HICKORY – Apples seem quintessentially fall, synonymous with changing leaves, cooler temperatures, bonfires, hayrides and good times spent with friends and family.
Unfortunately, the uncharacteristically warm weather decided that the Hickory Apple Festival should feel more like a humid, sweltering summer day. At least apple cider was available both hot and cold to quench attendees’ thirst.
In its 35th year, the annual event celebrating red, green and yellow deliciousness benefits Mt. Pleasant Township Volunteer Fire Company’s stations in Hickory and Southview. The affair brings young and aged, old friends and newcomers, all hoping to celebrate apples for a good cause.
Octogenarian Mary Jane Engel has been volunteering with the festival since its inception each year except one. She missed out the year her mother died. Behind a table loaded with bags of apples waiting to be taken home, she motioned across the grounds that her daughter, granddaughter and son were all also helping out.
A truly family affair, the event keeps enticing Engel to give back to her community. Helpers spend the week prior preparing, including baking over 1,500 pies. Engel said the festival is sometimes the only chance she gets to see some friends.
“Come and enjoy the fellowship,” she said.
Shelby and Charles Wood recall coming to the festival ever since they were young, and now they have the chance to share that experience with their daughters, five-year-old Emily and her two-year-old sister, Lillian. The two ran around their parents’ legs as they waited in the craft area for rains to subside. Good food, crafts and fun things for the kids to do keep them coming back. Their daughters bolted to the rides as soon as they arrived.
Shelby said she normally looks forward to the homemade bean soup and bread. It’s her absolute favorite dish served at the fest.
“I can’t do it this year. It’s just too hot,” she admitted with a hint of sadness in her voice.
Heavy rains around 2 p.m. sent families under tents and inside buildings for cover. Many avoided drops in the shelter of the former schoolhouse, now the Mt. Pleasant Township Community Center. Usually only displaying model trains, the building offered a welcome reprieve from the sudden downpour.
Mandy Hutchison said the rain didn’t sour her mood.
“The rain was actually fun,” she said.
“We’re excited to see what else there is.”
The Bethel Park resident said Saturday was her first visit to the festival with her family. Her daughters especially enjoyed the funnel cake and activities.
The wet weather also didn’t dissuade John and Kathy Schaffner, who traveled almost two hours from Louisville, Ohio, to Hickory. The two sat under a tent enjoying an apple dumpling as it rained.
“We like festivals,” John said.
“And we like apples,” Kathy added.
Their dream is to make it out to New Mexico for the Hatch Chile Festival.
“But for now, local festivals are great,” John said.
They’ve been to small towns celebrating everything from potatoes, pumpkins and strawberries to peanut butter and hamburgers.
“Food is a great uniter,” John said of the edible theme behind their festival attendance.
Cecil native Trish Mann turned down a trip to Carnegie Science Center with family to come to the apple festival because she thought Saturday’s weather was supposed to be clear. She was thankful she remembered to grab her boots and rain jacket before leaving.
“I had to come get my apple butter fix,” she said.
Festivities will pick back up today at 8:30 a.m. with a church service and continue throughout the day until 5 p.m. Booths open at 10 a.m.