Apple fritters, the signature treat of the town's annual fall Apple Festival, are precious enough to serve as currency.
Just ask Paul, the guitarist busking by the Zion Lutheran Church's fritter stand Thursday afternoon. Dollar bills and change filled his open guitar case, dropped there by fritter buyers. What wasn't visible was the fritters he ate that some folks paid him instead of money.
"I had about six so far," Paul, who identified himself as "Paul C. as in carrot. I'm 35 and from Hartford, Boston, Philadelphia and all over," said about 6 p.m. Thursday in his fourth hour of playing and singing.
The musician picked a good spot to perform. The church prepared 6.5 tons of fritter mix and expected to deep-fry and sell all of it by the time the 10-day festival ends at nightfall Sunday. The booth opened Sept. 29 when the festival started. It is a weekend-only event for all booths except for Zion. Its 100-plus volunteers work from 6 a.m. to dusk for 10 days straight supplying hot fritters to people willing to wait in line up to an hour to score the $7-a-dozen treats.
College student Lauren Torino, 17, a Southington native, stood in line with a friend Thursday afternoon to buy two dozen.
"I've had these ever since I was little," she said. "I love them."
Tino Sampaio of Meriden stood in line to buy two or three dozen Thursday as his son Tino Junior, 2, danced near the guitarist. Whatever fritters make it back uneaten to the Sampaio home in Meriden should be gone in a day, he predicted.
A man too busy to give his name as he ran back to his his car with two bags of fritters said he had to stop when he passed Thursday afternoon and saw the fritter line was short.
"I gotta get home quickly or I'll get yelled at," he said. "But I had to stop. The line here is usually crazy."
"We try to make sure people don't wait more than 20 minutes but that's not always possible," booth director Lois Garafola said Thursday as she washed lids of large mixing bowls where the batter is held. "It's hard to keep up. We have a lot of volunteers: 50 people to mix the dry ingredients before the festival starts; 25 to wash out used barrels of mixture; four shifts of 25 people each to peel apples for the mixture during the festival, four shifts of 10 to 13 people each day to run the booth and make the fritters."
The best estimates of numbers of fritters made this year is more than 100,000. Most are rolled in cinnamon sugar but people can ask for unsugared fritters.
The fritter recipe is secret, unchanged since 1968 when late church member Dorothea "Dot" Czamota came up with it as a way the church could make some money at the town event. Dot's obituary in 2014 stated that she and her late husband Larry co-created the church apple fritter.
That first year was less hectic. Batter was dropped by ice cream scoops into the hot oil cooker. Not anymore. Now mechanical devices drop precise blobs of batter into the fryers.
"Everything is automated now as much as possible," Garafola said. "We have some good engineers in the church."