How do you like them apples? Darlington festival celebrates fall fruit


In the rural village of Darlington, local workers picked, polished, cored, sliced, spiced and cooked bushels of the fall fruit yesterday in celebration of the eighth annual Darlington Apple Festival.

More than 30,000 fair-goers hungry for a taste of fall were expected to visit the popular one-day event to sample apple pies, apple cakes, apple dumplings, apple muffins, apple cider, apple crepes and caramel apples at this decidedly apple-oriented affair.

"It's an old-fashioned day in the country," said Debbie Grady, owner of Stonehouse Country Home, an antique and gift shop in Darlington, who set up a candy stand outside the store.

The fall harvest festival has grown from a small-town church event to a big-time community celebration held the first Saturday in October. It's a neighborhood block party that attracts visitors from across Harford County, as well as Baltimore, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware, organizers said.

Despite its growth, the festival has kept a small-town, rural flavor with family oriented activities, plenty of home cooking and no alcoholic beverages.

Local organizations and church groups in the town of about 400 sell baked goods -- especially apple pies -- to raise money.

"It's very 'country,' " said June Griffith, vice chairman of the festival and owner of the Darlington Country Store.

"It's like coming to somebody's neighborhood. People just enjoy visiting with other people," she said.

The day was crisp and golden as visitors strolled through the comfortable town.

Shuresville Road was closed to traffic and, by early afternoon, the street was crowded with fair-goers enjoying arts and crafts, antiques, a flea market and farm produce, as well as entertainment in the outdoor "Hay Bale Auditorium."

Children lined up for free balloons, pony rides, face painting, pumpkin decorating, hayrides and a petting zoo.

Their parents paused to select from the bounty of the season, purchasing apples, Indian corn, assorted gourds and enormous sunflower heads by the peck, bunch, handful and stalk.

Some fair-goers stopped to buy chrysanthemums from members of an Amish family who brightened the festival with a rainbow assortment of 1,100 pots of the brilliantly hued fall flowers from their farm in Quarryville, Pa.

"Oh, I just love it," said Erin Cox of Bel Air. "We wanted to do something fun today. They have a lot of just about everything crafty you could want. I think it's very nice."

"I think it's great," agreed Wilma Joanis, Ms. Cox's aunt, who was in Harford County from her West Coast home to visit relatives. "Everything here is kind of homemade. It's something you don't see much of in California."

But the Darlington Apple Festival is fun not just for visitors to the northeast Harford village.

Dorothy Dinsmore, known as "Cookie," was born in Darlington 52 years ago and looks forward to the festival every year.

"It's just a wonderful day," Mrs. Dinsmore said. "It's great for the community and for the businesses.

It seems like everyone . . . has a part in it. Folks come back that have moved away for this one special day.

"We like to let everyone enjoy our wonderful little town, to come in and feel the warmth and the friendliness."

Local fruit grower Arthur Johnson, chairman of the festival, loaded the back of his pickup truck with bushel baskets and crates full of Mutsus, Grimes goldens, Spitzenburgs (rumored to have been a favorite of Thomas Jefferson), Cortlands, Winter bananas and MacFrees and drove down the road to nearby Darlington yesterday to sell his unusual and old-fashioned varieties of apples.

Dr. Johnson, a professor of engineering at the University of Maryland at College Park, specializes in growing "a wide variety of unusual and usual" fruits at his SweetAire Farm.

"The festival is a way of providing financial support for our community groups," Dr. Johnson said. "And there's a spirit it builds up, because it gets everyone going and working for the good of the community.

"I hope that people who come in from the outside will see what a nice town Darlington is so that they'll stand with us to protect the town," he continued.

"We're still rural, and we'd like to keep it that way."

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