Tale of Peanut Butter Festival is spread thin

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Who knew that the little town of New Bethlehem, Clarion County, holds the Smucker's peanut butter factory? Who knew it holds the Peanut Butter Festival?

Daniel Marsula, Post-Gazette illustration
Click illustration for larger image.

Festival chairman Harry Kehr answered the first question with, "If they live in New Bethlehem they do. If they live in Clarion, which is 18 miles away, they don't. Which is amazing."

In this borough of 1,700, about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh, the peanut butter plant is one of the biggest employers, with 50-plus workers. And yes, Mr. Kehr said, you can smell it when the peanuts are roasting, which is just about every day.

The word of the festival hasn't carried very far, he said, in part because the J.M. Smucker Co. is extremely low profile.

Indeed, the Orrville, Ohio-based company doesn't send out news releases for the event, which a spokeswoman made clear the company does not sponsor.

The factory allows no public tours and isn't even marked by big signs. But the local operation is one of several sponsors and a most supportive one, said Mr. Kehr, of the Chamber of Commerce, which has organized the annual festival since 1996.

This year's runs tomorrow through Sunday and looks to be nuttier than ever.

The natural peanut butter factory actually was founded in 1946 as the H.B. DeViney Co. in the former New Bethlehem Brewing Co. It became a Smucker subsidiary in 1965 and now produces all the natural peanut butter products under the Smucker's, Laura Scudder's, Adam's and Santa Cruz Organic labels (but not Jif, America's best-selling brand, which Smucker now owns, too).

Besides the regular and reduced-fat natural peanut butters and Goober peanut butter and jelly, the plant also makes a few products that aren't sold in the United States.

Mr. Kehr said that during the festival the chamber also will sell some of those, including a peanut-butter-and-chocolate mix made for the European market.

Jars will sell for $1.50 or $18 for a case of 12, he said. "We sell somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 to 400 cases in three days."

The festival also features roasted peanuts, chocolate-covered peanuts and nonpeanut fare, including a big chicken barbecue by the Distant Fire Co. on Sunday. Mr. Kehr sought to add peanut butter hotdogs made by Palumbo's Meat Market in nearby Du Bois, Clearfield County, but to no avail (and he's not sure that's bad news, either).

Using a special mold, the hometown's Char-Val Candies is making quarter-ounce, peanut-shaped chocolates. There'll be 15 to 20 vendors, who'll be joined by 20-some crafters. There's also a parade, a carnival, music, even a Peanut Butter Queen, who will be crowned as the festival opens tomorrow night at Gumtown Memorial Park (Gumtown being the original name for founder Henry "Gum" Nolf).

Peanuts are not grown in Pennsylvania, not even around the Westmoreland County coal patch of Peanut, so the company trucks them in from the South.

Area cooks are invited to enter Saturday morning's bigger-than-ever Healthy Peanut Butter Bake-off and Auction sponsored by Clarion Hospital.

You just have to make an original and from-scratch recipe using a Smucker's peanut butter, of course. You can get a free jar, donated by the local plant, at the Chamber office. Recipes should not require refrigeration.

You don't even have to register: Just show up and enter your item between 8:30 and 10 a.m. Entries will be judged by a hospital doctor, a trio from the Smucker factory and state Rep. Fred McIlhattan, R-Clarion.

Prizes -- $100 for first, $50 for second and $25 for third -- will be awarded in both a junior (to age 16) and senior division.

Around 11 a.m. the goodies will be auctioned off with proceeds benefiting the Clarion Hospital Cancer Unit Fund.

Last year's bake-off winner was Helen Kammerdiener of the Armstrong County hamlet of Putneyville. She explained, "I had my friends eat several different pies until I came up with one" -- Peanut Butter Sundae Pie.

She wasn't sure if she were going to enter the contest this year but said she'll be there. "It's a great festival."

For a detailed schedule, visit the events calendar at www.newbethlehemarea.com. or call 1-814-275-3929.

To learn "Everything about Peanuts," including peanut butter, visit www.aboutpeanuts.com.


HELEN KAMMERDIENER'S PEANUT BUTTER SUNDAE PIE

  • 1 reduced-fat graham cracker pie crust
  • 1 tablespoon fat-free cream cheese, divided
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter, divided
  • 2 1/2 cups skim milk, divided
  • 1 package sugar-free, fat-free instant white chocolate pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanuts, divided
  • 1/2 cup mixed peanut butter chips and chocolate chips, divided
  • 1 package sugar-free, fat-free instant chocolate pudding mix
  • Caramel sundae topping
  • Light whipped topping
  • Dessert toppings or peanuts for garnish (optional)

Beat in a mixer 1/2 tablespoon cream cheese and 1/2 tablespoon peanut butter. Continue to beat while adding 1 1/4 cup milk.

Add white chocolate pudding mix and beat for 1 minute.

Spread into pie shell and chill for one or more hours.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup peanuts and 1/4 cup chips over pudding in shell.

Prepare chocolate pudding as above with remaining cream cheese, peanut butter and milk. Spread atop white chocolate. Chill.

Sprinkle remaining peanuts and chips over chocolate pudding. Drizzle on caramel sundae syrup. Spread on whipped topping.

Garnish with peanut-butter dessert toppings or chopped peanuts if desired.

Note: If all the pie is to be served immediately, you can substitute fat-free whipped topping for light whipped topping.


Bob Batz Jr. can be reached at bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930.


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