Foragers & Herbalists: Winter on the Apple Farm—a conversation with Tim Dressel of Dressel Farms

February 28, 2023

By Merrie Witkin

Tim Dressel is a busy man.  It is now late winter at Dressel Farms, the family-owned and operated apple farm located on the southern end of New Paltz.  Tim is the fourth generation of the family operating the farm, together with his father, Rod Jr. and grandfather, Rod Sr., their wives, and his sister, Sarah.  In addition to all the usual winter farm tasks, Tim is also the founder and proprietor of Kettleborough Cider House, and he serves on several community and statewide agricultural boards and committees. He recently took time out of his busy schedule to sit down with me and discuss what is involved in apple farming and cider making, along with a bit of family history.

Dressel Farms in the Winter

 Photo credit Merrie Witkin

Centenary year.   The Dressel’s relationship to their farm began 100 years ago:  In 1923 Tim’s great grandparents, Fred and Beatrice Dressel, left their home in central New York to become the farm managers of the Ruloff and Ada Dubois Farm.  The Dubois owned 150 acres of land along Route 208 (what Tim calls the “home farm” today and where the roadside farmstand is located) that had been passed down from the original 18th century settlers.  

Tim recently came across the original letter from the Dubois offering  Fred and Beatrice the farm job. While there was a small diary at that time, the main business crops were apples and sour cherries.  Fred and Beatrice managed the farm for the Dubois family for 33 years, in which time they had two children,  one of whom, Roderick (Rod Sr., Tim’s grandfather) carried on the farm.

When Ruloff Dubois died in 1941, the Dressels continued to manage the farm for his widow Ada until she passed in 1956.  Fred and Beatrice then acquired the farm from the Dubois estate in 1957.  Over time the family rented additional land along Route 208 and Phillies Bridge Road to expand their orchard, buying the acreage as the opportunities arose.[1]  Today the farm is over 450 acres.  

The Wallkill Valley Rail Trail bisects the farm, running north where it crosses Old Ford Road to Boppys Lane.  In Fred’s day it was an active rail line, operated as the West Shore Line, which transported  fruit, vegetables, milk, and other freight products.[2]

I asked Tim what historical structures remain on the farm.  He pointed out the white farmhouse that faces Route 208, where his grandparents now live, built around 1875. The original farmhouse, where his parents live, was built earlier (mid 19th century) and  is down by the river.  To the west, between the river and the rail trail, lies a large brown barn original to the Dubois farm. Further south on 208, though not on Dressel lands, sits the historical one room red Kettleborough School House, which operated for over 100 years from the early 19th century until Gardiner built a school in the town.

The farm today.  While its location along Route 208 overlooking the valley with a spectacular view of the Shawangunk ridge makes the farm a popular destination for agritourism, that represents only a fraction of the farm’s revenues.  It’s primary business is selling apples and cider wholesale through a distributor to markets along the east coast and cider to farm stands. In a good year, the farm can produce between 120,000-140,000 bushels of apples, harvested over a 10-12 week period in the fall.  That equates to between 4-5 million pounds of apples.   With the help of an on-site modern computerized cold storage facility, their apples can be stored and packed fresh and crisp for distribution about 9 months out of the year. They also press and sell fresh cider, producing between 20,000 to 30,000 gallons annually. Dressel cider is sterilized with ultraviolet filtration, which does not alter its flavor, like heat pasteurization does.

Dressel Farms Pure Apple Cider

Fresh Dressel Farm Cider

The farm uses an integrated pest management system that is designed to be environmentally sensitive while meeting the needs of apple farmers.  They are certified as Global GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) in fruit production,  meaning their produce meets strict international safety regulations.  Of their total acreage, about 300 acres is devoted to apple orchards where they grow over 20 varieties of culinary apples (eating and cooking varieties). This includes some of the new varieties, such as SnapDragon and Ruby Frost, developed in collaboration between Cornell University and New York apple farmers.  They also grow strawberries, peaches and other summer fruits and vegetables, which they sell at their roadside stand. While the roadside stand is closed in winter, the farm store—located just down the farm drive behind the road stand—remains open year-round, where you can buy apples, fresh cider and homemade ice cream.

