- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Just when I feared it was time to stow my suitcase and bid farewell to great summer getaways, I received an invitationto attend the annualLima Bean Festival in West Cape May, N.J.

Held on Columbus Day weekend, this tribute to the pale green lima is one of many fall fairs celebrating seasonal and some not-so-seasonal foods. Come autumn, festivals extolling the joys of okra, pears and rutabaga sprout up across the United States. I can think of no better excuse for heading back out than to explore America’s countryside and cuisines.

Living in the Northeast, I don’t have to travel far to find a culinary happening. In September, I can hit the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival, the McClure Bean Soup Festival and the New Bethlehem Peanut Butter Festival without leaving Pennsylvania.

Driving a bit farther north, I can enjoy the Saugerties, N.Y., homage to homegrown garlic at the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival. Heading south, I can participate in the Long Beach Island, N.J., Chowderfest Weekend, a celebration of local clams and clam chowder held the Saturday and Sunday before Columbus Day weekend.

Eager to experience a quirkier kind of food fest, I blocked off Labor Day weekend for a trip to the Midwest and the Ligonier, Ind., Marshmallow Festival. Each year, the three-day event attracts about 25,000 visitors to the northern Indiana town of 4,400.

Ligonier may lay claim to the 15-year-old jubilee, but credit goes to the ancient Egyptians for creating the marshmallow. To craft the confection, they combined honey with sap from marsh mallow plants. Hence the name marshmallow.

Despite the marshmallow’s ancient past, Ligonier’s gala includes an array of modern-day activities. Along with carnival rides, live music, a marshmallow dessert contest and massive marshmallow roast, the festival also has the world’s largest marshmallow, according to Glenn Longardner, Ligonier City Council member and treasurer of the Marshmallow Festival.

“I used to tell people we had a 207-pound marshmallow downtown and it wasn’t the new mayor,” said Mr. Longardner, who served as mayor during the festival’s early years. He added that Ligonier’s heftiest marshmallow, constructed in 1995, weighed more than 2,900 pounds.

Also claiming to have the world’s largest something, the Whole Enchilada Fiesta in Las Cruces, N.M., features mankind’s ultimate flat enchilada. Assembled on site and dished out to the hungry masses, the mammoth three-layer corn tortilla measures 10 feet in diameter. It tips the scale at more than 1,000 pounds, including 175 pounds of grated cheese and 50 pounds of chopped onion. The fiesta takes place the last weekend of September.

My passion for peanut butter may draw me to the South in fall. Plains, Ga., the birthplace and home of President Jimmy Carter, holds its annual salute to peanut production on the fourth weekend in September. Suffolk, Va., recognizes its agricultural history with a four-day fair and peanut-butter-sculpting contest Oct. 11 through 14. The Brundidge, Ala., Peanut Butter Festival, billed as a tribute to the farmers of the area, takes place on the last Saturday in October.

“We have peanut-butter finger sandwiches with peanut butter and pickles, banana, apple, honey, marshmallow and even baloney. The festival favorite, though, is fried peanuts. They are delicious,” said Delatha Mobley, chairman of the Brundidge peanut-butter recipe contest.

Along with the requisite baking contest, the festival includes peanut boiling and roasting, grinding your own peanut butter and Alabama’s largest peanut-butter-and jelly sandwich.

Along the West Coast, fairs honor everything from sausage in Everett, Wash., to abalone in Mendocino, Calif. In California in early September, you can eat your way through celebrations of chocolate in San Francisco and lemons in Ventura on Sept. 8; tomatoes in Carmel, lobsters in San Pedro or wine in San Jose on Sept. 15; and Danish food in Solvang from Sept. 21 through 23. Granted, you may return looking like Jabba the Hutt, but that may be a risk worth taking.

To end the feasting on a healthier note, you could stop by the Kelseyville Pear Festival. Begun 15 years ago as a nod to California pear farmers, the festival includes pear cooking demonstrations, a 4-course pear dinner, pear tastings and a pear packing competition, according to festival chairman Marilyn Holdenried.

Though food remains the main and obvious attraction of these events, historical exhibits and tours of farms, orchards and vineyards may be an enticement to some tourists. Of her trip to last year’s mushroom festival, Connie Ritchey of the Norristown, Pa., St. John’s Soup Kitchen said, “I particularly enjoyed the tour of the mushroom growing factory, complete with lecture and nifty surgical caps.”

