By now, we hope you’ve put a substantial dent in the Thanksgiving leftovers and are ready to move on for a couple more weeks until the Christmastime food festival drought starts. Until then, there will be warming beers, warm cookies and warm entertainment keeping the spirit alive.
Indio International Tamale Festival, Indio, Calif., Dec. 1-2: The Mexican treat of pre-Hispanic origin is a serious victual requiring a small workforce (i.e., large family) to produce. Perhaps that’s why tamales are really only prevalent during holidays, like Day of the Dead, the Christmas season and this two-day fiesta in Indio, which has been a staple since 1992. There will be a cook-off with traditional and gourmet categories as well as an eating contest punctuated by folkloric dancing and live music from four stages at this annual event named one of the top-10 “All-American Food Festivals” by Food Network.
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As the temperatures aim for sweater weather, the possibility of sleeping with open windows and sipping from a warm bowl of freshly made pumpkin soup increase. But first try a bushel of apples and maybe some fried food — October is most definitely a month of mouth-stuffing fall fun.
Kentucky Apple Festival, Paintsville, Ky., Oct. 5-6: For half a century, this Johnson County hootenanny has warmed the bellies of locals and visitors alike. The delicacy here is the tiger ear, a fried apple pie (try saying that without a Southern drawl). Purveyors offering those treats will be joined by dozens of other concessionaires and sit alongside arts and crafts stalls. And who can forget the pageants, corn hole tournament and a parade of Golden Delicious proportions? Visitors to this festival will get to the core of the phrase, as American as apple pie.
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The average high in Austin this time of year is 97 degrees, so it’s no wonder the city’s ice cream festival was an instant hit when it started in 2007. Nearly 12,000 people showed up that summer, and now the all-day event (taking place August 4, $10; www.icecreamfestival.org) is an annual affair, with an ice cream eating contest, Popsicle-stick sculpting and, most important, an ice cream making competition. It’s an intense battle: Contestants have to bring their own machine and churn out their creation on-site for a panel of four locals and four discerning kids. We asked champions from past festivals to hand over their winning recipes.
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August is about as hot as it gets each year, in terms of the temperature and the good-eats celebrations. It’s especially true for the hauls of seafood, corn and blueberry festivals this month. Below are our pick of the pecks.
Maine Lobster Festival, Rockland, Maine, Aug. 1–5: Vacationland is booming, fueled by bountiful catches of crustaceans that end up predominantly in lobster rolls. This is not a bad thing — it should be celebrated. And that’s what the small town of Rockland has done since 1947. The modern festival includes more than 20,000 pounds of lobster, a fantastical parade replete with giant lobster, the crowning of the Sea Goddess and loads of competitions. Beyond the professional and amateur cooking contests, there are blindfold rowboat and lobster crate races. For those who can’t stomach the crack of claw and tail, there are all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts.
Blueberry Arts Festival, Ketchikan, Ark., Aug. 3–5: More than fish is grown in the land of tundra and groceries via seaplane. The tart summertime burst of berries is also found in the 49th state. For that, Alaskans are grateful and because of that, they party. This annual festival is more than a platform for bragging about your best blueberry dish. The three-day happening involves a slug weigh-in (yes, that kind of mollusk) a race and a pie-eating contest. Attendees can also take part in local arts and crafts, a mini-beer festival and a doll parade.
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The seasonal climb to triple-digit temperatures nationwide has begun. Whether you’d like to cool down or heat things up this month, there is a food festival for everyone in July.
Greater Mandeville Seafood Festival, Mandeville, La., July 4-8: Dive into summer and Independence Day with this five-day party on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. They expect more than 10,000 visitors daily, all of them hankering for some Louisiana lobster puffs, crawfish sausage po’ boys, Creole crab cakes or any of the bountiful underwater edibles served here. Carnival rides, a car show, live music and the FireCracker Fun Run benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project are among the other attractions at the Seafood Festival. End day one with the fireworks display at 8:45 pm.
Wild Rice Festival, Deer River, Minn., July 6-8: As much a staple of life as water, grains are the focus of countless of food festivals worldwide. In the Upper Midwest, it’s wild rice, which has been feted for more than six decades. The Deer River Wild Rice Festival showcases more than a local delicacy. A snapping-turtle stew dinner kicks off a weekend of fireworks, a police department bike rodeo, a parade and bingo — so much bingo.
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As the mercury begins to climb, it’s time to find entertaining ways to beat the heat. From ice cream to watermelons, both of which instantly soothe, June is cool.
