Posted on Thu, October 22, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
2 Comments | Categories: Biodiversity, Events, Farms and Farming, Take Action,
by intern Alaine Janosy
Apparently there is nothing that says Western Pennsylvania quite like an apple, or at least thats what Donald Gibbon thought when he helped found the regions annual AppleFest, which will be celebrating its fourth year this Saturday, October 24, 2009.
As a member of Slow Food Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), Donald has a long history of working with all sorts of small-scale farming initiatives in the area. While working as a photographer, he fell in love with the apple cider from a local farm and documented the farms entire cider-making process, start to finish. All of this exposure to the apple farming community in Western Pennsylvania made him aware of the not-so-slow decline in the number of area small orchards. These orchards were having trouble competing with all the apples being shipped-in to grocery stores from other locations, both international and national. After reading Michael Pollan’s “Botany of Desire” and Frank Browning’s “Apples: the story of the fruit of temptation,” Donald decided to do what he could to promote local apples.
So, AppleFest was born. It has grown into an event sponsored by Slow Food Pittsburgh, Allegheny Group - Sierra Club, East End Food Co-op, PASA, and Pennsylvania Agricultural Extension Service. The festival has helped raise local awareness about the wonderful apples available to residents right in their own backyard. The local farmers that provide apples and cider to the festival for sale and tasting are more than willing participants because they do not have to give up a days work to bring their products to the public. Volunteers go out to the farms and pick up the apples and cider that will then be sold at the downtown festival. Some of the unique varieties featured at the festival include Monroe, Opalescent, and, Donalds personal favorite, Stayman. According to Donald this is a very special apple. It is both firm and tart, making it a spectacular baking apple. If you had no other reason to move to SW Pennsylvania, its Stayman apples would be a good enough reason!
Donalds love of Stayman apples, and inability to get a decent piece of pie out at restaurants made a pie-baking contest an integral part of AppleFest. All bakers must label their pie, which must be made entirely from scratch, with the variety of apple used and the farm from whence the apples came. This helps to really drive home the connection between farm and table. The pies are judged by a distinguished panel of local experts including Bill Fuller (Executive Chef, Big Burrito Restaurant Group), Kate Chenowyth (Pittsburgh Magazine), and Nancy Hanst (teacher/food writer, Post-Gazette, Table Magazine). While waiting for the pies to be judged, festival goers are entertained by music, art, performances, and marvelous apple-based food available to taste and purchase. After judging has concluded, all of the pies are sliced and the slices are sold in one of three ways, plain, a la mode with ice cream from local artisan Oh Yeah ice cream, or with cheese from area Amish cheese makers. Apple pie baking has become such an important part of AppleFest that organizers have declared Pittsburgh the Apple-Pie Baking Capital of the World. Donald tells me that they are willing to defend the title, based on both their great apples and their bakers, against all challengers far and wide.
This wonderful festival is really the culmination of yearlong efforts to promote the event. AppleFest has been featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and local NPR airtime has been purchased to help broaden the festivals audience. Everything will come together this year at Union Project from 11 am to 2 pm. Admission is free, just be sure to bring you appetite for apples!