I decided to write about this party because I woke up craving an apple fritter, and because I’m a big fan of my friend Jess.
Awhile back, Keith and I were invited by our friends Jess and Eli for a cider pressing party. We were out late the night before and ended up sleeping in that morning. We were still sleepy enough that we got lost in the winding roads outside of Dodgeville going to their house. When we eventually arrived, no one was there. Keith asked if it was another one of those times where I “felt” there was going to be a party and didn’t check the calendar. I said, I was pretty sure it was that day. I knew they were going to pick THE apples first, so I figured that’s where they were. The cell signal was spotty so we couldn’t figure out where the orchard was. We parked by the house, rolled the car windows down and napped to the clucking of chickens carried by the warm, light breeze. About fifteen minutes later, we were woken up by boisterous laughter and the sound of engines pulling up the driveway.
Everyone took turns cranking the wheel to release the juices from the apples. The bees joined the party as well and stung a few of the revelers (include five times for Keith). Everyone got a gallon or two to take home. We had a beautiful meal of roast pork and beef sandwiches, salads, brownies, apple pie and apple fritters made by Jess. We all tried our best not to take the fritters as soon as she strained them from the frying pot so that we would have a platter of it for the meal.
Jess grew up in Dodgeville from the age of five. Her great grandparents moved here from Switzerland when grandpa (Arnold Thuli) was 2 years old. Many Swiss immigrants moved here in the early 1900’s because the Driftless Area reminded them of home and that this was an ideal place for dairy farms. Arnold became a cheesemaker and married Gladys who raised seven kids and counted money for the church. The factory still runs today but it is now used for pressing sunflower oil.
Jess’s father, Rick, moved back to the area after college with his 100% Greek wife, Lauren, from the Milwaukee area and started a business building chiropractic tables.
The cider pressing parties started in the 1980’s. It was an all day affair with all the extended families plus the grandparents, of course. Jess remembers climbing trees, shaking apples, filling trailers, bringing them back to the house to send through the press, straining, trying her best to ignore the bees, drinking glass-fulls of the fresh cider, eating caramel apples, the big pot of chili and freshly baked bread, and then “you can can can can can the apple cider all day long!“. They switched to cartons and then to plastic freezer bags, which they’ve found has been the best method so far.
“The orchard is entirely wild and the apples are hybrids or several varieties. Some are sweet, some are sour, some are crunchy and juicy, some are mealy and dry. Some have thick skin, some have thin skin. But when they are mixed together, it turns into a cider you couldn’t plan for!”
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