advisor visit

Of course, there were many other CiderDays events. I stopped into the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center where Claude Jolicoeur gave a talk called “Central Asia — Travels to the Birthplace of Apples.” And you thought apples were the original all-American fruit!

A bunch of cider makers provided samples there, too. Sue Chadwick, who taught me how to make a really good apple pie, was selling pies, and John Bunker of Maine, who wrote a great book called “Not Far From the Tree” about antique apples in his town of Palermo, gave a talk at Bear Swamp Orchard and Cidery.

Tasting events, of ciders alone, and of ciders with other delectable items, sold out fast. There were workshops on making cider, cider vinegar, caring for backyard apple trees and much more. I went down to Clarkdale Fruit Farms to taste their apples and pears. I had already bought a big bag of Clarkdale’s pie mix and after tasting a few new apples, I bought a bag of crispy Gold Rush apples. I was also thrilled to find that it is now pear cider season. Last year, I learned that I can freeze pear — or apple — cider as long as I pour out some so the container won’t burst.

Amy Traverso, senior food editor at Yankee Magazine and author of “The Apple Lover’s Cookbook,” which I have found very useful in all seasons, was on hand to share some apple cooking hacks, too.

While at Clarkdale, I got to see the demonstration of the commercial cider press. There are two parts to making cider. First you have to smash up the apples or whatever fruit you are using, and then you have to press the juice out of the mash. OESCO Inc. manufactures the fruit masher, but the fruit press, of different sizes, is imported from France. Sukie Kindwall and Andy Dulude were on duty making cider right before our eyes, giving credit to Ben Clark for making up boxes of carefully chosen cider apple varieties.

Of course, coming and going to Shelburne Falls, I had to go past all the excitement at Hager’s Farm Market, where the annual pumpkin smash was held. Actually, there is almost always something exciting going on at Hager’s. The store is a great example of a big farm family moving on with the times, and enjoying great success.

I am already marking my calendar for CiderDays 2019, Nov. 2 and 3!

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website:

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