The Driftless region in southwestern Wisconsin is renowned for its apples, with their intense flavors favored in marketplaces as far away as Detroit. But when I arrived there in late September to search with friends for heirloom apple varieties, we had trouble finding any apples left on the trees at all.
“This has been the strangest year for apple growing within my memory,” orchardist Dan Bussey conceded. The apple crop ripened nearly two weeks ahead of time, and due to a late frost, several late-season windstorms and most orchards, the crop in southern Wisconsin was quite sparse, he said. “Most orchards I know ran low or even out of apples by early October,” he wrote to me a few weeks later.
Bussey and his family have been using the same cider press in their community of Edgerton, Wis., for decades; ever since he purchased it in 1989, he has pressed cider for as many as 16 neighboring apple orchards during the harvest season. This year he’s run the press weekly, but for only a small fraction of what he normally does.
No wonder. Wisconsin not only had the wettest summer on record, but growers in the state have already suffered 40 tornadoes in 2010 — twice the average annual number that have been experienced since detailed records began to be taken.