Guide to Summer Food Festivals

Guide to summer food festivals, including names of major food festivals, entertainment and cooking challenges and types of food most often served at the festivals.

| May/June 1986

A few years ago, while smacking our lips at our favorite annual chicken barbecue given by the Cutchogue (New York) Fire Department — we began to think that there must be thousands of such local food celebrations and festivals all over the country. We decided to explore this premise . . . and proceeded to eat our way through the calendar and across America.

Guide to Summer Food Festivals

• Summer food festivals combine the excitement of a celebration with the fresh taste of local foods and the honesty of homemade preparations. In the era of potato flakes and imitation bacon bits, it's comforting to have the real thing.

• Festivals range in length from one day to two weeks, and they're ideal entertainment for whole families. There's always something special going on for children, but there are also events and activities for retired people, locals, tourists, singles, and teenagers. Many festivals have a midway, often set off to the side. Almost all have at least one stage, for concerts, contests, and award ceremonies. Starting in the 1970s, many festivals added a foot race, some of which are officially sanctioned, but all of which attract an astonishing number of runners. Some festivals are agricultural fairs, so they have judgings for the best-looking livestock or produce. Many have eating contests, which are usually embarrassing but always a lot of fun. Others have zany events like bed races or crazy costumes, and most have beauty pageants. We've also seen our share of tractor pulls, mud hops, and tug-of-wars. 

• Summer food festivals are fun and joyous. They celebrate harvest and bounty. They are America letting loose for a party. We have tried to communicate some of that fun to you. We hope you'll go to lots of them and eat yourself silly and have a great time doing it.

Gonzales Jambalaya Festival

Jambalaya (JAM-bah-lie-ah) found its way into Creole-Cajun cookery in the late eighteenth century. It can be made with ham, chicken, sausage, fresh pork, shrimp, and oysters (all together or separately), to which shortening, rice, onions, garlic, pepper, and other seasonings, and sometimes tomatoes, are added. And, as anyone from East Ascension Parish will tell you, it's best made in Gonzales.

The atmosphere at Gonzales harks back to old-fashioned church fairs. In the nineteenth century, such fairs in southern Louisiana towns were large public gatherings. People brought their black iron pots from home, parishioners donated the ingredients, open wood fires were built, and jambalaya was made and served to the crowd. Later, politicians took over the custom and served jambalaya at rallies.

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