I, too, relished wandering through the dank mushroom houses of Kennett Square, Pa., decked out in a hairnet to protect the fledgling fungi from errant strands. I also got a kick out of learning how to make sweet apple syrup and savory scrapple at the National Apple Harvest Festival in Arendtsville, Pa., and of finding out how to carve a pumpkin without injuring myself at the Circleville, Ohio, Pumpkin Show.

Fabulous food. Educational exhibits. Contests. And the unending quest for the title of world’s largest. With close to 100 fall food festivals providing these very things, your suitcase can remain ready to roll for months to come.

Peanut-butter cheesecake

The recipe that follows was adapted from Lorraine Dunnum’s 2006 Peanut Butter Festival contest-winning recipe.


1½ cups pulverized chocolate cookies (see Note)

½ cup shelled peanuts

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter


16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1½ cups sour cream

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 2-ounce block semisweet chocolate

Grease sides and bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Set aside. Place cookie crumbs in a medium-size bowl.

Process peanuts in food processor until finely chopped. Add peanuts to cookie crumbs and stir. Mix peanuts and cookie crumbs with peanut butter and stir until smooth and slightly sticky. Using a spoon or your fingers, line the bottom and sides of springform pan with this mixture.

Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth and fluffy, about one minute. Scrape down sides of bowl, then gradually add sugar and beat until creamy, about 2 minutes.

After scraping down sides of bowl, add eggs, one at a time. Beat until well-blended. Add sour cream and peanut butter. Beat until batter is smooth and well combined. Pour batter into springform pan. Place pan in pre-heated 350-degree oven and bake for 1 hour. Top should be golden.

Remove cheesecake from oven, place on a cooling rack and cool for one hour. After one hour, remove springform sides and allow cheesecake to cool to room temperature. Cover and place cooled cheesecake in refrigerator. Chill for at least 2 hours. Remove 30 minutes before serving. Before serving, use a zester to shave off bits of chocolate and sprinkle over top of cheesecake. Makes 12 servings.

Note: Rather than chocolate cookies, I used Oreos and simply removed the cream filling.

Pear crepes


1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

Pinch of salt

2 eggs, room temperature

1½ cups skim milk, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Butter for greasing crepe pan


5 Bartlett pears

Juice of ½ lemon

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon


Sugar, optional

Honey, optional

Raspberries or other fruit, optional

Sift flour, sugar and salt into a bowl. In separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla and melted butter.

Combine liquid mixture with flour mixture and whisk until most lumps have been removed. Refrigerate batter for at least 1 hour. Strain out lumps, if necessary, before using.

Peel, core and slice pears and sprinkle with lemon juice. In a 10- or 12-inch frying pan, melt butter with sugar, stirring to combine. Add pears and cook, turning frequently, for 20 to 25 minutes. When finished, pears will be soft and liquid reduced and slightly caramelized. Add ginger and cinnamon and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Using an 8-inch crepe pan or low-sided frying pan, heat pan then add a dab of butter. Coat entire surface of pan with melted butter. Holding pan off the flame, pour 2 to 3 tablespoons of batter onto pan.

Swirl batter so that entire surface of pan is evenly coated with batter. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until bottom is light brown and top has set. Using either a spatula or your fingers, flip crepe over and allow other side to cook for 1 minute.

Place crepe on plate and spoon one to two tablespoons pear filling into center. Fold crepe in half, then in a triangle. Sprinkle sugar or drizzle honey over top and garnish with raspberries or other fruit, if desired. Makes 10 8-inch crepes.

Note: Unfilled crepes can be made several hours in advance and refrigerated. Simply lay the first crepe on a plate, then place a sheet of waxed paper over top of it. Lay the next crepe on top of the paper, cover it with sheet of waxed paper and repeat. After last crepe has been placed, cover plate with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator. Crepes can be reheated in the crepe pan — about 20 seconds on each side — or served cold.

Fall fruit crisp

Butter for greasing pan

4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced

1 pear, peeled, cored and sliced

1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen

Juice of ½ lemon

2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided

3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

3/4cup rolled oats

½cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut in pieces, room temperature

Ice cream

Grease a 2-quart baking dish and set aside.

Combine apples, pear, cranberries, lemon juice and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a large bowl. Spoon coated fruit into prepared baking dish.

In medium bowl and using a fork or spoon, combine brown sugar, oats, flour, remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon and butter pieces. Mix until well combined.

Spread topping evenly over fruit and place dish in preheated 375-degree oven. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, until top is golden and fruit is bubbling. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm with ice cream. Makes 9 servings.

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