Appleseed festival will send you back in time
Thousands drawn to demonstrations, food at pioneer-centric event
Three ATM machines positioned around the grounds at the Johnny Appleseed Festival make director Becky Butler laugh. Despite their improbability, she knows they are a vital inclusion in a pioneer-themed event.
Those money boxes are about the only thing that isn’t plausibly authentic at the hugely popular festival, which is 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18, at Johnny Appleseed Park.
It’s something Butler and her team of two dozen volunteer board members painstakingly adhere to as they administer the event, now in its 47th season.
At the Johnny Appleseed Festival, each of the nearly 250 booths are held to primitive standards. There is no propane or modern preparation. The vendors operate off the grid, with the possible exception of required prep before coming to the festival.
One of the mainstays of the decades-old event is Settlers Village, where you’ll find demonstrations, encampments, crafts, and markets. Children can enjoy their own area with games, crafts, and activities from Johnny Appleseed’s time. Also, for the first time, there are pony rides. And thanks to some momentum, festival organizers are feeling ambitious heading into the festival.
After COVID canceled the 2020 festival, the 2021 outing was essentially a chance to get back into a rhythm. Butler is more than ready to dive in this year.
“Everybody is back,” she said. “In fact, we got a few more. I think this will be a fabulous year for us, I really do. People are just eager to get it back to where it was.”
Bring the family
By the most conservative estimate, more than 200,000 people visit the two-day event situated between the St. Joseph River and Memorial Coliseum parking lot. Situated above the visitors and vendors is the historically recognized grave of Johnny Appleseed on a ridge in the middle of the festival grounds.
Butler’s optimism seems justified. In the weeks leading up to the event, she’s been fielding a lot of calls from places beyond northeast Indiana.
“It’s nice to know that we’ve still got people coming that they’ve made this their destination vacation,” she said. “It’s family-friendly. I think everything here is OK for family members, the crafts, the kids area, the Civil War reenactors. Everything is just really geared towards family.”
That includes her favorite part: The food.
“I think we have some of the best food available that is cooked over the fire, not with any propane or electricity,” she said.
The food has to be prepared as it was historically. It also has to be a food people of that time would have eaten.
“I tell (vendors) that they have to read our rules and they have to comply with the cooking methods that were done in the late 1800s,” Butler said. “That seems to have worked out pretty well over these years.”
Don’t worry, there will be plenty for all tastes. By rough count, there will be more than 40 booths for food, drinks, desserts, and treats. Chicken, steak, burgers, sausage, corn on the cob, brisket and pork, coffee drinks, root beer, and caramel corn are on the menu.
“The lady that does the root beer comes from Kansas,” Butler said. “I’ve seen people on bicycles pull up with the saddlebags on their bikes. And they’ll put six to eight bottles in each one of those saddlebags, because you’re buying for their friends, family.”
Not leaving empty-handed
Since it is the Johnny Appleseed Festival, there will also be plenty of apple offerings, such as apple pie, apple crisp a la mode, hand-dipped caramel apples, apple butter, apple pancakes, and apple cobbler.
However, it isn’t all about apples. Maple cream candy have also been known to draw a crowd.
“It’s like a Bun bar, like the candy bars made in Fort Wayne,” Butler said of the maple cream candy as she stretched her hands to the rough shape of circle. “They’re really, really good. They’re about the size of a little paper pie plate, and they are just wonderful.”
Butler says that with more than 100 crafters and demonstrators, visitors are always engaged and usually intrigued.
“One of the guys is a leathersmith, he makes wallets and belts,” she said. “We’ve got a couple of blacksmiths, some are there to sell, some just sit back and take it in. Some of these people are just down there camping. People can see what it was like to live back then.”
Blacksmithing or handmade brooms are always among the top attractions. There are many more exhibits just like it according to Butler.
There will also a farmers market, antiques, trappers and traders, and a pioneer village. It comes together for those with deep pockets or lots of time to explore.
Whatever it is, it is working, and Butler constantly sees proof of that.
“It’s amazing the number of people that are walking around with bags full of stuff they probably didn’t think they needed but bought because it caught their attention.”
Butler encourages visitors to participate in this year’s scavenger hunt.
Using a festival map, participants will search for 10 red apples around the grounds with each offering clues to find the next. If you’re able to spot all 10 apples, you could be up for a prize from the Old Fort Soap Company or Timmy’s BBQ.