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Penns Valley heritage, regional foods are at the heart of the annual Dutch Fall Festival

For 44 years, Aaronsburg residents have been flocking to an annual fall festival that celebrates all things regional food and a simpler way of life.

The Aaronsburg Dutch Fall Festival got its start in 1976, in honor of the bicentennial. At its start, according to Aaronsburg Civic Club president Kevin Sims, the festival had more of a colonial village feel, with costumed individuals demonstrating skills such as hog butchering and making apple butter. Over time, that theme has waxed and waned, but currently, attendees can still find a variety of foods that reflect Penns Valley heritage.

Craft vendors surround the Aaronsburg Civic Club community building and grounds, while the park itself hosts vendors offering many of the same foods that have been available for all four decades of the event’s existence.

“There are sticky buns and bread made in a brick oven that was built in 1976. There’s homemade soup made in big iron kettles. There’s apple cider pressed just down the road at an Amish cider press. There’s scrapple, also made locally,” Sims said.

The two big crowd pleasers each year, Sims said, are always the ham and bean soup and the sticky buns, which usually sell out by noon each day.

“If you’re in the know, you know you have to get there early to get the ham and bean soup. And then the sticky buns and bread, because it’s a nice, old recipe,” he said. “The dough is made with lard. ... It’s baked in these brick ovens, tasty and fresh right out of the oven and I’ve even seen people come with Tupperware, to buy more than one (serving) and take it home and put it in the freezer.”

Each year, the festival draws around 3,000-5,000 attendees, a mix of both Penns Valley locals and those from the surrounding area and, for many of them, the food isn’t just delicious. It’s a reflection of the local culture and heritage.

“They’re hearty, fall, comfort foods but they’re a particular regional variety of those,” Sims said. “I know, at least in Penns Valley, the local traditions are very food-oriented. A lot of what we do at the Civic Club is really built around that — community suppers that always involve particular ways of cooking things and old family recipes that people are preserving. There’s a real identification with the place and the food.”

As the older generations who attended and cooked at the very first Aaronsburg Dutch Fall Festival pass on, the younger generations are taking the reins, slowly but surely. As such, many of the recipes found at the festival have stayed in the same families.

Even among the vendors who are local nonprofits, rather than families, Sims says there’s a great deal of cooperation. The nonprofits coordinate to offer different items, to avoid competition, and many organizations have developed a reputation for offering one thing or the other, whether it’s soup in a bread bowl, chicken and corn chowder or haluski.

The majority of the food at the festival is prepared on-site, so guests can be assured of its freshness, but what about those with dietary restrictions? While Sims does warn that the options are heavily pork-based, there are increasing vegetarian items throughout the festival.

Live bands will rotate throughout the two days of the festival, including Toad Creek Music, the Jay Vonada Trio, Western Range, Dilly Beans, Stacy Garbrick, The Second Winds, Tussey Mountain Moonshiners and Country Express. The festival has also brought back some of its old-time demonstrations, including blacksmithing, quilting, rug braiding and sauerkraut making.

The Aaronsburg Dutch Fall Festival takes place 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.

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