In case y'all haven't noticed, it's state fair time across the South! We've already written about the State Fair of Texas - how could we resist its tendency to deep fry everything? - but also starting this week are the Mississippi State Fair and Arkansas State Fair. And South Carolina's State Fair kicks off October 13, North Carolina's October 14 and Louisiana's October 21. State fairs are a great way to get back in touch with your state's roots and its agricultural side.
In North Carolina, a 10-day competition awards the individual or group who best exemplifies the state's musical heritage. And agricultural exhibits display food products from across the state and antique farm machinery. Louisiana's fair dates to 1906 and features over 60 rides, an antique tractor pull, several livestock competitions and specialties like cookie dough, chicken and shrimp on a stick. In Arkansas, you'll find competitions for needlework, baked goods, horticulture, crafts and food preservation, plus amateur and commercial wine competitions. This fair's livestock department includes showings of cattle, swine, poultry, sheep, goats, rabbits and lambs.
Mississippi's got an antique and classic car show, beard growing contest, biscuit making booth and a bluegrass and gospel show. In South Carolina, Southern
Starting this weekend, the State Fair of Texas delivers big on food and fun in the “Fried Food Capital of Texas.”
by Amanda Burleigh
Bigger is better at the annual State Fair of Texas. This year is sure to bring bigger crowds, bigger attractions, bigger calories and bigger fun to Fair Park in Dallas.
“This year’s theme is super-sized fun,” says Sue Gooding, vice president of public relations for the State Fair of Texas, “and we’ll have lots of food and fun ready for opening day.” With crowds 4 million strong to feed, food has always been a major player in the popularity of the State Fair of Texas, especially since the “corny dog” was introduced there in 1942 by the Fletcher brothers. Although there is some dispute over who invented this American favorite, the brothers are traditionally credited with popularizing it, and their descendants now sell roughly 500,000 of these portable products every year. A more recent trend for vendors has been to come up with new and exotic foods to fry. This year’s menu of creations includes fried chocolate, fried lemonade and the winner of the “Best Taste Award” — Fried Texas Frito Pie (pictured).
Looking for something a bit lighter? Try Fernie’s
The town of Emerson in South Arkansas celebrates the PurpleHull Pea in June.
by Kat Robinson of Tie Dye Travels
Emerson’s PurpleHull Pea Festival isn’t just about food and community, it has a lot to do with motorpower and sheer chutzpah. I got down there last June, leaving the house at oh-dark-thirty to drive on down through Sheridan and Fordyce and Camden and Magnolia to get there around 10 that Saturday morning. Right on the highway in Emerson it didn’t look like much, but after I turned and headed west toward the high school, traffic picked up.
I parked on the other side of the gymnasium and walked to the church where the Great PurpleHull Pea and Cornbread Cook-off was being held. While the judging had just about concluded, I had come at a great time for sampling. As the winners were announced and trophies handed out, I eyed easily a dozen different cornbreads, varying in color from white to brown to brilliant yellow, each with its own shape in a dish or piled on a plate. Nearly a dozen dishes of traditional PurpleHull Peas were out on the end, and on the other end less traditional dishes, like PurpleHull Pea Chili,
kby Erin Z. Bass
Alabama's biggest literary claim to fame may be To Kill A Mockingbird, but the state has another, lesser known one that made just as big an impact on the world. Tuscumbia, located in the northwest corner of the state, was the home of Helen Keller, the blind and deaf little girl who continues to touch the hearts of young children with her story and biography.
I was reminded of this recently while reading Jill McCorkle's book, Ferris Beach, one of the picks in our Summer Reading List. It's about only child Kate Burns who is fascinated with the story of Helen Keller. At age 8, she's checked out the biography so many times at her local library that the librarian tells her she can't check it out again that year, and has also made a game of acting out both the parts of Helen and her teacher Anne Sullivan alone in her room. Kate's mother can hear her up there, bumping into and tripping over things, and doesn't think the game is healthy, but I think that after hearing Helen Keller's story, most children wonder what it would be like to be blind and shut their eyes for
South Carolina's Annual Fine Arts Festival is the Belle of the Ball.
by Reid Hardaway
It's never a bad time to go to Charleston, South Carolina. Amongst the cobblestone and brick laid streets, a genuinely affectionate community fuels a commercial industry that has earned its reputation for Southern hospitality. Arching light poles illuminate the restless nightlife, and anyone who spends an evening downtown can attest for its good times. And there's also Charleston's ubiquitous view. Whether one is looking off the pier or admiring centuries-old architecture, the city breathes sea air into every crevice. Merely being in Charleston is a soothing, invigorating experience.