Georgia Peach Festival, Fort Valley, Ga., June 1-9: There is nothing more Georgian than the peach, the fuzzy fruit whose name adorns myriad street signs in Atlanta, confusing more tourists than Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds. But what a sweet treat this will be! Under the cover of night, the “World’s Largest Peach Cobbler” will be concocted. Attendees will be able to stuff themselves with peach this and peach that, and, of course, Miss Georgia Peach will be crowned.
National Asparagus Festival, Shelby, Mich., June 8-10: From the Asparagus Dinner and Spear-It 5K Run/Walk to the recipe contest and community picnic spotlighting asparagus brats, there are plenty of ways to show your spear-it at the 39th annual National Asparagus Festival. Sample asparagus jelly, asparagus cookies and asparagus bread before attending a farm tour.
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For some, April — like T.S. Eliot notes in The Waste Land and the seasonal severe weather shows — is the cruelest month. Those poor folks would change their tune if they could partake in any of the pabulum parties below. This month’s culinary treasures are sweet, spicy and creamy.
Tater Day, Benton, Ky., April 2: While this festival celebrated on the first Monday in April is 169 years old, it wasn’t until approximately 1960 that the Kiwanis Club gave the festival its current form. Local growers still gather to trade sweet potato slips (shoots grown from mature potatoes) and related wares. They also congregate to fete the town’s favorite starchy tuber with a parade, pageants, eating competition (perfect after a spin on a carnival ride), horse races and the Barbeque Kookoff. Of course, folks will vie for a chance at winning the title of largest sweet potato.
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As late winter looks toward spring, this month’s food festivals head outdoors, to the woods and to the shore for sugar highs, creamy mirth and moveable feasts.
Florida Strawberry Festival, Plant City, Fla., March 1–11: The state fair has nothing on the Sunshine State’s Strawberry Festival. The sweet bonanza of fruit-related diversion and traditional food-fair merriment, including a royal court, draws hordes of hungry and smiling Floridians, not to mention snowbirds. All are eager for the simple pleasure of strawberries and cream, after which they can try their hand at carnie games on the midway or test their stomachs on a thrill ride. The Neighborhood Village displays homemade, local food and crafts. Competitions aren’t relegated to only the edible variety. Baking and preserving contests share schedule space with needlepoint and scrapbooking. Of course, there’s also pig racing, ideally paired with strawberry-topped funnel cake.
Cincinnati Wine Festival, Cincinnati, Ohio, March 8–10: Cincinnati is an underappreciated world-class city with a magnificent skyline (it’s important!), so it’s no surprise that the riverside urban center hosts a jam-packed oenophile fiesta, complete with dinners, sampling and an auction. The weekend affair is uncorked with a series of elegant wine dinners, followed the next day by hours of access to the tasting room. Ticket prices for seven sips begin at $40. Chin-chin, Cincy.
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Even if one is stuck in the Great White North, February is still a fiery month for food festivals.
Tropical Wine Festival, Des Moines, Iowa, Feb. 3: Iowa is more than a crucial battleground in presidential politics, it’s a fertile land for oenophiles with a sense of humor when it comes to clothing — we’re as surprised as you are — during the first weekend in February. The Tropical Wine Festival, for which attendees are encouraged to don their favorite tropical attire, unites local wineries and lovers of their vintages for a few hours of chin-chins and nibbles from area food purveyors, including The Cheese Shop of Des Moines and Dos Rios Cantina and Tequila Lounge. Go all the way with Hawaiian leis and tiny bubbles when musical group Tropical Steel fires things up.
AleFest Columbus, Columbus, Ohio, Feb. 5: Warm up in the Buckeye State with this one-day brew fete. Beer aficionados will geek out at the opportunity to sample some of the more than 250 stellar creations — including cask — at this seventh-annual affair. Admission ($40) earns the festival-goer a tasting glass to be filled with 20 samples and a guide to scheduled events, including a silent auction and a raffle for beer collectibles. Belly up to the booth.
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Welcome to January 2012. It’s cold in some parts of the country, so most of the celebrations on our foodways are indoors and focused on staving off hypothermia — mostly with drink. Cheers to a new year and new ways to relish that which sustains our bodies and our minds.
Big Beers Festival, Vail, Colo., Jan. 5-7: Another month, another wonderful suds soiree to stave off the cold (or cool our keisters, in the case of the warmer seasons). This beer festival on the bunny slopes of the Rocky Mountains is one of several spirited occasions in January. For this 12th annual event, hefty beer, including Belgians, barleywines and sours, will be showcased during exclusive dinners, seminars (The Marriage of Good Beer and Good Music with Sam Calagione) and commercial tastings. A homebrew competition and a certified cicerone (i.e., beer sommelier) exam will also be held.
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