Home-grown food draws crowd to St. Alphonsus festival

| Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, 5:57 p.m.

The annual Harvest Home Dinner at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Pine Township, which is from 1 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, began more than 120 years ago, when local farmers donated their crops so a meal could be prepared to raise money for the parish.

At some point, a small festival was added, but the home-grown food is what keeps people coming back every year, said Patricia Remy, a member of the festival committee.

“Obviously, it's not just our parishioners, but people in the community also come out because they like the dinner,” said Remy, of Pine Township. “It's a nice community event and a bonding experience for our parish.”

About 2,000 dinners are sold every year, and this year, everyone will be seated in the school gymnasium. Classrooms in the parish school always were used for seating in the past, but now, everyone will be in the air-conditioned gym, Remy said.

“By having everyone on the gymnasium floor, they will all be able to see each other,” Remy said.

About 300 volunteers help with the event, Remy said.

Diners have the choice of sliced ham or grilled chicken The side dishes are prepared from locally grown produce. A cucumber salad and a tomato salad always are popular with diners, but everyone raves about the homemade applesauce, Remy said.

About 25 volunteers spend one evening cutting apples and cooking the sauce from a recipe that has been modified and perfected for 100 years, said Bob Paolini, a parishioner who has helped make the applesauce for more than 15 years.

“We've ironed out all the wrinkles over the years and pretty much have it down pat,” said Paolini, 77, of Pine. “I've never had a year when the applesauce hasn't been good.”

Almost 100 pounds of applesauce is prepared in just three or four hours. Most of the volunteers work to cut the apples, which then are cooked and pressed through a machine that filters out the skins, Paolini said.

“We've got some people who know the cooking process really well,” Paolini said, “so they help to make the applesauce just right.”

The desserts are prepared and donated by parishioners and include fruit pies, Remy said.

Attendees also can play games of chance; enter the Chinese auction, which features gift baskets; or visit the country store. A Fun Land for children will have inflatables, such as a giant slide, Remy said.

Most of the money raised goes toward the expenses of St. Alphonsus School, which many parishioners attended when they were children, Remy said.

“It's been our home parish all of our lives, so we're excited to be involved with the dinner,” Remy said. “We want to make sure our church and school succeed.”

Melanie Donahoo is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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