Volunteers astir in prep for fest

Core group makes apple butter for Grand Rapids’ 37th event

9/28/2013
BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kristi Hoffman of Grand Rapids carries a box of peeled apples so they can be cut. Behind her is Neil Box, who can peel and core a bushel of apples in five minutes.
Kristi Hoffman of Grand Rapids carries a box of peeled apples so they can be cut. Behind her is Neil Box, who can peel and core a bushel of apples in five minutes.

GRAND RAPIDS, Ohio — As dawn glows golden, the Big Stir begins to bubble.

Volunteers bustle about, and soon, the sweet smell of simmering apples drifts from copper kettles.

As it has for many years, the Big Stir at Steve and Pat Kryder’s farm near McClure, Ohio, will bring together area residents with similar core values, people eager to help out with a project that promotes their area community.

On the second Sunday in October, Grand Rapids celebrates its past and its present, its rich heritage and history, with a fest accented with thousands of jars of apple butter plus a hefty serving of crowd-pleasing special activities.

Mr. Kryder, co-chairman of the 37th annual Grand Rapids Applebutter Fest, said four kettles of apple butter will be cooking on his farm today. The goal is to can 1,300 to 1,500 pints of the seasonal treat. On fest day, with three kettles over the fire, about 1,000 more pints will be made. It’s the same process both days: Cook down apples in concentrated cider, then add a little sugar (75 pounds a batch).

Unless rain upsets the apple cart, upward of 40,000 people will attend the Oct. 13 fest that features entertainment, living-history demonstrations, food booths, a car show, crafts, and much more.

During the Big Stir, there “is something for everybody to do,” Mr. Kryder said.

Older volunteers tend to kettles. Others help with food to feed the crowd. Youngsters put jars in cases, count the pints, and make sure labels are placed properly. Experienced volunteers wipe clean lips of jars to get a proper seal.

Mr. Kryder said his father’s parents, George and Gertrude, were the first in the family to make apple butter, and it fast became a seasonal family tradition.

In 1936, a barn fire burned up a herd of Kryder cows and melted the family’s copper kettle. Later, a Jersey calf was traded from the Kryder farm for a copper kettle from North Baltimore, Ohio, and that kettle is still in use today.

The apple-butter recipe, passed down by Mr. Kryder’s grandparents and perfected by his mother, uses only apples, cider, and sugar. One batch makes 330 pints. It was Mr. Kryder’s wife, Pat (she, of course, is the apple of his eye), who planted the seed for the fest’s apple-butter theme.

At the Kryder farm, the Big Stir doesn’t start until after the first Big Peel at the fire hall in Grand Rapids, 25 miles southwest of Toledo.

And, pun intended, there is a certain a-peel to the behind-the-scenes work.

Chatter, plus apples, peels, and cores galore, filled space in the fire hall Thursday as volunteers prepped 75 bushels of apples.

Valerie Rickenberg, left, and Mary Loeffler, both of Grand Rapids, cut up peeled apples for some of the thousands of pints of apple butter expected to be sold during the town’s annual festival next month.
Valerie Rickenberg, left, and Mary Loeffler, both of Grand Rapids, cut up peeled apples for some of the thousands of pints of apple butter expected to be sold during the town’s annual festival next month.

Nothing gets chucked into the landfill.

As she cranked a machine that peeled and cored an apple at a time, Cheri Vollmar, 30, who lives near the village, said peels and cores get tossed to local cows and chickens.

Neil Box — if he doesn’t chat or take his eyes off the machine — peels and cores a bushel of apples in five minutes.

It’s a family affair for many, including the Box family who live near Grand Rapids. Neil’s mother and father, Gloria and Randy, were in the mix of what Miss Vollmar described as a day of “community talk.” Miss Vollmar and Neil, 31, have coordinated the peeling process for nine years, she said.

To reduce cooking time, peeled-and-cored apples are quartered and turned into a sort of mashed consistency, using a gadget on a cider press.

Randy Box, who took a day off work to take part in the peel, said many people look forward to the peeling days (the next one is Oct. 10) because it gives folks a chance to catch up on local news: weddings, just-born grandkids, doctor appointments, surgeries, and such.

On fest day, everyone’s too busy for leisurely conversation, he said.

The Wood County community once was much more agriculture-oriented, but now many residents are generations removed from slopping hogs, milking cows, and mucking out manure.

So, among ag-related activities at the fest, there will be a cow to give visitors a chance to learn that milk comes from an animal, not the local store. Call it the Big Reveal.

Some early arrivals on fest day come with flashlights to check out where they want to shop. Others order brats and kraut for breakfast, event co-chairman Chuck Thomas, who lives near Grand Rapids, said.

And there’s the annual buzz about the bees. To take the sting out of the pesky ones, organizers have made some changes, such as putting a lid on it, or rather lids. Cold and hot beverages are topped with lids and capped bottles of soda are offered for sale.

To help support the fest’s living-history demonstrations, The Anderson Foundation has provided a grant to the fest’s sponsor, the Grand Rapids Historical Society, Mr. Kryder said.

“It is nice to have corporate support. Lots of other people donate as well. This is a huge, huge undertaking and it is a real testament to the community to produce a festival that benefits the town and its preservation and beautification projects, and that helps educate people about the history of the wonderful Maumee Valley,” he said.

And the apple butter spices up the town’s community spirit. That, he said, “is really important.”

Contact Janet Romaker at: jromaker@theblade.com or 724-6006.