Published October 25. 2013 4:00AM
Every Monday and Tuesday night for the last month or so, volunteers have set up a makeshift assembly line in the Salem Congregational Church to process barrels of apples.
Sixty-five people have donated about 1,000 hours of their time help the church prepare for its 44th annual Apple Festival, during which residents will flock to the town center to browse booths filled with apple-based baked goods.
After all these years, the volunteers have an efficient pie-making system down. Here's how it works:
After being plucked from the trees at Scott's Orchard and Nursery in Glastonbury or Scott's Farm in Deep River, apples travel to Salem in a bushel.
A volunteer - probably outfitted in latex gloves, a hair net and an apron emblazoned with Psalm 34:8 - pulls apples out of the barrels. While the Red Sox game plays over the radio, the volunteer peels and cores the apple before passing it on to another person be sliced into chunks.
This takes place in the church's Christian Community Center and is the "most important part of the whole process," says Shirley Dubeau, the wife of the pastor at the Congregational Church and the woman who organizes the yearly festival.
After they are chopped and dropped into a bucket, the apples travel to the kitchen, where more volunteers (mostly women) prepare them to be placed into pie crusts. Enough dough to make hundreds of pies was prepared earlier in the month and the simple mix of flour, shortening and salt already has been spread across a pie tin and crimped by the time the apples arrive.
Everyone crimps - or makes the edging on the pie crust - a little differently, said Dubeau, making each pie unique.
The apple chunks are combined with a thickening agent before they are distributed into the crusts in 28-ounce doses. Then, if it's a crumb-topped pie, volunteers drop butter-and-sugar based crumb mix over the top before slipping the final product into a bag.
The bagged pies are then loaded onto an industrial-looking cart and carried downstairs, where they're stacked into a walk-in freezer to await the big day.
The products of all this work will be displayed on the town green starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday. More than 1,500 items made from 109 bushels of apples will be on sale.
About 1,000 of those items will be pies, up from the 200 made during the first festival in 1970. There are two pie varieties- - double-crusted or crumb-topped - which customers can buy either whole and frozen or by the slice for immediate consumption.
But the festival isn't all about pie. Fresh baked goods will run the apple-based gamut, from Swedish apple pudding, Apple Betty and apple crisp, to apple muffins, chocolate-applesauce cake, gingerbread-applesauce cake and apple turnovers. But don't forget to check out the apple whoopie pies, applesauce loaves, apple pancakes, apple fritters, hot dogs with apple sauerkraut and apple sundaes. And, for those tired of apples, bulk Cabot cheddar cheese.
The church volunteers don't have a specific amount of money they hope to raise, but festival proceeds will support their missionaries and the church's property fund. Some regular congregation members have been helping with the festival preparations, said Dubeau, but they've also had several volunteers from the community come in.
The apple festival is "a great way to build fellowship with the congregation and with the community," said Dubeau, calling it "an event that brings the town together."
Catherine Dimmock, one of the founders of the Congregational Church of Salem's Apple Festival, shared this recipe more than 40 years ago.
4 cups apples (pared, cored and sliced)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups cubed white bread, with crust on
1/3 cup butter (melted)
¼ cup water
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare an 8 by 8 pan by buttering or spraying with cooking spray.
Cube bread into half-inch pieces. (An electric knife works great.)
Melt butter, add bread cubes and blend thoroughly.
Combine apples, sugar and cinnamon.
Layer: half of the apple, sugar and cinnamon mixture, half of the bread and butter mixture, followed by the remaining apple, sugar and cinnamon mixture. Top off with the remaining bread and butter mixture.
Sprinkle ¼ cup water over the top and bake covered with foil for 35 to 40 minutes or until bubbly.
Uncover and bake a few more minutes until bread is lightly toasted. Best served warm.