—The scent of warm apples, cinnamon, and butter greets visitors entering the the Newfane Congregational Church.On this misty October morning, approximately 20 volunteers assemble apple pies for the town’s 49th annual Heritage Festival.In the church’s dining area, sitting at folding tables, are volunteers, each assigned a different task: peeling apples, coring them, slicing them, filling the pie shells, and topping the mounds of apples with cinnamon, sugar, and butter.And in case you think pie making is a piece of cake: One volunteer dutifully mixes flour, shortening, and water for the pie crusts in a large stainless-steel mixing bowl. Up to his elbow in pastry, he combines the ingredients with a pastry blender, wearing a glove to prevent blisters.In the adjacent kitchen, more volunteers roll out dough for the top and bottom crusts. Another volunteer staffs the large commercial oven.Ann Allbee rolls out a pie crust in the kitchen. A volunteer for 10 years, she now oversees the troop of pie makers.“It’s fun,” Allbee says when asked why she keeps returning.Alice Freeman sprinkles a mixture of white and whole-wheat flour on the counter for preparation of rolling out a crust.“And the shame,” Freeman says. She teases Allbee: “We’d come to get her if she didn’t show up.”The other crust rollers laugh and agree.Allbee continues, “If you look around, a lot of [the volunteers] are church members, but not all of them, and they come by to have a good time.”As many as 20 volunteers from Newfane, Townshend, and Wardsboro participate every week. The peelers arrive early, followed by the cutters, then the sprinklers, and then the rollers.They start making pies for the festival the first Wednesday in September. They work for approximately four weeks preparing and baking about 55 pies a week. They aim to make 200 pies to sell.Allbee says that a few extra pies are put aside for volunteers to munch on while they’re working, and a few more are set aside as thank-you gifts. As soon as they cool, the pies are stored in four large freezers before they are sold on Heritage Day, whole or by the piece.Each week, the pie makers average four bushels of apples from Green Mountain Orchards in Putney. On the weeks they’re also making apple crisp or caramel apples, they get five bushels.Allbee explains that the variety they used this year is Zestar. Traditionally, they use Cortlands or Paula Reds,but “they weren’t as crisp this year,” she explains. Green Mountain Orchards suggested Zestar.Marilyn Van Gelder, who joined the church 30 years ago, developed the recipe used in Newfane, says Allbee. Van Gelder extended the crust recipe to make large batches of approximately 10 two-crust pies, she says.“She used math,” Freeman says, laughing.Sales of the pies raise funds for the church. A lot of the proceeds go to the community, the volunteers note. They agree that making the pies is, for them, as much about fellowship as fundraising.“We hope people enjoy this; we have people who come back every year,” Allbee says.Winnie Dolan, who says she isn’t a member of the church, started volunteering to make pies simply because she lived next door.“It’s fun to be with the other women and to do these things together,” she says of why she keeps coming back.The pie recipe has not changed much in her 22 years of volunteering. But it has evolved.“They make it a little bit better all the time,” she says. “They primp it up a little bit all the time and it gets better. It’s always good, but there’s always room for improvement with anything.”The crew’s newest volunteers sit at the coring and slicing table. They debate with people at the next table about how thick the slices should be cut.Their reasons for volunteering this year vary.“Being hungry,” Ken Bower says.“[Ann Allbee] dragged me,” Kathy Stover says with a laugh. “They hooked me up to work the Heritage Festival, too.”Bower had never made a pie before joining the pie makers. He jokes about his pie making skills — or lack thereof.“I’m getting the bug to peel faster and to listen to the women better,” he says.Ray Lapollo started volunteering last week. He makes pies at home. Apple is his favorite.“I make an all-butter crust that tastes really good. It’s probably really bad for you, but oh, well,” Lapollo says.“The hardest part about making a pie is the crust, in my opinion,” he says. “The apples are nothing.”Jerry Butler slices apples. She arrived in August of last year from California and was immediately “roped into” the Heritage Festival, she says — and she returned for a second year, “because I knew they needed help.”Around 11 a.m., an apple pie fresh and hot from the oven is sliced for the volunteers with vanilla ice cream to accompany it. The apples melt like applesauce in a not-too-sweet coating of cinnamon and sugar. The crust is excellent.When asked for any advice on how to make a better apple pie, one volunteer calls across the room: “Make Pumpkin!”
Pizza, pies, fellowship
—Most of the volunteers mark their creation with flowers or maple leaves, but James Brown decided to do something different. Brown uses the Greek letter pi as his signature crust decoration. It’s also on his T-shirt.As evening settles on Dummerston Center and the Dummerston Congregational Church, the ovens warm the kitchen area. Students of all ages just off the bus file into the building.For the church’s 50th annual Apple Pie Festival, the volunteers hope to make 1,500 pies.Similar to those in Newfane, the Dummerston volunteers sit at different stations for peeling the apples from Dwight Miller Orchards. There they core, slice, and roll the crust.One difference is that these pie makers put their combination of cinnamon, sugar, and flour in the bottom of the pie and layer the apple slices atop the other ingredients.Brown notes that most people sit at the same station from year to year, doing their same small part of this gargantuan task.“We’re all just a little older, and a little bit more bent over,” he jokes.Carol Wood, an adult volunteer, mentors two young boys, teaching them how to slice the apples and use their knives safely.Brown says the volunteers are not “bashful” about letting kids use the knives — after all, the young people are the future volunteers, he says.Last year, approximately 85 people volunteered to make pies at the Dummerston church.Wood says that her mother volunteered for pie making for decades. Now that her mother’s generation is passing away, Wood says that she decided to step up and help out. She needed to.Sallie May works on crusts at a counter near a window overlooking the fire pond and fire house. She says she’d rather slice apples, but she knows how to make a crust.May says she spent her childhood in the Dummerston church. She left it as an adult when she moved out of town. She returned in 2006.Dummerston holds its festival on Sunday, Oct. 13.May urges people coming to the event to “bring your appetites and make a day of it.”According to May, the morning starts with breakfast at the fire station. Next, people can wander the local tag sales and craft fair before lunch.“Then come to the church for pies,” she says.Will Collins operates a crank-turned apple peeler. He has volunteered for the festival for 10 years and says the art to peeling apples has to do with maintaining speed and making sure to stick the apple in the peeler bottom first.“Working together, there’s a great pleasure in it,” he says. “You work together and you bond.”“And,” he adds with a grin, “you get to eat apple pie.”Rick Mills slices apples. He has volunteered for approximately eight years.“I’m pretty community-service oriented,” says Mills, who has also served on the school board, as a member of the Grange, and as a volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters.He says that approximately 25 to 30 years ago, he struggled with substance misuse.“I took a lot [from the community] so it’s time to realign the ship,” Mills says. “There’s a lot of good people here.”Mills adds that high-school students can put their time spent making pies toward required community-service hours.
On the night shift
—Rev. Shawn Bracebridge, sitting at the slicing table, jokes that pie making was part of his job interview.Bracebridge, the pastor of Dummerston Congregational Church since 2017, says his mother taught him how to make pies but adds that most of his skills have been built “on the job.” He prefers slicing the apples.“I don’t feel as confident about making crusts,” he says.A volunteer responds to Bracebridge by calling a risqué double entendre from across the kitchen, teasing that sends the younger boys into paroxysms of laughter.Bracebridge’s favorite part of the pie making has been catching up with neighbors and hanging out with the kids after school.Just as a volunteer arrives with pizza for the evening shift in Dummerston, a pie is sliced for sampling. The tartness of the apples plays off the combination of cinnamon and sugar.And, yes — the crust is excellent.