HARRISONBURG — No need to hitch a hayride to the pumpkin patch to enjoy classic ooey, gooey treats that scream Halloween. Young and old are invited to sink their teeth (or, if costumed as vampires, fangs) into freshly dressed caramel apples at Heritage Bakery and Cafe this weekend for the Skeleton Festival.
Heritage Bakery is a mother-daughter owned operation that serves savory and sweet goodies in a homey kitchen space attached to the Hardesty-Higgins House. Each year, the bakery crew collaborates with Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse to offer Rockingham County’s twist on the sticky concoction at the Skeleton Festival.
“We are home-making our soft caramel; apples donated by Showalter’s apple orchard,” bakery co-owner Isabelle Treciak said. “We do it because it’s nice to be a part of our downtown community and talk with our neighbors and add to the memories. The city asked us to do a caramel apple station for the first festival, and since [then] it’s always been our thing.”
Butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt are all that’s needed to prepare a bath for the fruit. Heritage Bakery slices each Showalter apple into eighths and hand dips them in the caramel concoction, so be wary of spooky teeth and messy faces.
Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance created the Skeleton Festival in 2016 as a way to offer free, “not too spooky” scares and fun to area families. It combines Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday also celebrated on Oct. 31.
Over 40 local businesses participate to offer trick-or-treating prizes or sweets to children. Heritage Bakery is also a stop for candy collectors on Saturday.
The annual festivities do not stop at stuffing faces with treats. The streets are filled with music from DJ Ryan Clark and Jaguardini, and performances by Dance & Company and the cast of Valley Playhouse’s “Annie.”
Since the beginning of the festival, Heritage Bakery has set up a bar outside of the cafe to offer a selection of nuts, sprinkles and candies for trick-or-treaters to decorate their candy-coated fruit slices.
Erin Smith, events coordinator for HDR, said the local cafe is a major participant and contributor to the community events that make downtown a welcoming venue for people of all ages.
“Heritage Bakery has been incredibly generous. They not only participate in the Skeleton Festival, but they participate in a lot of our other free community events, and they often do so by donating supplies. So they have always been very generous with our free community events and we’re incredibly grateful for their help,” Smith said.
Downtown Harrisonburg along Main Street between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Rock Street will close at 2 p.m. to allow trick-or-treaters to scatter and experience activities and snacks from participating shops until 4 p.m. Court Square is shut down to traffic from noon to 6 p.m.
Alexandria Strickler, a Luray resident, said she and her husband stumbled upon the cafe three years ago by chance while visiting downtown, and she returns often for the service and environment created by the team.
“The entire atmosphere was whimsical and fun,” Strickler said. “They’re all very friendly and they notice the little details. They are usually very busy ... but never seem to let the stress affect their positive customer service.”
For kids with allergies, some shops are swapping candy for prizes. Candy trail maps are available at the Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center and the HDR information tent on the southeastern corner of Court Square.
Other activities on Saturday include an obstacle course by Explore More Discovery Museum in Denton Park, tarot card readings, face painting at Larkin Arts and Weird Science Lab with James Madison University chemistry students.
After trick-or-treating wraps up, furry and human family can compete in a costume contest at Court Square from 4 to 5:30 p.m. All activities are free except for a late night haunted ghost tour of the Southern Spooktacular Route from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., which costs $12 and begins at the visitors center’s rear parking lot.