Man, it’s nasty outside today. Last night the Internet went out, and this morning Young Master Fussy’s bus was delayed. I saw a tree down completely blocking the road near my house. I also saw a nearby stream overflowing and washing out the road.
But now I’m back to the safety of my keyboard to draw some connections about the slowly improving state of food in America. All of this ties back to an article in Forbes earlier this month, and largely focusses around McDonald’s.
However, Chipotle also comes into the story, and that raises a more important point about expectations.
Who has the best cider donuts in the Capital Region? Indian Ladder Farm, Golden Harvest Farms, Hicks-Wilson Orchard, The Carrot Barn, and Cider Belly. How do I know? Because with the help of countless volunteers, we have pitted the cider donuts from twenty-five of the area’s most beloved orchards and bakeries against each other and these were the five that rose to the top.
However, this project is far from complete. Last Saturday eleven of us ate our way through five more versions of this regional specialty. This year we focused entirely on the westernmost edge of the Capital Region, starting up north in Mayfield and ending almost due south in Schoharie.
And you know what? This was by far the best Tour de Donut yet. There’s usually one place that just doesn’t quite measure up, and this tour had that. But all of the other stops were excellent. Each one was at least someone’s favorite of the day. And at each of those four orchards, we were able to procure hot cider donuts!
This year’s contest was closer than it might appear. But to tell you the story, I’ve got to run you through the numbers. Before I totally spill the beans, let me tell you how the day played out.
Officially, this was the best Tour de Donut yet. If you missed it, you missed out. What made it so amazing? Well, never before have we gotten so many hot donuts. Four of the five places were selling these seasonal treats just as fast as they were coming off the robot. It was like a dream come true.
Of course, that made the judging even that much harder. The full results will be in by Wednesday at the latest. There’s a lot going on this week.
But instead of focusing on the future, let’s turn our attention to the recent past. Sometimes with my once-daily posting schedule, I miss out on commenting about some issues near and dear to my heart.
School lunches are right up there. So is teaching food insecure communities about healthier eating. There has been a big push to focus on eating fresh and eating local. But now there’s the inevitable backlash from the canned and frozen food lobby. Maybe this Yelp job is having an effect on my brain, because instead of doubling down on one side or the other, I’m finding a nice comfortable niche in the middle that makes a ton of sense. However, it would never work.
It makes sense that the Capital Region would not have a strong culture of competition. As large as the area may be, we’re really a collection of small towns that every year suffer through bitter winters. People have to huddle together in order to survive.
Okay, that may be a bit overly dramatic. But everyone here knows everyone else. In a small town, everybody is interconnected. It makes it hard to put the business across town in your crosshairs when you sit on the same boards for the same charities. The lack of competition is one factor that I think artificially keeps restaurant prices high in the region.
Competition has other positive outcomes beyond economic ones. It also encourages people to perform at a higher level, and raises standards across the board.
One of the things that’s exciting about living here in the Capital Region today as the area is evolving is watching the interplay of competition and collaboration work out, when new and interesting businesses are opening up at a fantastic pace.
You don’t have to look any further than tonight’s coffee contest in Troy.
I’m not quite ready to give up on summer. It’s a fool’s errand to try and hold onto a fleeting memory of a season on the way out. Thanks to the CSA, I cannot say that I didn’t eat enough corn, or glorious tomatoes, or fragrant, juicy peaches.
It’s hard to complain. I had my fill. The truth is that some of these things are still around. They are just a shadow of their former selves.
When produce is at its peak, you don’t have to do anything to it at all. Famously, the cafe at Chez Panisse offered a single peach on a pedestal for dessert. Given the proximity of Frog Hollow and the general excellence of peaches I could buy from the farmers market, I never took Alice Waters up on this temptation. But it’s a great way to hammer home the point.
Caprese salads exist to demonstrate the same concept. The season to enjoy this beloved menu item might be one or two weeks long somewhere towards the middle or end of August. But it’s gone now.
Now is the time when you have to do things to produce to make it amazing. And I only recently discovered this ancient idea for what to do with fruit.
The next Tour de Cider Donut is just days away. Before we get to the when and where, let’s talk about the what and why.
Upstate New York may not have a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants, but we have a ton of apples. We live in the heart of apple country, and in the fall it’s an amazing place to be. There are orchards and country stores everywhere throughout the region, and most of them sell apple cider donuts.
These are a quintessential treat of fall. The only problem is that people are rarely exposed to a wide variety of these seasonal delights. And that’s fine. Family traditions are important and meaningful things, so I’m not going to try and change your rituals of the season.
However, there are some regional food lovers out there who are really curious to know which orchard, or bakery, or farm stand makes the best apple cider donut. And to answer that question, these Fussy Little Tours were born back in 2010. Since then, I (and a small handful of select others) have led intrepid groups of eaters around the region in search of tasty treasures.
But now fall is upon us yet again, so it’s time to circle the wagons and head west. Because I understand there are some mighty tasty specimens to be sampled in the netherlands on the other side of Schenectady. And what’s unusual this year is that our actual route looks very different from what was proposed back in the nomination phase. Read more…