Food festivals tell you a lot about people. You learn about their heritage, occupations, crafts, and hobbies. Last weekend I attended the Cranberry Fest in Eagle River, Wisconsin. For 30 years, this small town has celebrated cranberries and ways to prepare them. No wonder. Wisconsin is the top-producing cranberry state in the nation.
The festival was held on October 3rd and 4th. Organizers prepared for 40,000 visitors and, if the Saturday crowd was any indication, they had that many. Events included a cranberry pancake breakfast, fitness run, arts and crafts fair, bake sale, library used book sale, open-air antique market, quilt show, and spaghetti dinner.
According to "The Cranberry Country Crier" newspaper, the festival has "something for everyone -- an arts and crafts show with more than 300 displayers, cranberry food sales, a bakery, family fun, entertainment, sweatshirt and T-shirt sales, fitness events and more." Free shuttle bus service was available all day.
The food concessions were really crowded. Visitors could buy foot-long hot dogs, bratwurst, hamburgers, shredded pork and cranberry sandwiches, cranberry meatball sandwiches, cranberry bratwurst, cranberry chicken sandwiches, gyros sandwiches, cream puffs, cheese curds, soda, milk, cranberry juice, cocoa and coffee. Stands also sold fresh cranberries and dried cranberries.
Many food festivals have live music and the Eagle River festival is no exception. EnRoute Music with Bill Stevens played on Saturday and Sunday. "Their 'easy on the ears' approach and musical diversity make them a favorite with young and old alike," notes "The Cranberry Country Crier."
The world's largest cranberry cheesecake -- 140 feet long -- with a buttery graham cracker crust and cranberry topping, was another attraction. Proceeds from cheesecake sales go to the Make a Wish Foundation. For me, the highlight of the festival was the sevan dollar tour of the cranberry marsh and Three Lakes Winery.
I hopped on a shuttle and took it to the Chamber of Commerce, where I boarded another bus for the tour. The drive to the bog, actually the Tamarack Flowage, took about 10 minutes. The bus drove out into the bog and a guide told us how cranberries were planted and harvested. Deer love cranberries and attempts to scare them with car lights and loud sounds were futile, so a two-mile fence was installed along the perimeter of the flowage.
Then the bus us to the Three Lakes Winery, which is housed in an old, and very charming, railroad depot. I tasted cranberry wine, cranberry-pomegranate wine, and cheese with cranberries. The winery gift shop had an array of cranberry items, including jelly, hand lotion, baking mixes, and wine glasses.
Food festivals are more enjoyable if you parepare for them. First, look on the Website and print out the festival map. Check the site for events that require reservations or tickets. Dress in layers because weather can change quickly. Bring hand sanitizer, bottled water, and small bills and change with you. If you think you will buy something, bring a shopping bag, too.
Though the summer festival season is over, many states are having fall festivals. Food festivals aren't just snapshots of America, they are the heart of this vast nation, an array of regional cuisines, crafts, and customs. Check the Internet for more information on these inexpensive festivals. You'll have lots of fun for little dough!
Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson