Salem - A cherished town tradition will return once again Saturday morning, and here's a bit of advice: It's best to arrive early.
The treats and baked goods for sale at the Salem Apple Festival have a way of disappearing fast. The event will return for its 43rd installment at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Congregational Church of Salem and the Town Green.
The event is an annual rite of passage for many in this small town and is held every year on the last Saturday of October. Church organizers anticipate hundreds will come out to purchase a number of apple-inspired goodies - pies, crisps, pancakes, fritters and muffins. Hot dogs with apple sauerkraut are also a big hit.
"It's really an institution here," said Shirley Dubeau, who heads the apple festival committee and is the wife of the Rev. Timothy Dubeau, the church's pastor. "It's a great time to reconnect with people."
Preparation for the event started on Sept. 22 with the annual "dough day," where dough is made for baked goods. In the five weeks since, members of the church congregation and others have spent hours upon hours on other prep work. As of Tuesday night, the group had prepared 970 pies to sell.
Chuck Zemko was one helper who was cutting apples one afternoon earlier this week. Zemko, who used to own a lumber yard in town with his family, said an added benefit of the apple festival is that proceeds help others throughout the world.
Part of the money the church raises goes to its Missionary Benevolent Fund, which helps church-sponsored missionaries in foreign countries who encounter unexpected expenses.
"This is a whole bunch of friends taking part in a good fundraising thing," Zemko said. "The congregational church does a lot of wonderful things for the town and around the world."
The festival will also include a new twist this year. Organizers plan to sell pies in the church's new 5,000-square-foot Christian Community Center, located across Route 85 from the church. Fittingly, sales from many years at the apple festival helped the church buy and restore the former machinery factory. The new building, set to open officially in December, will be used for meetings and other events.
Organizers are also hopeful they can avoid another freak weather event. A rather heavy snowstorm last year knocked out power in parts of the region and made it difficult for festival workers to take some tents down.
Avoiding a similar day will be up to Mother Nature, but after 15 years of fine-tuning the preparation process, Dubeau knows every other aspect of the apple festival will run like a well-oiled machine.
"We used to start at the end of August and now we're down to five weeks," she said. "We always have a lot of fun with it. People are laughing and having a good time."