From Oct. 10 through 19, Parke County will welcome guests from all across the Midwest for the 58th annual Covered Bridge Festival. As Indiana’s largest festival, the event features 31 covered bridges and is attended by more than two million people each year to see the beautiful construction and experience the homemade crafts and treats from local vendors and free entertainment scheduled daily.
Headquartered on the courthouse lawn in Rockville since 1957, consumers will find food served by many of the nonprofit organizations that use funds from the festival to promote their organizations throughout the year. Antique stores and shops around the brick-lined streets welcome passersby for a visit. A large tent and streets around the courthouse are filled with crafters and vendors and are open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Some vendors have been setting up shop for the majority of the years the festival has been taking place.
One of those vendors is Sue Engle, who has been making candy and apples for the festival for more than 40 years. Originally from Hollandsburg, Engle has been a veterinary assistant most of her life and her husband, Charlie, a semi driver. The two first got into candy making when a close friend needed help with his stand. “We helped him run it for a couple of years and split the profits then decided to buy it,” recalls Sue. “We have now owned it for 44 years.” Sue and Charlie both have crafting in their background. Sue’s mother would make pasta from scratch when she was young, and Charlie’s aunt was a talented beadwork artist.
What initially started as only a few flavors – cinnamon, sassafras and mint – has grown into more than 44 of hard rock candy, a new one for every year they have been at the festival. Sue is even sweet enough to share her recipe: “I take white sugar and white syrup and cook it to 310 degrees, then put in a clear oil and you can color and flavor it pretty much any way you want.”
Sue and her family make more than 7,500 bags of candy every year just for the Covered Bridge Festival and Maple Fair (held in Rockville in February). Sue’s caramel apples, another favorite of many long-time festival-goers, is a recipe she will not share, however. She only reveals that she starts with a standard caramel mixture and adds in a little magic of her own. To try to figure it out, readers will just have to go to the festival and give it a taste.
Now after 45 years of marriage and candy making, four children, 15 grandchildren and two great grandchildren, Sue has had to slow down a little bit. A brief health scare with cancer forced her to take a step back. “I can’t lift the candy like I used to so I just bag it. But I was happy to return to work at the clinic part-time when I got better and now I’m doing great. You’ll see me at the festival all 10 days, usually with one of my kids or grandkids to help,” she said.
The festival has brought Sue some of her finest memories over the years. “I love the people, especially when someone comes back with their kids or grandkids and says they saw me here when they were just a kid. That always makes me smile.” Sue has met many new friends at the festival and cherishes their long-time relationships. One of her favorite things about the Covered Bridge Festival is Donald Wirth’s caramel corn stand. “He makes some of the best caramel corn around,” remarked Sue. “He’s been here a long time, too.”
Sue can be found at the Rockville Bridge, one of the first bridges to host vendors for the festival many years ago. She will be accompanied by her family and thousands of bags of hard rock candy and homemade caramel apples. She plans to be there for years to come with the help of her family; just look for the variety of flavors and her special label, “Sue’s Rock Candy” on the bag, a label her family will never let her change. Consumers are welcome to contact Sue to place orders after the festival as well.