Elk Creeks’ Apple Butter Festival celebrates 40 years
FAIR HILL — There is now a noticeable chill in the air, carved pumpkins are starting to make their appearances on front porches, leaves are beginning to change colors, and the harvest moon has just graced us with its presence. Summer has officially come to an end, the season has once again changed, and autumn is here. For The Elk Creeks Preservation Society, this time of year signifies something very special — apple butter making.
Apple butter making has existed for more than a thousand years across numerous countries, but it has especially found quite a following in the United States over the last few centuries, and in more recent years as an annual community event. Apple butter was once a staple of life during Colonial America, as it could be produced in large quantities at the end of the apple harvests every fall and would easily keep for months. Its deep brown color, rich taste, and smoothness make it the perfect accompaniment for a variety of foods, but in particular breads and cheeses are favored. Apple butter is quite diverse though, and can also be used as pie filling or layering in cakes, as well as an alternative to shortening or butter in many baking recipes. Additionally, it can be used as a marinade for such meats as pork or turkey and is often enjoyed with a variety of breakfast meats like sausage and scrapple, the latter of course being a particular favorite in this region amongst many locals.
Like many other communities throughout the United States, we gather every fall for our very own Apple Butter Festival, a tradition that has been passed down through the generations of the Colonial Scots-Irish immigrants that once settled upon this land we call Fair Hill. Every year in the wee hours before dawn of a chilly October morning, The Elk Creeks Preservation Society gathers at The Bee Hive to light the fires under the large copper kettles that will produce hundreds of jars of apple butter for which the event is so fittingly named.
The story of the Elk Creeks Preservation Society began in 1976, the year of our nation’s bicentennial celebration. The original founding members of the society came together, not only as a result of their heritage, but also from a mutual love of their local history. The society is named for the sister creeks of the Big Elk and Little Elk that flow through the area and were at one time the heartbeat of this part of the county. Communities thrived and flourished as a result of the many mills that were built upon the banks of these two creeks. The Bee Hive, the name given to the collection of historic structures that serves as the location of the festival every year was itself at one time, a busy little community (hence the name) with its own mill that the Little Elk Creek once flowed through.
Josey Poteet, vice president of the current board of directors, said that the society’s purpose is to share their love of local history and to preserve, restore and maintain the properties and historic structures of the Elk Creeks’ watershed. George Reynolds and the late Richard “Tucker” Mackie, two of the society’s founding members, were instrumental in starting the organization and subsequently the Apple Butter Festival, which followed a year later in 1977. It is Mackie’s family recipe, handed down from generation to generation that has been used every year since that very first festival.
This year will be especially meaningful though, as it will mark the Apple Butter Festival’s 40th anniversary. Held every October since 1977, the society and the surrounding communities come together at the ruins of The Bee Hive to once again carry out the tradition of apple butter making just as the generations before them have.
Reynolds is still a member of the society after 40 years and will surely be in attendance this year as he has been every year previously. His passion for local history and archaeology has served our community in countless ways over the years and is truly something to admire. Sadly, Mackie passed away in 2013, but his love and dedication to the preservation of our local history has remained strong even in his absence. Mackie’s family recipe will hopefully continue to be passed down through his relatives and remain an integral part of the festival for years to come.
This year’s 40th anniversary Apple Butter Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14. This is a family-friendly event with free admission for everyone. There will be traditional Scottish and Irish music and foods, hayrides, demonstrations by craftspeople, local artisans, activities for children, and of course, apple butter making! All proceeds from the apple butter and other foods sold will go directly to the maintenance and preservation of The Bee Hive. The Bee Hive is located in Fair Hill at Telegraph Road where it intersects with Little Elk Creek Road, next to Rock Presbyterian Church. For more information, please visit the Elk Creeks Preservation Society’s website at www.elkcreekspreservationsociety.com.
With the help of scores of volunteers along the way, the Elk Creeks Preservation Society’s Apple Butter Festival celebrates 40 years this weekend.
Volunteers begin stirring large cauldrons of apple butter at the 1988 Elk Creeks Preservation Society’s Apple Butter Festival.
Anne Copley and Libby Gates pick apples at Chatham Orchard for the 1980 Elk Creeks Preservation Society’s Apple Butter Festival.
The Bee Hive near Little Elk Creek Road is the remnants of a once-thriving village along the banks of the Littler Elk Creek, and the home of the annual Elk Creeks Preservation Society Apple Butter Festival.