Would you know what day it is, this upcoming Sunday? Yes, October 6, right. It’s also German-American Day, celebrating the first German settlers arriving from Krefeld in the United States in 1683; they founded Germantown, PA, and organized the first petition in the English colonies in 1688 to abolish slavery. But this year it’s also a fest simply celebrating a special harvest: that of apples. The Steilacoom Apple Squeeze is happening this Sunday, and if you have never been there and don’t have any plans yet – boy, you better gas up and come on over!
I grew up with wine fests in Germany, this time of year. And even when I was too little to drink more than a glass of freshly pressed grape juice, it was always such an event to enter one of the public wine press buildings and see the harvest wagons drive in to unload their huge piles of freshly hand-picked grapes into the huge presses. Of course, we also had apple juice galore. But strangely enough, I cannot come up with a single apple press in the area (though a lot of people made their own apple wine) or a fest celebrating apples.
When I arrived in Steilacoom a bit over nine years ago and signed up our family as members with the Historical Museum Association, we got our first taste of Apple Squeeze at the museum’s Kids’ Club on the last Saturday of September. The museum, having some wonderful hand cranked apple presses, set out one of them, found a local commercial sponsor for apples, and after having cleansed the apples according to Health Department regulations and cut them up, we had dozens of little helpers crank the fruit down through the shaft and catch the golden, sticky liquid at a spout on the side. It was all about cranking and having a taste of the hard-won juice after an hour of taking turns and of doing all kinds of apple crafts.
Well, traditionally, grown-ups and their entire families get their Apple Squeeze on the first Sunday of October in Steilacoom. That’s when Lafayette Street turns into rows of white canopies, and cars are blocked off to have everybody on foot enjoy a leisurely stroll from booth to booth almost the entire length of the entire street. This year, the Museum Association is hosting the Apple Squeeze for the 46th time – chair lady Marianne Bull being at the helm as in so many years –, and you may be sure that with that much expertise, no matter if rain or shine, everybody will get their fill of fun and apple-flavored goodness.
The first years, my husband and I took turns with other couples at the corner of the Bair Drug & Hardware Store, selling full cider jugs off the back of a truck. There are always bands playing in the post office lot. Being surrounded by stands selling root beer floats and apple butter sandwiches, jewelry or plants, teaching about apples, or simply representing a charity, we were never bored for a second. Which is when we decided to embrace the Apple Squeeze to the full.
Today, my husband helps with the set-up the day before. He is in charge of one of the presses in the meadow behind the Bair or the barber shop, while I walk the Squeeze for about two hours, taking photos and talking to vendors, being a messenger between the chair and booths at times, and finally helping out at the Museum Store stand in front of Town Hall until the fair is over. So much fun to check what kind of intriguing seasonal treasures Marianne, who is also the buyer of the store, has found for this year’s Apple Squeeze. The stand right next door is selling the museum’s own calendar, a compilation of beautiful photos collected during the annual photo contest anybody can take part in – as long as it’s all about Steilacoom.
Meanwhile the fragrance of apple pie wafts out of Town Hall where it is served. There are usually some fun food trucks, as well, dishing out all kinds of hot delicacies. There are crafts and needlecrafts, pony rides and storytelling, laughter and neighborly small talk all along the entire center of this beautiful small-town on the Sound. Have some fried bread and yummy chili at the Steilacoom tribe’s stand; let your kids and grandkids join in the games inside the tennis court. Get yourself unique honey and spice gifts. Or a decorative sign. Or …
Ah, Apple Squeeze. I smell the tart sweetness of it when I just think of it. I feel the grass under my shoes when thinking of cranking one of the presses. The stickiness of the juice on my hands. I see the gleaming faces of kids as they help their parents fill another cider jug. And at the end of the day, we will fold down our stalls, load truck after truck, car after car, with aching feet and swirling heads. Another Apple Squeeze past. Another fall officially in reign. Another big museum and town event over. Tired smiles. Hurting backs.
Now a glass of freshly pressed cider in front of a roaring fire at home. And another year of happy mementi stashed away. You could make such memories of your own. Will I see you this Apple Squeeze Sunday?