Once a year, the town of Darlington (pop. 500) holds an apple festival and its numbers swell a hundredfold. On Oct. 5, an estimated 50,000 people will descend on the Harford County hamlet to celebrate the fruits of the townsfolks’ labors, from apple pies to handmade crafts.
Elaine Calderon is chairperson of the 34th annual festival, which benefits local churches, schools and scouts. A Darlington resident, she oversees a band of local volunteers who are put to the test one Saturday each fall.
How much has the festival grown?
The first one, in 1986, was very, very small. They held it outside the United Methodist Church and didn’t even fill the parking lot. I was there, a senior at Havre de Grace, and never thought it would get this big. Now, we have to close nearby roads, we have people park in fields and we shuttle them here.
What are this year’s highlights?
We’ll have about 250 vendors selling everything from pottery and pit beef to folk art and funnel cakes. There are hayrides, pony rides, scarecrow-making and bands playing rock and gospel.
And every type of apple dish?
Well, you can buy apple dumplings, cakes and fritters. And a fantastic “Apple Delight,” a peeled Granny Smith topped with warm caramel sauce and whipped cream.
The fritters. My grandmother used to make them, and they remind me of her. But I don’t eat much on the day of the festival; I’m a little busy.
There’s an apple pie baking contest, but no pie-eating contest. How come?
It hasn’t been discussed in my 10 years (as chairperson). We probably wouldn’t take that on because of health department regulations; it’s not as simple as saying, “We want to do this.”
Has the festival changed much?
We used to have flea market tables, but no more. The Cornhole Tournament, in its fourth year, has really grown. We’ve never charged admission here and don’t plan to because the vendors raise their own money; the festival itself isn’t for profit. People come from Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia; others come through their neighbors’ back yards.
What’s the biggest problem?
Traffic. Parking. If that doesn’t go well, it leaves people with a bad taste in their mouths that no amount of apples can change.
Has the festival outgrown the town?
Depends on whom you ask. Some think it’s already a monster; others ask why we don’t make it a two-day festival. But that’s more than anyone living here wants. To me, this one day a year brings a lot of interest and money to our town — and that’s good.
What’s amazing is that, the day after, it hardly looks like the festival ever happened. You can drive through Darlington on that Sunday afternoon, look around and say, “Whoa, that was yesterday?” It’s something for us to be proud of.