NEWFANE—At the two-day Heritage Festival, artists and craftspeople sell their creations, community groups spread the word, musicians play, and thousands of people stuff their faces with goodies from the “church deli,” including the famous apple pie, available whole or by the slice.
That pie-making process takes about a month from preparation to final consumption.
On most Wednesday mornings leading up to the early-October event, approximately 20 volunteers gather in the basement of the First Congregational Church, in assembly-line fashion, to peel, core, and slice 16 bushels of apples to assemble 200 pies.
After the pies are baked on site, they go into the church’s freezers until the big weekend.
“We have hundreds of volunteers” for the pie-making and during the festival, church secretary and bookkeeper Billie Stark said.
When new volunteers call Stark and ask how to get involved in the pie-assembly, she tells them, “Show up. Bring your own knife.”
Although the festival provides the church with about 40 percent of its budget, Stark said, “this is not just a church effort. This is an entire community effort.”
Apple assembly line
Some volunteers, like Carleen Pelsue, have been involved in the baking event for two decades or so.
Others, like Dave Boulton, mark this as their first year participating in pie production.
“I just joined the church this year and wanted to help out,” Boulton remarked as he folded paperboard pie boxes with Joe Slater, who has volunteered here for eight years.
Earlier in the day, Boulton and Slater operated the apple-peeling machine.
Although on one particular pie-making morning the gender divide appeared to lie between men peeling the apples and making boxes and women doing everything else, Pelsue assured a visitor, “Sometimes men do the slicing and roll out the dough.”
“People sort of seem to specialize” in certain tasks, she said.
Pelsue, in addition to working at one of the two apple-coring and -slicing tables, is the Heritage Festival co-chair along with Pat Ballou, who Pelsue described as “my partner in crime.”
Janice Guminak and Ann Allbee run the baking portion of the operation. Guminak spent some time that morning filling the pies with sugared-and-spiced apple slices.
In the kitchen, Allbee, Sandy Hamm, Betty Slater, and Lilly Slover mixed and rolled out dough, topped the filled pies, and popped them, eight at a time, into two restaurant-quality ovens.
Allbee noted they go through about 24 to 30 five-pound bags of flour each year, and the flour and butter are purchased locally, from the River Bend Market.
When asked how many pies they make every week, Allbee said, “sometimes we do 53, but we have to stay until we do 50.”
When asked what she loves the most about the event, Guminak pointed out a sign listing the church’s local missions.
Among the organizations that benefit from the pie sale proceeds: Valley Cares, Groundworks Collaborative, Grace Cottage Hospital, and the Women’s Freedom Center.
“The most important thing about this festival, other than the fundraising, is the fellowship,” especially in the pie-making assemblies, Pelsue said. “About half of these people are church members, about half not,” she added.
Each station, from the two-man box-folding operation, to the two slicing tables holding about eight women each, to the baking room, hosted lively, jovial conversation.
Occasionally, someone would take a coffee break and dig into a slice of blueberry bread or a bowl of apple crisp, defrosted from last year’s batch.
A recent visitor, unknown to all in the room, was asked by more than one baker, “Did you have some apple crisp?”
The church buys a few bushels of apples for caramel apples and eight bushels for apple crisp, from Putney’s Green Mountain Orchards, Stark said. The crisps are made the day before the event, she noted.
Humans aren’t the only animals that enjoy the treats. “I take the apple peels home to my horses,” Stark said.
In what she describes as a “wild guess,” Stark said that between 5,000 and 7,000 people will visit the festival over the entire weekend.
“Depending on weather conditions, could be more, or less,” she noted.
“I am not a real good judge; [I] just know that things are usually hopping outside and in, and whenever I have asked folks, no one seems to really know.
“You should come, and then you can hazard a guess as well!” Stark said.