Orchards dwindle but Apple Festival continues to thrive

September 24, 2004|BRENDA S. EDWARDS

LIBERTY - Pizza lovers gathered around a farm-gate fence Thursday evening while a giant pizza was being tossed together by five Pizza Hut employees.

The pepperoni, sausage and cheese pizza didn't take long to prepare, but it took about an hour to bake in a stainless steel pan and oven made especially for the World's Largest Apple Pie.

The pie has been served in late September for the past 30 years in downtown Liberty.

Compared to a large-size pizza at Pizza Hut on Wallace Wilkinson Boulevard, which has 60 slices of pepperoni, 12 ounces of cheese and 4 or 5 ounces of sauce on a thin crust, the Casey County Apple Festival pizza is a giant. The recipe: 8 gallons of sauce, 60 pounds of cheese, 25 pounds of pepperoni, 65 pounds of dough, and 25 pounds of sausage. It also takes about 30 minutes to make and even longer to bake.


When the steaming hot pizza came out of the oven, it did not take long to get rid of it as the local school Future Business Leaders of America served pieces to the crowd.

"It's really good," said Steve Moody, Pizza Hut district manager of Tennessee, who made the trip to the festival to help out. Actually, he appeared to be mostly supervising, as Pat Turpin, district manager, and her crew, Teresa Hundley, Alma King and Candace Combs, local employees, tossed the cheese, pepperoni and sausage onto the large crust.

Moody said smaller pizzas are cooked faster, and the giant slow-cooked pizza is much tastier. "The crust gets crisper, the flavor blends better. It makes me so hungry to watch us make it."

It also makes a lot of festival goers hungry from the appearance of the line a few minutes before it was brought out of the oven by a forklift.

Pizza Hut, part of Fugate Enterprises in Wichita, Kan., has sponsored the pizza since it opened the business in Liberty more than 20 years ago, said Moody. It is the only giant pizza that his company makes and serves free to the public.

The pizza is one of three giants served during the county's largest gathering. Food Center of Liberty sponsors a 10-foot chocolate chip cookie at the inspirational service Wednesday and the apple pie at noon Saturday.

Sixty-seven bushels of apples were peeled

While the pizza was baking, 67 bushels of Granny Smith apples were being peeled close by for the giant pie that will be served at noon Saturday, the final day of the weeklong festival. A large peeler took the peels off the apples, then sliced them before they were washed, covered with lemon juice and stored in plastic bags.

It was a smaller and younger crowd doing the peeling and the apples didn't come from Casey County, which used to harvest hundreds of bushels of apples each year. They were shipped from Washington state. The apple industry has dwindled to only a few orchards in the county, but the festival continues and draws thousands each year.

Preparations began this morning for the pie that will bake throughout the night and be ready for the noon serving Saturday.

"This is wonderful," said Doris Hackbarth, as she watched the apple peeling process.

"It's terrific," said Hackbarth, who recently moved from Colorado to Casey County and was attending her first festival.

The champion apple peelers also were there.

The two women who usually win the peeling contest each year almost were defeated by a man.

Jim Coffey of Liberty, the only man in the contest, was walking around showing off his second-place trophy for an apple peel that stretched to 67 1/2 inches.

"I won second place," said Coffey. "I didn't cheat either," he said jokingly. He admitted he learned how to peel an apple from the first- and third-place winners.

Winner Linda Dean Peavy's peel was 84 inches long, and Rosa Bertram had a 64 1/2 peel to take third place.

Joyce Wilham, who had charge of the contest for the first time, said 10 people entered the contest.

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