On Summer, Bungalows, and Peach Preserves
Written by
mindy trotta
July 2012
Written by
mindy trotta
July 2012
Whoever said “you can’t take it with you,“ has never seen a packed car traveling 
up to the Catskills - Anonymous
Given the fact that June 30th does not fall out on a Friday every year, I can say with great certainty that my final day of school at PS 135 in Brooklyn was not always June 30th. Even though I believed it was. The date was circled on my mental calendar, and when the third week of June rolled around, I could hardly stand the anticipation. My obsession was not so much associated with the end of the school year as it was with the knowledge of knowing that when my bedtime came on (or about) June 30th, I would be heading off to slumberland in South Fallsburg, New York, in the Catskill Mountains--my summer home away from home. 
By the time I arrived home on the last day of school, our car was already packed, my dad was already yelling at my mom about how much junk she was bringing, and she was yelling back at him. (Just another day in my world.) And finally we were on our way, car stuffed to the gills with boxes, and me in there amongst them, somewhere.The drive up to the Catskills rivaled the final destination, and it had nothing to do with the scenery. About 48 miles from New York City, on what was called “old route 17,” was an attraction so popular, that strategically placed billboards counted off its location in miles...and then feet, so that your curiosity (and appetite) would be properly whetted by the time you got there. 


On the totem pole of rest stops, the Red Apple Rest occupied the pinnacle, but it wasn’t so much the quality of the food that enticed people--it was really a glorified cafeteria--it was the location. Back in the days before the New York State Thruway was built and essentially became “The Reader’s Digest” version of the long drive, condensing the travel time to the Catskills by a few hours, the Red Apple Rest was approximately at the halfway point--a welcome respite from the bumper-to-bumper traffic one often encountered during the summer months. Seeing the giant red plaster apple that was precariously perched atop the roof, was a glorious sign for me that summer had actually begun. The crowd that joined us in the huge asphalt parking lot was generally the same: fancy new cars, old jalopies (“cherabunchkas” as my dad would call them) heaving with the weight of old jalopy suitcases lashed to their roofs with rope, Greyhound buses filled with octogenarians heading to “Borscht Belt” hotels like the Concord and Grossinger’s, and children heading to sleepaway camps. And then there were families like mine--Holocaust survivors and their kids heading on to bungalow colonies where they would create modern-day shtetls, spending the summer with other survivors and their kids. The place was a madhouse--more of a tradition than just an eatery.
While my dad would wait outside guarding the car, because you never knew when someone might covet our “B List” things that were not good enough for Brooklyn, but were just fine for the bungalow in the Catskills, my mom and I would venture inside. Regardless of the time of day, my menu never varied: a cheeseburger, French Fries, and a soda. I was often tempted to order the scrambled eggs and toast just to get at the square slivers of paper-wrapped butter that came with the dish, but my gastronomic world had not yet been expanded back then.  When we were done, we would return to the car and Dad, strawberry ice cream cone in one hand, would invariably ask what took us so long, forgetting the other throngs of people piling in and out of the place.
And then it was back beside the boxes of our second-tier sheets, towels, and cookware. Some of these things had not even been unpacked since the previous summer, and every so often I would get a whiff of the mothballs that were thrown in to ward off any evildoers. About sixty miles later I sat on the porch of our bungalow, slowly forgetting our little apartment in Brooklyn that seemed millions of miles away. The summer stretched before me, and the possibilities were endless.  There were new friends to meet, and old friends to reconnect with, and those experiences shaped my life in ways I could not have imagined. 

