GRAND RAPIDS - There's a lot going on at the annual Apple Butter Festival, held each year on the second Sunday in October.
This year's festival, slated for Oct. 13, will feature entertainment, crafts, food, historical re-enactors, and much more.
But there's something important at the core of this community celebration, something passed down for generations, that holds the whole event together.
Why, it's apple butter, of course, a dark, sweet, gooey, apple-y concoction that goes well on bread, rolls and biscuits - and other things.
Thousands of pints of it are sold each year during the fest, and it's all kept going by one of the oldest, and simplest of recipes.
"Apple butter is nothing more than cider, apples and sugar, and then some variations will add spices," said Steve Kryder, McClure, the fest's co-chair and apple butter guru. The event uses his family's recipe, which doesn't include spices.
"My mother and father made apple butter all during their lifetime, it goes back about 100 years when my grandfather began producing it. And then my mom, during the 50s, produced it at their farm and sold it along the road."
"It was in the old days, it was one of those communal projects where you would have your extended family or two or three neighbors get together. And it was usually done a little later into the fall, like the first part of November," near the end of the harvest.
Creation of the apple butter for the Apple Butter Fest starts a few weeks beforehand with a grand event called the Big Stir, taking place at Kryder Farms in McClure.
"Basically, we'll be making it for the festival at the farm on Sept. 28," said Kryder. "We always call that the Big Stir."
During the event, four large copper kettles of apple butter, each containing 50 gallons, are made. First, the cider is boiled down to create a thick syrup as the apple butter's base. Prior to that date, members of the Grand Rapids Historical Society and volunteers from the village will have gotten together to peel 75 bushels of apples for use.
The Big Stir is also a social affair - everyone brings a dish to share during the proceedings, said Kryder.
When all is said and done, at the end of the Big Stir, "we'll end up making about 200 gallons that day, which equals about 1,300 pints or so."
Then the attendees get into the process of portioning out the apple butter into jars, ready for sale.
On the day of the Apple Butter Fest itself, "we will again have peeled about 50 bushels of apples prior, and then we will make three kettles of apple butter that day to demonstrate at the festival, and to sell it, of course."
The kettles, located near the village hall and set over an open flame, are stirred with large, specially-made wooden paddles on poles and tended by volunteers.
"We'll end up with about 1,000 pints that day."
Anywhere from 50 to 75 people, or more, assist during the Big Stir at the farm, ranging in age from 5 years of age to over 80.
"Everyone can find a job that will work for them."
The pints are sold for $6 each, meaning that about $13,800 is raised each year.
The funds go back into the community, benefitting churches, scouting organizations, and others.
However, "the festival is not so much about raising money, although that is important, but the real purpose is to provide a good, educational, fun day for folks to learn history about Northwest Ohio and the river and the Maumee Valley, and the Grand Rapids area. As an old history teacher, I don't think we get enough of that."
"Bringing people together is what apple butter originally did," said Kryder.