The United States is no longer an agricultural nation, but you wouldn’t know it from the way we like to celebrate produce. From sea to shining sea during the summer, we’re awash in festivals celebrating the harvest of the land.
Garlic, watermelon, lentils, cherries, even the world’s biggest mushroom. If you can grow it, someone has decided to build a party around it. So pack your eatin’ pants, and plan a trip to one of your favorite foodie festivals this summer. Here is a small sampling of Midwestern festivals to check out:
National Cherry Festival
Traverse City, Michigan
July 2-9, 2016
History: This corner of Michigan is one of the nation’s top cherry-growing regions, and locals began celebrating with an informal “blossom blessing” festival almost 100 years ago. The idea took off � early promoters even baked a 3-foot-wide cherry pie for President Calvin Coolidge � and the state of Michigan decreed it a national festival in 1931. Except for a few years around World War II, it has been celebrated annually ever since, attracting up to half-million visitors each year.
Eat this: The signature dish is cherry crumb pie, available by the slice or the pie at the event’s pie shop. The Cherries D’Vine culinary event features local restaurateurs dishing up dishes featuring cherries, paired with locally produced wines. There’s also a Cherries Grand Buffet, featuring cherry-barbecue pulled pork, cherry chicken croissants, coleslaw with cherry vinaigrette and cherry-infused deli sandwiches.
What else to do: Kids can don an apron and chef’s cap and make their own miniature cherry crumb pies at the pie shop. Fresh cherries are for sale every day; you can also buy cherry salsa, cherry jam, cherry butter, cherry vinaigrette … well, you get the idea. There are also pie-eating contests and pit-spitting contests � last year’s champ hocked one almost 50 feet.
Info: cherryfestival.org; 800-968-3380.
Marion Popcorn Festival
September 8-10, 2016
History: Local business-owners started the festival in 1981 to draw attention to the fact that the farmland around Marion is one of the biggest popcorn-growing areas in the nation. Aiming for a low-cost, family-friendly atmosphere, they decided that entertainment would be free, a tradition that continues to this day. (Blues Traveler and the Kentucky Headhunters are among this year’s headliners.)
What to eat: Sweet, salty kettle corn is the biggest seller, probably because it’s made fresh on the grounds, and the aroma is irresistible. There’s also flavored popcorn in various permutations � vanilla, blueberry, even licorice � and the occasional special treat, like last year’s popcorn sundae, made of chocolate-covered popcorn, whipped cream and a cherry on top. “It tended to melt VERY quickly, but it was good!” says event publicist Karen Herr.
What else to do: There are five Miss and Ms. Popcorn pageants, featuring contestants from six months to, well, a lot older than that. The recipe contest brings out amateur chefs; entries have included popcorn meatloaf and last year’s winner, a caramel-corn apple parfait. You can also tour the town’s Wyandot Popcorn Museum, which boasts the largest collection of antique popcorn poppers in the world.
Info: popcornfestival.com; 740-387-3378
Lenexa Spinach Festival
September 10, 2016
History: It celebrates Lenexa’s 1930s heyday as the Spinach Capital of the World, when a group of Belgian farmers started raising world-class spinach after their other crops had failed. Even though spinach is no longer grown there commercially in large quantities, it became the namesake when the local historical society started an annual fundraiser in the early ’80s.
What to eat: The on-site Spinach Cafe sells spinach balls, spinach quiche, Wimpy burgers and spinach salad, but the real showstopper is the World’s Largest Spinach Salad, made with 150 pounds of fresh spinach, 12 jars of bacon bits, 100 cloves of garlic and 600 mushrooms, all tossed in a kiddie wading pool.
What else to do: The kids’ area is spinach-themed, with a Sweet Pea crawling contest for babies, spinach-can stacking and games like Brutus’ Bean Bag Toss; Popeye and Olive Oyl generally make an appearance. On the last day, winners of the recipe contest are announced, illustrating some real culinary creativity. A past winner was spinach coconut chiffon cake, served with spinach ice cream and spinach jus.
Info: http://www.lenexa.com/parks/festivals_spinach.html; 913-477-7100
The list is only a small sampling of festivals and celebrations in US. There are so many festivals in each state, let us know where you want to go or which food you would like to celebrate, and we will help you coordinate a trip. For information and help planning your vacation, contact Caldwell Travel at 317-885-9855 or via our web form.