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By Whitney Keith
Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
No, it’s not a witch’s brew, but something infinitely more delicious.
This year marks the 21st for Apple Butter Day at the Ozark Mennonite School between Mansfield and Seymour, just south of U.S. 60.
Cauldrons of apple butter were stirred by affable men wielding long poles for keeping the richly-colored delicacy from burning.
Free samples of the apple butter on homemade bread is offered inside the school’s multi-purpose building, along with a wide variety of crafts, furniture and other food.
Robert Byler was doing a hopping business with his Wisconsin cheese.
“My daughter-in-law is from Wisconsin, so they usually bring it down here,” Byler said. “However, this year we had it shipped.”
Byler’s cheeses included Colby, Munster and delicious cheese curds.
He also made some of the furniture for sale, including a cedar chest.
Loren Caswell of Douglas County said that he’s been coming to Apple Butter Days for several years, since some of the members of the church helped to build a barn for him.
“A few years ago, my wife and her sisters bought a quilt here for their other sister’s wedding gift,” he said.
He said that he always buys some edible goodies (a common theme, I learned), along with apple cider.
As a woman struggled to juggle her many purchases of the homemade pies, breads and noodles, two young men quickly jumped to take her box as she led them to her vehicle.
One of the young men, Zach Hostetler, said he’s been helping out at the event for most of his life, as many members of the Ozark Mennonite Church have.
“Now I help take out trash, set up tables and haul boxes out,” Hostetler said. “When I was younger, I worked in the stand with the school kids.”
That stand featured cotton candy and caramel apples, along with many other delicacies to tempt the younger crowd.
Karen Hoagland of Seymour said that she has been attending the event for 15 years.
“I’m with my mom today, but I usually bring my husband,” she said. “I always buy some apple butter and some of the homemade noodles.”
While I was wandering and munching on my bread & (apple) butter, I spotted a fantastic dollhouse.
By eavesdropping on a conversation, I learned that the artist held the fantastic piece of art together with toothpicks.
The house was in a log home style, with tiny homemade furnishings completing the scene.
That same eavesdropping told me that the man also makes barns and general stores in the same style. That house was to be auctioned at 1 p.m. with many other items, but someone said that the houses ran about $150 to be custom-made, which I thought to be a very reasonable price for such a work of art.
I inspected several other crafts, including some homemade quilts and furniture, while I waited for lunch to be served.
The event opened at 7 a.m. with a pancake breakfast, and coffee and donuts were available throughout the morning.
At 10 a.m. the line opened up for lunch, which keeps many (including myself) coming back each year.
For $4, diners get a choice of chicken noodle soup of chili.
Your selection includes cheese and crackers and homemade bread with apple butter. Drinks and homemade desserts are offered as well.
There’s very little space inside to eat, but there’s a large event tent set up outside for extra seating. With the beautiful weather on Saturday, I took my plate and headed that way.
For those who weren’t interested in a liquid lunch, there were hotdogs and all the fixings outside, along with funnel cakes.
Along with the aforementioned crafts and furniture for sale, there were some items of interest.
A pen set right by the entrance to the building held a group of playful puppies. Children seemed to be gathered around it most of the day, and I saw many pleading looks directed toward those who I presume were their parents.
A little further afield was a pen with chickens in it. The chickens and a custom pen were all for sale. Although they attracted some of the children’s interest, it seemed that more of the older generation of men were examining it.
Across the dirt road, kids stood patiently (and some, impatiently) around a small booth, waiting their turn to ride the train through the woods, or in the horse-drawn carriage along the dirt road.
I myself took the carriage ride, and despite almost tumbling off the rear when the driver first said “Gittup!” to the horse, I had an enjoyable time. The scenery was beautiful and the youngsters on board loved trying their hand at holding the reins.
The aforementioned auction would start at 1 p.m. Items to be auction included two sides of a grass-fed beef, Sugar Maple seedlings, quilts, a night of babysitting and a homemade pie of your choice.
I later caught up with Mrs. Ruth Miller (wife of Mr. Joe Miller), whose mother started the event.
“It started with my mother over 40 years ago,” Miller said. “She had my dad’s mother’s kettle, and always loved cooking apple butter.”
Miller said her mother was good at gathering friends and family together to cook the apple butter, because one family can’t use all that is produced by a kettle of that size.
“We would get together one evening and make it, then divide it up,” Miller said.
Her mother later began cooking apple butter for their Bible school in Ohio and donating it.
Over 20 years ago, Ruth had inherited her mother’s kettle and the local school was needing some money.
Ruth started developing an idea to sell apple butter and give the funds to the school.
“It started out pretty small,” she recalled. “We sold that one kettle-full that first year, and we were happy.”
The next year, there was one kettle made the night before the event, and one made the day of.
“It went so fast, it was gone by 9 a.m. and people were so disappointed that they didn’t get any,” Ruth said with a smile.
Now there are eight kettles of apple butter sold each year.
“Most of the kettles hold 40 gallons now,” Miller said. “My mother’s only held 20 gallons.”
The ladies of the Ozark Mennonite Church get together before the event and have a giant “apple schnietzel.”
“We do over 60 bushels of apples,” Miller said.
The group of 40-some ladies start at 6 a.m. and have a full day of preparing for the event before going home to tend to their husbands and children.
The men of the church are responsible for cooking the apple butter in the kettles.
“The sale has really grown,” Ruth said.
Her husband, Joe, estimated each year’s crowd to be around 1,000 people.
One of the most touching moments of the day will occur when the auction starts at 1 p.m., Ruth confided.
The couple’s eldest daughter, Francie, has Down Syndrome.
Since the event began 21 years ago, Francie has always made a little pillow that says “Happiness is Having a Best Friend.”
“Anyone that knows Francie knows that she has many, many friends,” Ruth said.
Francie stands up in front of the crowd and holds the pillow as it is auctioned (along with a picture of herself).
“The people of the church usually run the bid up high,” Ruth said. “It’s gone above $200.”
That story only shows the heart of this small community, and the way they serve their own members, and the public, especially on one day each October.
Reflections is a weekly column exploring the history of Douglas County. Current topics include local festivals, school history and Douglas County residents who have a special talent. If you have an idea for an article, please call 417-683-4181 or e-mail email@example.com.