Culture & traditions alive at Kutztown Folk Festival: More than 700 pack Kutztown quilt barn in first two hours of Kutztown Folk Festival opening day

Patriot photo by Roxanne Richardson Tina Palombo taught her grandchildren (left to right) Abby, Nikki, Colin, and Gillian Ballaster to quilt. As each contributed to the visitor quilt, they got to sign their names. Each year these quilts are set out for display at the festival.

The Kutztown Folk Festival opened Saturday with more than 700 attendees having gone through the quilt barn within the first two hours of opening.

The festival featured more than 2,500 traditional quilts and wall hangings that were hand made locally and available for sale. Four of the quilts won Best of Show and 20 quilts were selected as Top Honors.

“Design, color, and quality of stitching,” is what makes a prize winning quilt, said Carol Heppe, quilt director. “First and foremost is the wow factor.”

A patchwork quilt was set up for festival visitors to add their stitching skills and signature to the block they worked on. These quilts are then displayed at the festival each year. Heppe said there are visitor quilts on display from the past 12 or 13 years.

Abby Ballaster thought that quilting may have been harder back in the 1800s. Ballaster along with her sisters, Nikki, and Gillian, and their brother, Colin, learned from their grandmother, Tina Palombo. Each of the children worked on a block so they could add their signature like they had done for the past several years.

Quilting is not the only tradition carried on today. According to the festival’s booklet, birch beer and sarsaparilla are native Pennsylvania drinks that date back to the early 1700s. Lydia Corby, born in 1928, stopped at the root beer wagon and reminisced about the time when her mother would dig up roots to make her own home brewed root beer.

“I remember smelling it when I was young,” said Corby.

Corby comes each year to the festival because it brings back memories of her youth and her mother, Rosa Tust, who was from Austria and even though she spoke German, she had learned the dialect of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Corby also spoke of homemade sauerkraut stored in a big barrel, homemade jellies and jams, apple butter, cider, and applesauce from their own apple trees.

“This young generation has no idea how hard people worked then, but I was telling my son we didn’t have television; we just had radio and so there was a lot of time to do other things,” said Corby.

Entertainment traditions live on at the festival also. Calliope tunes, music to dance to, bands entertaining the crowds, and in the little Mennonite Meeting House was a guitarist strumming away as people wandered through. The harps that were on display in the little building caught the attention of William Macmillan, 13, and his brother, Maxwell, 10, Brandywine Heights School District pianists.

In answer to what William thought of musical instruments back in the 1800s he said, “I think that they were very, very simple and usually either percussion or strings because that was what people had back then. They didn’t really have down the exact science of woodwinds yet, but strings were easy to tune; they were easy to play and percussion instruments aren’t really that complex.”

Another tradition that has gone through some changes over time is the art of candle making. Each year, youth get the chance to make a candle by dipping a wick into a huge kettle of melted wax. It takes a number of rotations around a circle to let each dip of wax harden before adding a new layer. Do you ever wonder what the kids think of how things were made then as to how they are made now? One boy who had just completed the second grade and had never had any candle making experience, didn’t have to think hard.

Stopping just long enough to answer, Eric Schanzenbacher said, “They sort of do it the same way, but they compress it. They use a hot wax to do it quicker and form it into a shape.”

With something for everyone at the Kutztown Folk Festival, for Rose Lance, it was a stand of herbs for foods and even soaps she had purchased once before for her dog’s itchy skin.

“I have an herb garden. I love running out and just picking whatever I need and bringing it in and cooking with it,” said Lance. “I think they were used a lot more for remedies. Now we use a lot of medications and things, drugs, instead of herbs.”

Some of the other tasty treats that continue to be popular time-honored traditions at the festival include kettle corn, maple candy, and the grandest of all, roast ox.

For more information about the Kutztown Folk Festival, go to http://www.kutztownfestival.com/.

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