For one big reason, the best time to visit Charleston is during the summer. There are constant opportunities for entertainment, whether one prefers countless venues for the arts, historical exhibits, commerce, the market, aquarium or simply taking in the excitement of the streets. But during Charleston's summer months, the 17 days and nights of Spoleto should not be missed by any Southerner who has a penchant for the fine arts.
Since 1977, the Spoleto Festival has been a premier cultural event of the South. It was founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who wanted to create an American counterpart to Italy's own Spoleto
by Erin Z. Bass
New Orleans Tennessee Williams Festival Named A Top Literary Festival in North America. Only a few days after the close of New Orleans' 24th annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, which drew close to 10,000 people to New Orleans at the end of March and broke an attendance record, the event was named one of the "Top Literary Festivals in North America." The blog RatesToGo.com listed the festival in the company of San Francisco's Litquake, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature in New York City, saying, "The Big Easy has a prominent literary and cultural landscape, which the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival celebrates in style every year."
Next year would have been the 100th birthday of playwright Tennessee Williams, so the festival is going all out to celebrate, but this year was no less exciting, from the quality of writers presented to the volume of shouting in the closing Stanley & Stella Shouting Contest. Below are a few of our favorite moments from this year, and a full retrospective of highlights since the first festival in 1987 can be found on the festival website.
Hearing Dave Eggers speak in a
by Dana Newsome
Strawberries the sweetest this side of heaven, as the locals claim, will be the highlight of the weekend April 17-18 in the small town of Starke, Florida. Located in the northeast corner of the state, Starke hosts the 12th Annual Bradford County Strawberry Festival each year. With a standing population of 5,700, the area Chamber of Commerce expects the rural community to welcome more than 10,000 weekend guests this year.
Strawberries were first grown in Bradford County in the late 1800s and flourished, while orange groves perished in the "Big Freeze" of 1895 and the cotton industry was destroyed by the boll weevil 20 years later. Crops of the berry have slowly diminished over the years due to the rise of cheaper, imported produce, but several families continue to grow strawberries in Bradford County and showcase them each year in April.
The Strawberry Festival hosts local artists, craftsmen and vendors along historic Main Street in downtown Starke. Visitors and locals can visit booths for shopping, enjoy family activities, listen to live music and, of course, partake in the local strawberries. Covered in chocolate, included in shortcake and fresh from the fields, the county's sweet strawberries are the main attraction. Local
by Erin Z. Bass
Roadfood's second-annual festival in New Orleans couldn't have asked the culinary gods for better weather or better attendance this year. With the sun shining bright and a cool breeze blowing, Roadfood hit the streets of the French Quarter, kicking off March 27 with the building of the "World's Longest Poboy" in partnership with Louisiana's Oyster Jubilee. After 340 feet of fried oysters and French bread were devoured on Bourbon Street, the Storyville Stompers led the crowd in a second line to the festival a block over on Royal Street. Roadfood's white tents went on for five blocks, serving the best "folk" food from New Orleans and other Roadfood destination restaurants around the country.
Roadfood Festival Highlights:
Seeing such a feat as the "World's Longest Poboy" and getting a taste of a perfectly fried oyster nestled in fresh French bread and topped with blue cheese from Cafe Reconcile.
Perusing the festival's 20 food vendors and trying to decide where to start. The Famous Maine Diner's seafood chowder, packed with scallops, lobster, shrimp and crab, won and did not disappoint.
Choosing a sweet treat from Turtle Alley Chocolates, who came all the way from Gloucester, Mass., for the festival. Their caramel-filled chocolate lollipop
Road Food Festival Celebrates "Folk Food" in New Orleans.
by Erin Z. Bass Asked why New Orleans was chosen as the location for the annual Roadfood Festival, "Roadfood" creator Michael Stern didn't hesitate giving an answer. "New Orleans is a natural place to have a food festival," he says. "I think you can argue that it’s kind of America’s culinary capital, in the sense that it has more unique, interesting, diverse things to eat than almost anywhere in this country, plus when you’re in New Orleans you feel like having a party."
While the Roadfood Festival, scheduled for March 26-28, was created to honor American food, the fact that eating can be a form of entertainment hasn't been lost on its founders. Assembling of the world's longest po-boy and celebrating foods like pecan pie and cracklins is far from stuffy. Just as the diners, delis and roadside stands featured in Stern and his wife, Jane's, "Roadfood" guide most likely don't have a dress code, the festival strives for that same informal way of eating. Admission is free, and any person standing around can walk up and taste a piece of the po-boy or walk down Royal Street and purchase a sample of