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Visitors Immerse in Local History at Apple Butter Frolic
Written by Sergei Blair, Correspondent
2014-10-08

Volunteers use a fodder cutting machine to grind corn stalks as Sam Kriebel watches the process.

41st annual festival draws crowd despite gloomy skies

                Local history was on full display Saturday, October 4, as nearly 300 volunteers turned the grounds of the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville into a traditional village bustling with farm animals, crafts stations and tents with homemade foods. 

                Despite the bleak skies, about 1,400 visitors attended the 41st annual Apple Butter Frolic, a festival held to preserve the heritage of the Anabaptist-Mennonite people and raise funds to support the work of the Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania.

                For many, the frolic is a brief traditional escape into colonial Pennsylvania, which became a home to German-speaking Protestant, Anabaptist, Catholic and other group sects. Today, the festival serves as celebration of the way of life prevalent until about 50 years ago.

                Oliver Gingrich, of Quakertown, has been volunteering at the frolic with his wife and their two sons for the last seven years. He said he comes each year in order to support the organization because of its work to preserve the history of the area.

                "I want to expose my children to things about the past that they aren't exposed to while being at home playing Xbox. They love coming and they look forward to it each year," Gingrich said.

                He was speaking as he watched his son, Liam, 13, loading apples into the hopper of a buckeye press and spinning the handlebar to create a pomace.

                He said Liam likes playing with old tools and antique machinery and finds it fascinating to see how the tools were used back then.

                As the teenager twisted a large press with both hands, the crowd watched the extracted juice flow into a pan bellow.  Volunteers Chris Detweiler and Duane Kauffman then filled the cider into glass jugs for sampling.

                Farming equipment and animals were on display during the day as reenactors, dressed in customary apparel, showed techniques for cornshocking, fodder cutting, cornbinding with horses and flailing and fanning wheat. Later in the day, a procession of a dozen antique tractors rode past the admiring crowd. Afterward, children were welcomed to climb and sit inside the tractors. 

                The day certainly wouldn't have been complete without apple butter.

                Volunteer Donald Jantzi, an employee at Bauman's Apple Butter and Cider in Sassamansville, demonstrated the step-by-step process of creating the perfect apple butter. He filled a large copper-lined pot with cider and placed it on a fire ring to cook until it got thick. After two hours of cooking, Jantzi added apple schnitz, thinly sliced apples, and used a 5 ft.-long wooden paddle to stir the pot. Several children volunteered to help stir the contents.

                As water slowly evaporated from schnitz and cider, and stirring continued, the mix inside the pot became more concentrated—almost butter like. 

                Jantzi said normally the process would be an all-day family event from early morning into late the hours. All members of the family were expected to participate in the activity. 

                In addition to activities like crafts for children, a bookbinding demonstration, weaving a shawl and traditional singing in the barn, visitors also saw sheep herding in action.

                Jim Strohecker, and his wife, Maggie Chambers, showed the curious onlookers who gathered outside the fenced area how they round up their sheep with the help of a border collie named "Strike."  Strohecker and his wife own "Ahead of the Curve Katahdins," a private farm in Quakertown with 45 sheep and four sheepdogs.

                Alyssa Kerns, co-organizer of the Apple Butter Frolic, said she enjoys seeing children participate in the day's activities and learn something new about their heritage.

                "Kids are getting glimpse into what life used to be like a hundred or so years ago, which is exactly what we're hoping to demonstrate—a glimpse back into history," Kerns said. 


 

 

 

 

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