The difficulty with the apple distribution model is that the farmers cannot control the wholesale price at which their apples are sold and, as Dressel is considered a mid-sized farm in New York State, they may fare less well than larger farm operations that can more readily adjust to market changes or draw on savings to get through a tough year.  When you add in the additional costs resulting from inflation, increased regulation, labor, and new technology, it means that the margins the farm makes today may be almost 50% less than those earned 50 years ago, when adjusted for inflation.  Then consider the effects of climate change.

This winter’s unseasonably warm weather has the potential to wreak havoc on spring flowering if the trees have budded out too soon before the inevitable freeze.  While there is not much apple farmers can do to protect against bud freeze, the diversity of planted apple varieties with staggered bloom times may mitigate some of the impact.  Tim believes these extreme temperature swings create the greatest risk to the farm from climate change.  He noted that over the past decade there have been 3 to 4 major late season freezes where they lost up to one-half of their crop.  If these extreme temperature swings become more prevalent, he believes it may make apple farming in this region unsustainable within the next several decades.

The cidery.   As an aid to diversification and to capitalize on the growing craft brewing movement, Tim opened his cidery, Kettleborough Cider House,  on the farm in 2011. He notes that during the fall Dressel can harvest between 4 to 10 bins (each about 800 pounds) of apples a day, which is about 50 times as many apples as they can use for fresh cider.  Rather than selling the apples to processing producers at a loss, using the produce to create hard cider can turn that loss into a gain.    

Over the decade since its  opening, Tim has worked to expand the brand and educate the public on cidery methods, the various styles and flavor profiles of fermented cider, and the types of heirloom cider apples (generally bittersweet and more acidic than culinary apples) that add  distinctive depth and style to a hard cider. He has planted  several acres of American and European heirloom cider apple varieties, which had become virtually extinct during Prohibition, helping revive hard cider traditions in New York State. Today his cidery makes five types of hard cider using proprietary blends of culinary and heirloom varieties, all Dressel-grown. His production remains small, so the ciders are currently available only locally, but they can also be ordered online for pickup at the farm store.

Community impact.  I asked Tim what the community can do to help support local farmers and what he wants WVLT supporters to know.  First and foremost, he said, continue to buy local.  That not only helps economically, but builds connections within the community and helps develop awareness of the many issues facing local farmers. He wants people to understand the complexity of these issues, and how various policy choices,  such as local land use and zoning regulations, can have unintended impact (as, for example, on the amount  farmers may be able to borrow seasonally, because the financial borrowing base keys to their land values). 

Rather than just complain about burgeoning regulation, Tim has chosen to get involved and advocate for what he believes are more effective farm policies.  He sits on the New York Farm Bureau Board, a policy-setting advocacy group that organizes and advocates for farmers at the state level; serves as current Vice Chair and at-large member of the New York Farm Viability Institute, which provides competitive grant programs for various crop/farm industries; and serves as current Board President of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County.  Ultimately, the hope is to achieve a more nuanced set of policies that can effectively balance the needs of farmers, the desire for open space, sensible land development, environmental impact and sustainable local economic growth.        

Recipes.  There are literally thousands of apple recipes using culinary apples for both dessert and savory dishes. There are also hundreds of recipes using fermented cider in soups, sauces and meat and fish dishes.  Having discovered in his twenties that he is allergic to the sugars in apples, Tim was unable to recommend a favorite apple recipe. But inspired by Dressel’s wonderful fresh cider, I decided to include one that provides the basis for a simple, but key, building block in apple cookery:  Boiled cider.

From the late 1800s on, boiled cider was a staple on grocery store shelves, bottled commercially as a sweetener.[3] Cider was also boiled, condensed and canned, for preservation, by home cooks. 

