If you manage to score a handmade apple pie in Hamilton this weekend, you should not only appreciate the taste, but the history behind the treat.

That's because, while McIntosh Apple Day is not only a tradition, it's also a celebration of a little-known part of the Bitterroot's history. A time when promoters saw Montana's low-elevation valley and its mild climate as the perfect place to grow fruit, specifically apples.

Dennis Bragg photo
Dennis Bragg photo
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In fact, the only other time you might realize that history outside of a lovely piece of pie is when you're looking to buy or develop property.

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First, let's talk pies

Apple Day has been the traditional end of the "best" season in the Bitterroot for more 4-decades, bringing people to what's billed as the "Best Bake Sale Under the Big Sky." Even when there's early snow, people will line up for more than an hour before the pies actually go on sale at 9 a.m., just to have a better chance at scoring a hand-made pie.

The pies are cranked out over several days by an army of volunteers, peeling, coring, and cutting the apples, adding cinnamon and sugar, and then wrapping them into the hand-rolled dough. The pies are then transported to a few local kitchens for baking.

Most years, that is several hundred pies, although one year before the pandemic there were approximately 1,000 pies. And they ALL sold.

Dennis Bragg photo
Dennis Bragg photo
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Bitterroot settlers would be happy to see all that support

Apple Day is a major fundraiser for the Ravalli County Museum, but it also helps educate people about the fruit's connection to the Bitterroot economy.

In the early 1900s, the area was actually known as having some of the best apples in the world, with orchards scattered all over the valley. Promoters encouraged people to move to Montana and have their own 20-acre tract of land. In fact, there was even one plan to start a new town north of Stevensville, known as Bitter Root, which would have been developed around the "orchard lots", still referenced today as the county considers new homesites.

Ravalli County Museum
Ravalli County Museum
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Pies and more

But McIntosh Apple Day is about more than pies. It's a celebration of the season, with the Farmer's Market and the "Liquid Apple Night", which was added a few years ago with food, music, and fun that lasts into the evening.

When is Apple Day in the Bitterroot? When the pies are done!

Behind the scenes in Montana making the best pies under the Big Sky

Gallery Credit: Dennis Bragg

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