Summer has come and gone. Kids are back at school. Fall is here, and that means apples, apples and more apples. While current COVID-19 social distancing and mask mandates have soured Pierce County’s apple-related festivals a bit again this year, their core traditions remain and have even branched out in new directions to avoid cancellation.

Tasting the Squeeze

The most notable apple festival in the bunch, the famed and historic Steilacoom Apple Squeeze, has again shifted from a full-on street fair and apple-pressing bonanza that pays homage to all things apple into a stripped-down affair called Tasting the Squeeze. The event is set for October 4, but pre-ordering apple goodies is highly recommended.

Pierce County apples
Cider junkies will still get their apple fix, courtesy of a walk-up system for preordered jugs and fritters as a way to continue the tradition of the annual apple squeeze in Steilacoom. Photo courtesy: Steilacoom Historical Museum Association

People simply pre-order their ciders, butters, candy apples, fritters and calendars from the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association’s website or by calling 253.584.9410 and then swing by the volunteer booth outside Town Hall, at  1717 Lafayette St., between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on October 4, to harvest their apple booty. There will be some extras on hand for walk-ups and adds to orders, but those could be limited. All purchases will benefit the museum and its operations. Masks and social distancing will be required.

The decision to replace the traditional apple squeeze, which drew thousands of people to Steilacoom’s downtown with a barebones product pick-up system, did not come easy last year. But the solid response it drew as well as the continued requirements for limiting personal contact this year made those debates easier to settle.

“If you aren’t doing the pressing, you aren’t doing ‘the squeeze,’” Museum Curator Marianne Bull said, noting that the hand-cranked apple presses cause people to get tired and breathe heavily right next to each other. Even outside, that would create a health concern under the current COVID advisories. So, apple pressings are out of the mix again this year.

“I get pretty supportive responses about it,” Bull said. The museum itself is open for visitors, but the historic Orr Home remains closed because of its poor ventilation.

Pierce County apples
The close proximity and workout required in squeezing apples through a press prompted a need to figure out alternatives to accommodate social distancing. Photo courtesy: Steilacoom Historical Museum Association

Curran Orchard Park

Another otherwise-annual apple festival just up the street a ways from Steilacoom was canceled outright. The Cider Squeeze at the Curran Apple Orchard, at 3920 Grandview Dr. W. in University Place, hopes to return in 2022. However, the seven-acre apple orchard is a public park and offers more than 200 trees and 15 varieties of apples. Just don’t pick them.

The all-volunteer CORE (Curran Orchard Resource Enthusiasts) group works with the city on maintenance issues. It hosts the orchard’s Adopt-A-Tree program that allowed people or families to adopt a tree for a year and harvest one season’s apples. Funds from the adoption program help support classes, events and such. The adoptions season opens for 2022 in December.

Pierce County apples
Children can create art with an apple half, some paint and their imagination through Tacoma Public Library programs. Photo courtesy: Tacoma Public Library

Tacoma Public Library Apple Events

For an apple-related event involving less cider drinking and more hands-on activities, the Moore Branch of the Tacoma Public Library hosts apple painting from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on October 20. The event is free but requires reservations.

“We believe that youth are the future and take pride in providing opportunities to nurture and develop young minds,” said Children’s Librarian Jamie Lila Mittan. “Apple painting is a great opportunity to do just that! The library will provide apples that have been cut in half, and participating children will get to dip them in paint and treat them like stamps. You’ll be amazed at the creative artwork children can make with nothing but an apple, paper and paint!”

The apple painting will be held outside the library, although that could change, given the evolving nature of local and state guidance regarding the ongoing pandemic or weather conditions.

The Swasey and Wheelock branches are also offering Apple Tree Craft Kits while supplies last on September 25. The kits for kindergarteners to fifth grade provide ways for children to create apple-related art in the comfort of their homes.

Pierce County apples
Vendors selling ciders, meads and other libations will be on tap for sales and samples at the 8th Annual Cider Swig. Photo courtesy: Greater Gig Harbor Foundation

Cider Swig

For an adult take on apple celebrations, Cider Swig: the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation’s Eighth Annual Cider Festival will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on September 25 on the field at LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma’s Dome District, located at 2702 East D St. The event will offer tastings of dozens of regional ciders and other apple-related libations to sip and savor alongside live music, apple merchandise, entertainment on a stage with games and curbside cuisine. Tickets are $10 to $32.50 and include drink tokens, a festival glass and access to festival activities. Attendees must be over the age of 21 and provide identification.

Despite many changes this year and last to its celebrations, the almighty apple is a staple in the Pacific Northwest. Celebrate autumn with all things apple this year in Pierce County.

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