By Suzanne Waring
It’s tradition. It’s historic. It’s an event you will enjoy.
The Ravalli County Museum’s McIntosh Apple Day will be held in Hamilton, Mont., on Saturday, October 3, this year.
This chief fundraiser for the Ravalli County Museum celebrates one aspect of Bitterroot Valley history when Thomas W. Harris planted the first commercial apple orchard there in 1866. By the first decade of the 20th Century, more than a million apple trees had been planted throughout the valley, making it the national center for the wonderful McIntosh Red apple.
In 1921 at the height of this apple boom, orchards were shipping by rail more than 600 boxcars of apples across the country. A whole cadre of people worked in the apple industry as caretakers and pruners, pickers and shippers.
Then unrecoverable disaster struck. Carloads of fruit would sit on rail sidetracks, and they would rot before they got to their destination in Chicago or New York, making raising and selling apples unreliable.
Hailstorms and early frosts, especially in 1926, finally destroyed this industry.
Apples trees are still found in people’s backyards, at small orchards, or as hardy stock along creeks in the backwoods or along road rights-of-way.
Celebrating this history, McIntosh Apple Day has become a tradition that involves the whole community, making it a lot of fun.
A former director of the museum, Erma Owing, and the volunteer Bitterroot Valley Historical Society president May Valence started this event 41 years ago. It has been held every year since.
In the past the fundraiser has helped to pay for a new roof and an elevator for the building, which was once the courthouse. Each year the activities change to meet the interests of the community, but the apple is the core of the event.
In preparation, approximately 65 volunteers bake and sell more than 650 apple pies.
“For several years I headed the group for making the pie dough, and I used my favorite vinegar pie dough recipe,” said Pat Tibbs, who has been responsible for many of the different tasks in making the pies.
Several local orchards provide the apples with community members also sharing apples from their backyards. All together 40 bushels of apples are peeled for the pies alone.
The museum owns manual apple peelers, but some volunteers bring their own. To make it more fun, they have a contest for who can produce the longest apple peel.
“One year I talked the volunteers into making cherry pies, since cherries are also raised in the Bitterroot Valley. The cherry juice oozed up and spilled over when the pies were baked. It was a mess, and I will never live that idea down, especially with my husband, Don, who was the dishwasher,” said Tibbs. “The volunteers have the process for making the pies and having them ready to sell on McIntosh Apple Day down to a science.”
The volunteers gather at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church and the First Presbyterian Church to make the pies. The culinary class at the Trapper Creek Job Corps also helps with the pie crusts.
“I especially enjoy watching the culinary class work,” said Tibbs.
The pies are baked at the Hamilton High School food service kitchen the afternoon and evening before the event along with the Coffee Cup Restaurant that has large ovens.
The apple pies are fresh and ready to sell from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. on McIntosh Apple Day.
“People need to get there early to get pies,” said Laurie Burnham, who is in charge of the apple booth. “Since this is Apple Day, we sell only apple pies, fresh or frozen.”
“Pies are also sold with double crust or Dutch crust, and folks are particular about which one they get,” said Tamar Stanley, Director of the Museum.
People can also buy apple butter that is made outside in a large pot during the morning, so people can watch it cook.
The Trapper Creek Job Corps chef stirs the apple butter with a wooden oar. It is sold as soon as it is finished cooking.
Stanley makes jars of apple chutney in her home kitchen, and she also sells caramel apples. Vendors also rent booths to sell their wares.
From 5 to 9 p.m. Liquid Apple Night takes over on the museum lawn, where homemade apple cider and local beers are sold. People can enjoy their refreshment and visit around the burn barrel under the glimmering lights with music in the background.
If dancing erupts, that’s okay too.
Pies and apple products will certainly be sold this year, but planned event dates are fluid because of the status of Covid-19 in Montana. Check the Ravalli Museum’s Facebook page for last-minute details. MSN