In my yellowed and battered copy of the 1929 edition of the famous White House Cookbook, the authors note: Boiled cider, in our grandmothers’ time, was indispensable to the making of a good “mince pie,” adding the proper flavor and richness, which cannot be substituted by any other ingredient, and one-half cup of which being added to a rule of “fruit cake” makes it more moist, keeps longer, and is far superior to fruitcake made without it. Boiled cider is an article rarely found in the market nowadays, but can be made by anyone with but little trouble and expense, using sweet cider shortly after it is made, and before fermentation takes place.[4]

Boiled Cider, freshly made!

Merrie Witkin Boiled Cider from Dressel apples

As everything old is new again (or perhaps, when it comes to apples, nothing ever went out of fashion), recipes and uses for boiled cider can be found everywhere—in the pages of culinary magazines and cookbooks, on You tube and on TV cooking shows.[5]

Boiled Cider.  To make your own boiled cider, take a gallon of good quality fresh pressed cider such as Dressel’s, and slowly cook it down at a high simmer/slow boil until it has reduced by three-quarters to about a quart.  As it cooks, skim off any foam or sediment that rises to the top.  Let it cool, then pour into a clean quart jar and store in the refrigerator where it will last several months.  Keep it on hand to add a burst of concentrated apple flavor to your apple recipes, or as a sugar and syrup substitute.  Please note that you will not get the same results with mass produced pasteurized cider—the golden liquid you find in the grocery store drinks aisle. Boiled fresh cider yields a deep brown sweet viscous syrup with rich apple flavor, which has innumerable uses limited only by time and your imagination:

  • Use it as a syrup on pancakes or waffles instead of maple syrup
  • Use it to add moisture and flavor to apple cakes and breads
  • Use it to glaze roasted Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes or squash as they finish cooking
  • Mix it with some soy sauce and cook with a bit of garlic and use as a basting glaze for grilled salmon
  • Mix it with a good quality mustard and a little olive oil and apple cider vinegar for a basting and finishing sauce for pork loin
  • Use it in place of honey to add some sweetness to salad dressings
  • Add it to grated tart apples to form the base for an apple granita
  • Use it as the liquid for cooking apples into applesauce or apple butter
  • Use it like a simple syrup mixer for apple-based drinks and cocktails

I asked Tim what plans are for celebrating his family’s centenary.  That appears to be a work in progress that we will hear more about in the coming months. But speaking of drinks, why not mix up a batch of apple-based cocktails or mocktails, or open a bottle of Kettleborough cider to toast the centenary of the Dressel family and their ongoing stewardship of the Dressel Farms?  May they successfully navigate the challenges facing their farm, and continue to thrive in our community.

Visit Dressel Farms. 

Visit Kettleborough Cider House


[1] For a more expansive history of the farm, see Laurie Willow’s article in the the Winter, 2011 edition of the Gardiner Gazette, “Gardiner’s Agricultural Heritage: Dressel Farms.”


[3] Miller, Amy Bess and Fuller, Persis, The Best of Shaker Cooking, Hancock Shaker Village, Inc.  1985, at 258. The Shakers used boiled cider principally to sweeten their applesauce, the manufacture of which was a profitable Shaker business.

[4] The White House Cookbook—A Comprehensive Cyclopedia of Information for the Home, was issued in successive editions starting in 1887.  Originally written by Hugo Ziemann and Mrs. F. L. Gillette, it was later revised and updated by Mrs. Mary E. Daguerre.  My copy was gifted to me by a close friend and cooking companion who found it at a Greene County barn sale.  It is the revised updated version published by The Saalfield Publishing Company, 1929.

[5] See, for example, Watson, Ben, Cider Hard & Sweet, The Countryman Press 3rd ed. 2013, 147 et seq.; and Andrea Gery’s article on Apple Bundt Cake in the September/October 2017 issue of Cook’s Illustrated.