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Apple crisp shines at festival; Church bakers offer a little taste of heaven.

Byline: Amanda Roberge

LEOMINSTER -- You have had religious doctrine served up via pamphlet and podium, but the First Baptist Church in Leominster has a decidedly tastier approach.

There is a little bit of heavenly love in every bite of apple crisp that comes out of its doors on one single day each year: The day of the Johnny Appleseed Festival. This year, that day is Sept. 27, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., during the popular downtown festival that brings in more than 14,000 people to enjoy Leominster at its finest.

In the early days of the festival, which dates back to the early 1990s, with this year being the event's 21st anniversary, the infamous apple crisp featured hand-peeled apples and a sprinkle of this, a dash of that, measured in teaspoons and cups. But those were simpler times.

The operation now requires more than 100 people to execute, along with 72 bushels of apples, 14 tubs of ice cream and countless 50 pound bags of flour, oats and brown sugar.

Some people may read this story with limited interest, likely asking themselves what could be so special about apple crisp, an All-American delicacy with no more than a handful of ingredients. In fact, you might be hard-pressed to find a dessert less complicated, less labor intensive, less sophisticated.

But then there will be the others. Several thousand others, according to apple crisp maker Jane DeNike, who perhaps marked the festival on their calendars long ago in anticipation of this treat. An annual occasion so momentous and special that it rivals only Santa's footsteps on the rooftop or Jack Frost's sparkling presence on that first morning deep into fall.

So what makes the treat so special? Is it a secret ingredient or a time-tested recipe dating back to someone's grandmother?

"It's the fact that you didn't have to make it,'' said Ms. DeNike, laughing, although her friend Ann Corbett has another theory. "It's made with a lot of love,'' said Ms. Corbett, sitting among bins full of pre-measured oats, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon -- making the assembly accessible and foolproof for the small army of church volunteers who will work in shifts to total 12-hour days in the week leading up to the event.

Having increased in production each year, they can safely estimate that this year, they will sell more than 650 pans of the tart goodness, some in small and medium pans for take-home customers, and another hundred pans doled out in generous scoops with vanilla ice cream oozing over the top.

The apple crisp sales will help to carry the church financially in a time when membership is level at best, struggling at worst -- a generation of churchgoers devoted to standing by the First Baptist congregation as it enters a new era of social networking. It is the church's largest fundraiser of the year.

With a sunny day predicted, the forecast is a welcome omen for the bakers.

"The weather is such a huge factor,'' said Ms. DeNike, although on rainy occasions, they have been known to have an ever-faithful crowd of apple crisp aficionados pull up to the door and run out for their annual Macintosh fix. "A nice day makes it so much better.''

The added bonus is the church's ability to spread their message of love, with the words "Taste and See That the Lord Is Good'' (Psalm 34:8) decorating each package and sharing some of the traditional values embodied by the dedicated bakers working behind the scenes.

While the festival boasts an impressive lineup of entertainers and vendors, nonprofits and businesses peddling their wares and sharing their missions, it's the apple crisp line at First Baptist Church that is preaching the true message of the festival.

It's a message of community, of faith, and of an unparalleled love for the festival's namesake: The almighty apple and all of its sweetness.
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Title Annotation:Weeklies
Author:Roberge, Amanda
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 26, 2014
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