It's unfortunate that the bungalow colonies and hotels of that era have all but disappeared. Whatever is left is in virtual disarray. The things that charmed and enthralled us in childhood often lose their luster when we look back in retrospect. Things that seemed big are now small, and things that seemed new are now older and shabbier. And so it is with the glory days of the Catskill Mountains.
The Red Apple Rest is also gone. It closed up tight in 2006, but I hear it had been on the verge for many years prior. Faster routes going North put the first nails in its coffin, and the demise of the popularity of vacationing in the Catskills locked the lid. It sits abandoned now, another relic of the past.The droves of people and cars are gone, and with them went a lifestyle that no longer exists. It was a simple time when summer meant leaving the heat and humidity of the city for the mountains, lakes, streams and swimming pools of a place that seemed so special, it was referred to in quotes: “The Country.” It meant ramshackle bungalows, cookouts on the basketball court, Color War, and games of volleyball and Red Rover. No TV, no phone for two months, Tuesday night bingo, and Thursday night movies in the meeting hall strangely called, the "casino." YouTube, Facebook, and the Internet were not even in anyone’s realm of thinking back then. Our entertainment was playing pinball, catching speckled orange salamanders in pickle jars filled with bright green moss, and sitting with friends around an umbrella table in the evening that stretched late into the night; telling secrets and laughing. 
We were sent out by our moms to get Kaiser rolls and cupcakes that were slathered in sweet crackly icing from Madnicks “the baker,” who drove his truck into the parking lot and honked his horn early in the morning. Other food vendors would also come peddling their wares: Ruby The Knish Man, Shimmy The Pickle King, and when we heard the staticky, tinkling sound of what was supposed to be Asian-inspired music, we knew that Chow Chow Cup, with their pseudo egg rolls and Chow Mein was on the premises. Sometimes we’d drive into town and go to the supermarket. And then to the bagel bakery, where the floor was covered with sawdust and the wooden screen door snapped behind you with a lazy creak when you entered. There we’d get bialys and pletzels, boards of crisp bread that were topped with crunchy onions. They would all be thrown into brown paper bags and the yeasty aroma would hit you as you opened them on the way home because you couldn’t wait to tear into the still-warm-from-the-oven dough. 
As we kids got closer to outgrowing the bungalow colony experience, we still stuck around for a while longer.  We smoked behind the bungalows, snuck into the hotels at night, and kept our secrets to ourselves. And then it was over. I’ve tried to explain the phenomenon to my children, but they don’t understand. Nor would I expect them to. These are my memories, and they will have their own. Their summers were often spent in mountain camps and at the beach. And on trips to exotic places, like Asia and Europe. The experiences were different, but years from now, as they look back and try to explain them to their own children, they too will feel the nostalgia I feel. And they will polish up the tarnish, and forget about the tears and hurt feelings. And everything small and old will become big and new again.
In summer, song sings itself - William Carlos Williams

Sweet peaches, that drip with lazy, syrupy juices when you bite into them epitomize summer for me. A great way to harness that summer taste so you can have summer in winter is by making preserves. The recipe below has been adapted from “Preserving The Taste,” by Edon Waycott, a jam and jelly guru from California. I had the privilege of taking a class from Edon and while some of her methods are a little more involved than traditional ones, the end products are fresh and bursting with pure fruit flavor. Be sure to use a heavy-bottomed shallow pan so that evaporation can take place in the shortest time. If you don’t wish to go through the entire preserving process, the fruit preserves will last for about two weeks in the refrigerator.
(adapted from "Preserving the Taste)
6 to 7 pounds peaches (8 cups), peeled and sliced
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup Mexican brown sugar (penoche) if unavailable, substitute regular brown sugar
1tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 vanilla bean
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Toss the peaches with the sugar in a large bowl and let stand at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Place a large colander in a large nonreactive shallow preserving pan. Split the vanilla bean down the center and scrape the beans into the pan. Add the vanilla pod as well as the cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour the fruit and juice through the colander. Let drain for 15 minutes. Remove the colander with the fruit to a bowl.
Place the pan over high heat, add the lemon juice, and boil the juice into a syrup. (It will look very foamy with small bubbles covering the entire surface.) The time it takes will depend on how deep your pan is. Test with a candy thermometer; it should read 222 degrees. Immediately pour in the reserved fruit and any additional juice that may have collected at the bottom of the bowl. Remove the vanilla bean pod. Cook over high heat just until the peaches appear caramelized around the edges. They will become more golden and look glazed.
Ladle into hot, sterilized jars, wipe the rims clean with a damp towel, and seal with new lids and metal rings. Process in a hot-water bath for 5 minutes. Remove, cool, check seals, label, and store.

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