The 55th annual Sassafras Tea Festival and Civil War Living History events is about a month away, but food preparation is well underway.
For good reason.
Each year, thousands of cups of sassafras tea are prepared and served, and about 700 homemade pies baked.
This year’s event is April 22 and 23, around the Jennings County Courthouse lawn in Vernon. The festival is named in honor of the root tea that was once a homestead staple of Hoosier pioneers and is still used today by health enthusiasts.
Volunteers are working hard to harvest sassafras roots that will be needed for the festival.
Roots are dug on Mondays, delivered to the Jennings County Historical Society Museum on Tuesdays, and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays volunteers clean, split and lay the roots out to dry, museum curator and historical society president Chris Asher said.
While crews are wading in water-soaked fields to dig the sassafras roots, local cooks are working to create the more than 700 pies that will be sold during the festival.
“We picked the berries last summer and froze fresh peaches and apples” said Asher, who explained that volunteer pastry chiefs have been making individual pie crusts from scratch since January.
After the pie crusts are rolled into circles, the crusts are frozen until the weekend of the festival when a variety of pies are assembled and baked fresh.
In addition to the homemade pies and other desserts the festival has become famous for, volunteer cooks will prepare an estimated 600 meals for diners at the Jennings County Historical Society Museum dining rooms from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days of the festival.
The bake sale and the dining room meals are fundraisers for the Jennings County Historical Society Museum, to fund year-round activities.
Other festival activities are free to the public.
Volunteers and Civil War re-enactors will create a life-like Civil War-era encampment around the Jennings County Courthouse lawn. Volunteers are putting the final touches on their blue and gray Civil War uniforms and the ladies are stitching petticoats and hooped skirts.
Festival visitors can walk through rows of tents, and watch campfire cooking, quilting and spinning demonstrations. They also can see a demonstration of an actual working blacksmith shop, tour the Jennings County Historical Society Museum and shop at vendor tents along the street.
A parade and ball are planned for April 22, and free music will be played both days.
Civil War re-enactors will perform a historically correct Civil War battle at Muscatatuck Park. Watching the battle is free, but spectators will be charged a $5 parking fee in the park.
“This event brings thousands of folks to the small historic town of Vernon. Tourists come from as far as Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois and farther,” Asher said.
Volunteers are still needed to help during the festival, she added.
To volunteer, call 812-346-8989.