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Apple butter feast in Kimmswick

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 26, 2010 - Visitors are nothing new for Kimmswick.

This century-and-a-half-old Jefferson County river town of just 92 residents always has a few extra faces around this time of year - about 100,000 of them, in fact.

"It started off very simple with one or two booths and we've grown to about 500 or 600 booths across the whole town," said Connie Schmitt, interim city clerk. "Whatever you think you might want, it's here. It's just a little bit of everything."

This year's festivities will feature a rock climbing wall, pony rides, face painting and a petting zoo. Live entertainment will also be provided. On the culinary front, visitors can expect to enjoy everything from turkey legs to barbeque to funnel cakes to fried Twinkies. Unusual fare such as pork chops on a stick are also available.

And of course, there's the star of the show, the apple butter itself. A slow-cooked, concentrated form of applesauce which browns from the caramelizing sugar, the tasty treat is churned out by the Kimmswick Historical Society, which frequently gives educational demonstrations on its production.

"They usually sell out; so if people want to get it they usually come on Saturday because by Sunday afternoon it's pretty well gone," Schmitt said.

The cause of the hubbub is the famous Kimmswick Apple Butter Festival, an event Schmitt's been involved with for two decades. The festival, set for Oct. 30 and 31 this year, dates back to the mid-1970s and regularly attracts thousands of visitors to the tiny town about 25 miles down Interstate 55 from the Arch. Similar in spirit to its smaller summer cousin, the Strawberry Festival in June, it features booths manned by vendors who hawk wares from clothing and crochet work to barn wood crafts and jewelry.

Mary Hostetter is plenty familiar with the apple butter celebration. About 100 of the vendor booths will be set up in the parking lot of her establishment, The Blue Owl Restaurant and Bakery. Shops across the town will rent out space as well, she said.

"The streets are filled shoulder to shoulder and there are just people everywhere," she said. "It's probably the largest apple butter festival in the state of Missouri."

Vehicular traffic will be prohibited in town during the event. Instead, visitors can arrive by shuttle from nearby Windsor School on Highway 61/67. Patrons can also walk in from parking provided on Route K. Festival organizers recommend Sunday mornings as the least crowded time.

No matter what method of arrival you choose however, Hostetter suggests apple butter lovers come early. Her business hosts about 1,200 people during the festivities and a 30-foot tent has been set up for the excess.

"It's a lot of fun, a lot of people," she said. "Everyone should just come out and enjoy the beautiful fall weather and have a good time."

Patrons who grow tired of apple butter mania can also see some of the local sites in Kimmswick.

Visitors can drop by for a tour of the ancestral home of the Anheuser family of Anheuser-Busch brewing fame. The site features numerous heirlooms, antiques and a scenic view of the river and its associated wildlife, including bald eagles.

Local history buffs can also visit the Windsor Harbor Road Bridge, which holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest wrought iron span in the state.

Those interested in truly ancient history can try Mastodon State Historic Site in nearby Imperial, where remains of the ice age creatures for which the 425-acre site was named are on display.

But in October, apple butter is king and the festival is still the main event. Jenny Pickett, a patron at the Blue Owl, wouldn't miss it.

"If there's a problem it's probably that there's too many people," she said.

Not that the crowds keep Pickett away. The 54-year-old Fenton resident has been attending for the past seven or eight years and is even joined by her adult children when they are in town. She calls the festival very "family friendly."

"It's a really good, positive event for everyone, kids and adults," she said. "It's got a little bit of everything."

Doors open at 10 a.m. each day for the Apple Butter Festival.

For more information visit the Kimmswick Visitor Center online at https://www.visitkimmswick.com/apple_butter_festival or contact the office by phone at 636-464-6464.

David Baugher is a freelance writer. 

David Baugher
David Baugher is a freelance writer in St. Louis who contributed to several stories for the STL Beacon.