The Nappanee Apple Festival is one weekend a year where the small city goes big. Just last year, the city of 6,500 on any normal day ballooned into a mass of over 110,000.
In its 43rd year, the festival is a far cry from its humble beginnings as a one-day celebration in a parking lot, now taking over an entire town for a whole weekend.
“Like most things when you’re a child, you really don’t appreciate what’s going on until you become an adult. As a kid, it was just that really fun thing that happened every year,” said Nicole Beer, who handles the festival’s corporate sponsorships and social media.
Beer’s grandparents were tasked with launching the Nappanee Apple Festival back when the city was looking to replace its onion festival (presumably due to the lack of dessert options). Over the years, she said, the changes to the event were slow but impactful.
“[Back then] you knew that you could get an elephant ear that weekend, and you could get an apple dumpling, and there were maybe going to be some trivial games for kids,” Beer said. “Over the years it grew little by little. And there isn’t any one year when you can look back in the history and go, ‘That was the year.’”
But now, when the festival sees the city grow almost 17 times its size, Nappanee is ready: the Wings & Wheels Car and Airplane Show; an antique tractor show; the Granpa Cratchet Puppet Show; America’s Got Talent act XPOGO; the region’s famous Port-a-Pit chicken; and over 180 craft vendors. It’s a citywide effort.
“It really is an incredible task bringing all of these people into town,” Beer said.
Obviously, an apple festival wouldn’t be one without, well, some apples. A cavalcade of bakers and vendors come from all over the area to bring apple pie, apple cider (roughly 1,000 gallons of it for the weekend, I’m told), apple dumplings, apple whoopee pies, apple butter and, naturally, apples. It’s all available in the festival’s “Napple Store,” the one-stop shop for apple products.
There’s one dessert that towers above the others. It’s one that people travel from outside the state to see and taste. It’s the treat that takes over 10 people just to lift it. Weighing at approximately 600 pounds, it is the 7-foot apple pie. And it has to be seen to be believed.
This goliath is the brainchild of Ron Telschow, formerly the owner of Ron’s Bakery in Nappanee. Telschow was inspired to try his hand at the pie back in 1976, both commissioning the welding of a pan big enough to hold it and purchasing an oven big enough to bake it.
In the 40-ish years since, the pie has remained, but much else has changed. Ron’s Bakery since went out of business, leaving behind the oven in what is now a Mexican restaurant called El Cielito Lindo.
“One thing [Telschow] did is he gave the Apple Festival the pie pan and the oven, with the contingency that no matter what business goes into that building, the oven and the pie pan belong to the Nappanee Apple Festival,” Beer said.
The restaurant doesn’t have much use for the oven, but once a year, it’s turned on by Telschow’s successor, Mim Hartman.
Hartman has been an avid baker for most of her life. “I grew up in the Mennonite Amish faith, so that’s how we were raised,” she said. When a friend approached her 11 years ago asking if she would bake the festival’s pie, she said yes.
“As long as I make sure that I have enough help, it relieves a lot of the stress,” Hartman said. “I’m willing to try anything new the first time, as big as it may seem.” She’s been in charge of the baking since.
And Hartman isn’t alone. She and her team of six or seven other bakers come into the restaurant around 8:30 a.m. on the Thursday of the festival to put the packed pastry together. Hartman said they combine the 100 pounds of pie dough, mixed together by local Amish bakers and brought in buckets, about 16 bushels of apples – Washington, Macintosh and Red Delicious – and “a lot of elbow grease.”
From there, about a dozen men who work for the city come to lift the pie into the oven’s 9-foot opening, where it bakes for around 17 hours. (An hour in the oven at 350 degrees, then left in the oven for the remaining time with a fan pointed inside – you know, if you’d like to try for yourself.)
“It takes a village, literally,” Beer said.
The 7ft pie goes in the oven!
Posted by Nappanee Apple Festival on Thursday, September 14, 2017
Friday, when all is crisped and cooled, the pie will feed about 1,100 people. That may sound like a lot, but Beer said the pieces only last until Saturday afternoon before they’re sold out.
Baking a pie that large sounds impossible, but Hartman and her team prove it can be done. Eating a pie that large? That would probably kill you. But it didn’t stop my curiosity from figuring out what that would look like.
Scaled up from Nutritionix’s measurements of a basic apple pie and rounded to the nearest whole number, the nutrition facts of the 7-foot apple pie are:
Total Fat: 9,756 g (14,983% Daily Value)
Saturated Fat: 3,275 g (16,377%)
Sodium: 174,917 mg (7,317%)
Total Carbohydrates: 29,966 g (10,018%)
Fiber: 1,394 g (5,575%)
Sugars: 13,938 g
Of course, if just one 1,100th of that seems more palatable, you can taste the massive pie yourself at the Nappanee Apple Festival this weekend. It begins Thursday evening and goes until Sunday night.
For more information on the festival and the full lineup of events, you can check out their website. For a place to buy a 7-foot pie pan, I’m afraid I can’t help you out.
Featured photo courtesy of Nappanee Apple Festival on Facebook.