FAIR HILL — Autumn has arrived. There is a noticeable chill in the air and the days are becoming shorter, signifying the change of season. With the arrival of Fall comes the much-anticipated pumpkin and apple picking festivities that tend to be so prevalent in Maryland and other parts of the North East during this time of year. For Cecil County, this means it is once again time for The Elk Creeks Preservation Society’s annual Apple Butter Festival. Held every October since 1977, this year will mark the festival’s 42nd anniversary.
Apple butter making has existed for thousands of 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 refer to as Fair Hill. Every year, on a chilly October morning, in the wee hours before dawn, 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 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’s purpose was to share their love of local history and to preserve, restore, and maintain the properties and historic structures of the Elk Creeks’ watershed. 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.
Since its beginning, Elk Creeks Preservation Society has spearheaded numerous restoration projects at the Bee Hive (as well as other sites). In recent years they have restored fire places in both the Fence Maker’s House and the Cooper’s Shop. The society has also put extensive work into the Wallace Tavern over the past year. By restoring these historic structures, the society preserves the history and heritage for generations to come.
This year’s 42nd Apple Butter Festival will be held on Saturday, Oct. 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is a family-friendly event with free admission for everyone. There will be traditional Scottish and Irish music and foods, including honey and cheese from local vendors. Entertainment such as hayrides, as well as activities for children will be provided. There will also be demonstrations by local craftspeople and artisans, such as pottery by Maggie Creshkoff, handmade cutting boards by Karen Wey, and prints for sale by watercolorist, Geraldine McKeown. Attendees will also get a chance to see and meet blacksmith Bobby Fischer and timber framer Joe Wey. And of course, there will be plenty of apple butter!
All proceeds from the apple butter and other foods sold will go directly to the continued maintenance and preservation of The Bee Hive. The Bee Hive is located at 3927 Telegraph Road in Elkton. For more information please visit the Elk Creeks Preservation Society’s website at www.elkcreekspreserva tionsociety.com.