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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Apple Smorgasbord

by Cindy Laug

Over the 20 year span of the Apple Smorgasbordsdignitaries such as Michigan governors (Williams and Romney), state senators and representatives, journalists, reporters, and farm extension agents. Gerald R. Ford (then U.S. representative) was a regular attendee and Betty Ford even served as judge. Buyers from area grocers, like IGA, A&P, and Eberhard would attend the event as well as Fred and Lena Meijer. Everyone wanted to be invited to this suit/tie and dressy gathering but with attendance over 500, it remained by invitation only.

Farm wives knew apples could be used in every dish throughout the meal and it was time to share their secret recipes from salads, to appetizers, main dishes, beverages, and of course desserts! The buffet featured over 200 homemade apple dishes. Small cardboard apple trays were distributed for folks to fill their plates with the many specialty recipes.

One year Lady Bird Johnson’s submission of White House Apple Tarts was the featured recipe. The women used their old German and Swedish recipes for the buffet dishes. And those recipes were in high demand. In 1953 alone they received 4,237 requests for recipes. Requests from all over the country came pouring in and the grower’s wives were not ready for that. The MSU extension office helped with printing and mailings and in later years an annual cookbook was presented to guests.

Apple crates were used for seating, apple boxes for tables, and there were designated apple polishers. The yearly event rotated from farm to farm and the hosting family spent many weeks grooming, cleaning, and prepping in anticipation. Future events lent themselves to themes, entertainment, and decorations to keep the event fresh.

The marketing scheme worked well as national publications and papers covered the annual celebration (Good Housekeeping, The Ford Times, Washington Post Times, and Parents Magazine). Food editors from around the U.S. would attend this unique event, but politicians came as well. It offered growers a chance to meet with public officials to discuss their concerns and likewise gave those running for office an opportunity to meet with their constituents . . . a win-win situation. Politicians were brought back to the basics in the farming community, and they liked to see growers take ownership for promoting their own product and not always asking for government assistance.

Planning for such an event was a yearlong undertaking with many subcommittees sharing the load. The host family had a huge commitment as did the chairmen of the event. It made sense to hold this in September when the fruit was ripe on the trees and harvest was in full swing. But because of the timing, the men were in the fields so the women took the brunt of the preparation.

Past participants have two schools of thought of why the Smorgasbord ended in 1971. By the early 1970’s it became evident that the chain stores were there to stay, and the small local growers were a thing of the past.Times were changing as was the attendance at the annual event. Locally owned grocers were no longer in business and representation from big chain stores like Walmart and Meijer was not happening. Food editors and buyers no longer came.

Others believedit was getting too big and too hard to handle. Too many people wanted to be invited, but the number of growers in charge was the same, thus it became too much.  They tried to revive the event and held two gatherings that had roots in the old smorgasbord. But that old "pa-zaz" was gone. The Smorgasbord had served its original mission, to promote the apple industry and build community among the growers. The 1971 Smorgasbord was the last one held by the Peach Ridge Growers Association.

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