This post has been milling around in the back of my head for some time, with little opportunity to put pen to paper (figuratively speaking, of course). Though, it seems fitting that I decide to post this the first week of October.
October is my favorite month – this is not in small part because my birthday is this week. However, fall is also my favorite season here, and that is only marginally because of my birthday. September 1 is a little harder for me to get excited – by the middle of the month, I’ve mourned the loss of summer and embraced the coming harvest season, but for the first couple weeks I am still mourning the loss of summer. Yes, Fall is my favorite, but the winters here are long, dark, and cold. Knowing that summer is over and fall is approaching means it is time to think about hunkering down until spring. But, by October 1, I’ve accepted this fact and am ready to embrace fall and all that comes with it, if I haven’t already. I drink pumpkin beers and martzens. I eat my fill of cider donuts. And I stock up on apples. In a few weeks, our CSA will load us up with a box full of gourds to get us through the long winter months.
Of course, some of this started a bit early this year. The apple crop suffered a bit from the very early, warm spring followed immediately by a snap frost. Based on other reports, it looks like the wine crop ultimately thrived this season (probably not as magical as 2010, but a far cry better that 2009 or especially 2011), but the apples were not so lucky. I went early to get a bag of Macintosh apples, which were decidedly smaller and more dense this year (though, I’d argue, tasted better). I also joined The Profusser on his third annual Tour de Donut.
This was my first Tour de Donut. I had firm plans to go last year, but a series of events that I did not forsee prevented me from attending last year. The most unfortunate of these events was the passing of Chris’ grandmother. Nana lived a long, rich life and it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but if you knew Nana at all you could understand why we were all so incredibly sad. She was quite a lady. So, we insteady detoured to Long Island for the week to mourn, and met up with some of my Floridian in-laws while there. Though they were sad to be in NY for the reasons they were, they decided to make the most of it and stock up on apples. This was when the subject of cider donuts arose. Turns out, they’d never tried them.
I had to come back up to Albany for part of the week to work, so I made a plan to get some donuts from the winning stand. In 2011, it was Golden Harvest in Valatie (pronounced Val-ay-shah, for those of you not from around here), and yes they are indeed delicious. They’ve elevated to my go-to donut, and being less than 20 miles away, it is an easy trip for me. I brought two dozen donuts down for the Long Islanders and the Floridians, and they were amazed. Unfortunately for all involved, they were placed just a little too close to the edge of the counter, so the next morning the dogs pulled them down and feasted on about a dozen or so donuts that were left. Well, I suppose, it was not so unfortunate for the dogs.
In short, Golden Harvest are among the best donuts in the region, but they still aren’t Hicks.
Hicks was FINALLY on this year’s tour. So, I knew I had to find a way to go. I (among others, I’ll admit) had been bugging Daniel B. about Hicks for three years. It finally made the list, and I wanted to go to defend it’s honor. Of course, as with anything, I then began to get nervous. What if they did not live up to the hype? I would be both heartbroken and embarrassed. They did, of course. However – and I will be the first to admit this is true – their deliciousness is a bit of an illusion.
You see, the way they do it is unique. You stand in line, sometimes for quite some time. If you’re smart, you have one or two people in your party stand in line while others go to the farm store and stock up on whatever else it is you want to purchase. Or if you have little kids, you hand them some quarters to feed the friendly, fat goats that are penned up nearby the cidery. (Not to worry, there is plenty of Purell on hand, though I promise you, goat-gerb will not do any harm to your little ones.) Once you get to the front of the line, your donuts are pulled from the fryer, doused with that delicious cinnamon sugar*, and then placed in the bag. They’re HOT and FRESH and CIDERY and CINNAMONY. They’re nothing short of heavenly.
Now, day-old cider donuts never hold the deliciousness, as most baked goods do not. However, day-old Hicks donuts are generally not so good. If you pop them in the microwave, it helps, but not much. And two days old? Forget it. But there is magic in the experience, and like all magic, it is fleeting. The fond memories of feeding the goats while we wait, and then the delight of eating donuts until you drop. It’s not something you do more than once a year. It’s a special treat, and at Hicks it is treated with the proper reverence.
I mean, having Golden Harvest nearby and having their donuts keep and taste well for a couple days after (not much more, of course, but longer than Hicks), is really great but … it is not the same. They’re still delicious, mind you, but it doesn’t hold the same magic.
Of course, the good news for my in-laws, is Golden Harvest donuts travel well and therefore have served as excellent ambassadors of the form. So much so, that we are told well in advance to bring them down when we visit in the fall. We usually bring them a couple donuts short of a dozen. 🙂
*If your donut is served without cinnamon sugar, it is NOT THE SAME. I mean, yes, it is still technically a cider donut, but it’s not going to taste as good. The cinnamon sugar is part of what makes them great. I wish I had offered this word of warning to PinchOfThis when her first cider donut was from a farm stand that wrapped it in plastic without the cinnamon sugar coating. She was, naturally, disappointed, and I was disappointed for her.