By Kayla Rinker
MILLER—Braving the chill of the early October air, several members of Round Grove Baptist Church work together to stir the simmering contents of a huge copper kettle. The resulting fragrance is mouth-watering.
Round Grove, located in rural Miller, has provided apple butter for Apple Butter Makin’ Days for the last 28 years. The festival, which takes place in nearby Mt. Vernon, draws an estimated 40,000 to 45,000 people over the course of the weekend. The open fire cooking demonstration of the apple butter is a main attraction. Also, with each apple butter purchase, customers receive a tract with a special message from Round Grove members.
Bob Holman, long-time pastor of Round Grove, said the church started making apple butter in 1981 when the Mt. Vernon Chamber of Commerce needed a group to fill in and make apple butter during the festival.
“We had to borrow a copper kettle because we didn’t own anything like that,” he said. “We borrowed a 50 gallon kettle from a German family and that year we probably made about 50 gallons of apple butter – quite a difference from the 1,150 gallons we made this year.”
Making apple butter has become so much of a job that, along with making it at the festival, the church spreads its apple butter production over three Saturdays.
“That’s the best way to do it as far as time management,” Holman said. “I figured out once that it takes about 1,800 man hours to make 1,100 gallons of apple butter.”
Along with the man hours, 1,100 gallons of apple butter also requires 11,400 pounds of pre-cut and peeled frozen apples, a literal ton of sugar, 70 big bags of Splenda (Holman himself is diabetic), 25 cases of Red Hots candy, 53 pounds of ground cinnamon and 780 cases of pint jars. Holman said volunteers used to peel and cut fresh apples for the butter when Round Grove first started but as the amount of apple butter increased, that step became much too difficult.
Julie Richardson, a member of Round Grove and for 20-plus years an apple butter volunteer, enjoys her role in the process. She helps organize the meals for the Saturday workers and helps can the butter.
“I enjoy helping with apple butter because I know we are doing something God wants us to do, it’s an outreach and it funds projects we are doing at church,” she said. “It’s also fun to fellowship and catch up with people in the church that we may not see very often. It’s hard work but it’s always a good time.”
Over the years, Round Grove has used its apple butter profits to fund many different kinds of projects and events. They have put on teen events, purchased big items for overseas missions and helped with the cost of church building projects. Holman said they also tithe off apple butter every year, giving that percentage to missionaries in the field, usually missionaries who are members of Round Grove.
“We have a missionary family from our church that has been in Haiti for 10 years, one of our families is in the Philippines and we have one person in China,” he said. “The money helps to meet their needs.”
During the October festival, Holman and another longtime church member and apple butter volunteer, Buck Adams, were named the Grand Marshals of the annual Apple Butter Makin’ Days parade. He said he had a good time in the parade, just like he has a good time every year managing the apple butter operation.
“I love it – I love apple butter,” Holman said. “And I eat it with a lot of meals.”