BELPRE - Several hundred people filled Howes Grove Park for fresh, handmade apple butter on Saturday for the first day of the 35th annual Belpre Apple Butter Stir-Off.
"Traffic has been steady all day," said Bill McAfee with the Belpre Lions Club, which has sponsored the event from the beginning.
Because the Belpre Lions Club made the event free last year, McAfee said it is difficult to determine how many people attended the event.
"I would say more than 300 people attended throughout the day," he said Saturday afternoon. "It wasn't crowded, but it was busy."
This is the first time the stir-off was not held on the first weekend of October, said event chair Vicki Boggs.
"The weather is part of the reason we changed the weekend of the stir-off," Boggs said. "We realized the first weekend of October usually had a lot of rain, so we changed it and have beautiful weather this year."
The Belpre Lions Club has organized the apple butter festival each year since 1979 with the proceeds going to help the club purchase eyeglasses and hearing aids for community members, Boggs said.
The festival, which concluded Sunday, included carnival rides, games and inflatbles for children.
On Saturday, volunteers from Pioneer Presbyterian Church and Boy Scout Troop 91 stirred two cast iron pots of apple butter over open fires.
Tom Webster, an event coordinator from Pioneer Presbyterian Church, said the church and the Boy Scouts began work on the apple butter two weeks ago.
The two groups cored and cut the apples and made apple sauce, which became apple butter before and during the festival. The 78 bushels of apples for this year's festival came from Bob's Market.
"For the first time, this year we made and have for sale sugar-free apple butter made with Splenda," Webster said. "People have been asking for sugar-free apple butter for years and this year we decided to try it."
The decision came about after a local family donated another kettle to the event, he added.
"It's an experiment," Webster said.
The apple butter has been made annually by the two groups for more than 17 years. During the weekend festival, members of the church and Scouts will show festival attendees how to stir the condiment in copper kettles over open fires. It took two weeks of evening work for the apple butter to go from fresh, whole apples to the finished product.
The Scouts' earnings go to the individual boys' accounts to be used for summer camp and other special projects. The church uses the proceeds for general projects. In the past, the troop has made about 220 gallons of apple butter with members of the church.