ADAMS TWP — The warm, flaky treat that represents the annual Mars Applefest has been made from scratch at a church for more than 30 years. The 550 apple dumplings made by members of Old Union Presbyterian Church usually sell out by 1 p.m. on that Saturday, said church member Linda Millson, who has coordinated the confection construction for seven years. Millson said about 30 church members meet in the church kitchen on the day before Applefest, which this year will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. One crew simultaneous peels and cores the apples with a number of manual contraptions attached to a counter top. Another crew prepares the dumplings' crust from scratch with flour, shortening and other ingredients. “The men tend to be part of the coring crew,” said the Rev. Peter de Vries, pastor at Old Union for 19 years. Yet another crew rolls the dough, and when all the apples and dough are ready, the group assembles the dumplings. “The real trick for us is baking them,” de Vries said. He said that for many years, the raw dumplings were taken to the Callery Fire Hall for baking in its many ovens. In more recent years, church members would take a tray of dumplings home and bake them, then bring them back. “Now, we have a new building, and a much better oven situation,” de Vries said. “But there are still some baked in (members') homes.” He said the crew meets at 8 a.m. Friday, and is usually done assembling the dumplings by noon. A handful of members stay and bake them until late afternoon. “We do it partly as a fundraiser, and partly as a way to be involved in a community event,” de Vries said. “It also builds fellowship in our congregation, and we have quality time spent together.” Millson explained that some congregation members donate money to buy flour, apples and other ingredients. Others sign up to donate a 10-pound bag of flour, a large container of shortening or a bag of sugar. Once the dumplings are baked and cooled, they are placed into individual plastic containers, packed into boxes and driven to Applefest.
She said most people buy them to take home and enjoy later, but many can't wait and devour the sweet treat they have been dreaming about since the previous year's Applefest. “We always sell out,” Millson said. “Even last year, in the rain.” Regarding the dumpling-making process, Millson said one church member goes to New Wilmington, Lawrence County, to buy apples from an Amish farmer. She said the farmer allows her to pick through his overflowing bushel baskets in search of perfect apples of roughly the same size. Millson said the 30 church members who help make the dumplings always enjoy the event, and some even request that Friday off from work to help at the church. “It's fun,” Millson said. “You come in in the morning, get a donut and coffee, and when you're done, we'll give you lunch.” She said the church usually nets about $2,300, which in the past has gone to the building fund for the church's large addition. Now that the new building is complete, the funds will go to paying down the debt from the construction. Millson said the church has decided against making enough dumplings to last the entire festival because it would be too much work and prove too time consuming for congregation members. She is not surprised they sell out by 1 or 1:30 p.m. “They're very, very good,” Millson said.