Festivals for feasting

By Barbara Gibbs Ostmann
Published: July/August 2001

Food festivals are a great tradition of summer in the South. Fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood–whatever you have a taste for, chances are there’s a festival for it. Most festivals include arts and crafts, music and entertainment, athletic competitions, carnival rides and other activities, but food is the star.

So pack your appetite and sense of adventure and set out to savor the South this summer and fall at food festivals in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

A grape idea: spaghetti

One of the granddaddies of all food festivals is the 103-year-old Tontitown Grape Festival, in Tontitown, Ark., Aug. 14–18. But if you go expecting grapes, you’ll be in for a surprise.

Although the festival still bears the name of the area’s top cash crop in the 1890s, the event features spaghetti. Descendants of Tonitown’s original Italian settlers and members of St. Joseph Catholic Church prepare more than 3,000 pounds of homemade noodles.

As a child, the flat homemade noodles fascinated me. As an adult, I continue to be a devoted fan of Tontitown-style spaghetti. A visit to last summer’s Grape Festival confirmed that the spaghetti tasted as good as ever.

The festival has grown to five nights of family entertainment (Tuesday through Saturday), including live music, an arts and crafts fair, a used book sale, a 5K run and children’s fun run, and extended hours at the Tontitown Historical Museum. The famous spaghetti dinners are served Thursday through Saturday evenings. For more information, call (501) 361-2615.

What’s a slugburger?

Before heading to the 14th annual Slugburger Festival, July 12-14 in Corinth, Miss., you might want to know that slugburgers are not made from the terrestrial gastropod mollusk of the same name.

According to the “Gourmand’s Guide to Dining in and Around Corinth,” a slugburger is “a burger made of a mixture of beef and some form of cheaper breading extender, which is then deep-fat fried to a golden brown instead of grilled as a common hamburger.” In the past, cornmeal was the most common extender and lard was used for frying; today, soybean meal is the extender of choice and vegetable oil is used for frying.

The Slugburger fesdtival in Corinth, Miss, may not have an appetizing name, but the centerpiece of the celebration is delicious. It's a burger made of beef and breading and then deep fried. /Mississippi Tourism photo
“The standard garnish for a slugburger is mustard, pickle and an ample dose of onions. Good manners requires everyone to partake at the same time so that afterward everyone’s breath is equally offensive,” the guide stated.

The origin of the slugburger name is a matter of local debate. For many years, slugburgers were sold for a nickel and a slang expression for a nickel was a slug, hence the most common explanation for the name. Another popular explanation is that if you overindulge, you might feel as though someone slugged you in the stomach.

Other featured foods include funnel cakes and fried green tomatoes.

The Slugburger Festival is the major fundraiser for the Main Street Corinth downtown revitalization program. The Alcorn County Courthouse will be the site of the carnival, local entertainment and food vendors, while the celebrity headliners will perform on the nearby main stage.

For more information, call (662) 287-1550, 1-877-347-0545 or visit www.slugburger.com online.

Shrimp and petroleum?

It’s a strange name for a food event–Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival–but don’t be fooled. It’s one of the South’s best festivals, and the oldest state-chartered harvest festival in Louisiana.

From Aug. 30 through Sept. 3, Morgan City celebrates shrimp and oil, its two most important natural resources. This festival includes Music in the Park, the Cajun Culinary Classic, Shrimp Cook-off, historic Blessing of the Fleet, arts and crafts show, children’s village, fireworks, parades, royal pageant and a water parade.

Teams will vie for prizes for the best shrimp dishes in the eighth annual Shrimp Cook-off competition. Live music and Cajun cooking prepared by volunteers from local nonprofit organizations will set the stage for the 13th annual Cajun Culinary Classic.

The festival began in 1936 when the port of Morgan City and Berwick received the first boatload of jumbo shrimp, fresh from the Gulf waters. The festival became a dual celebration of both shrimp and oil in 1967. The goal of the festival is to honor the seafood and petroleum industries and to emphasize how these two seemingly different industries work hand-in-hand culturally and environmentally.

For additional information, please call 1-800-256-2931 or visit the Web site www.shrimp-petrofest.org.

Whether you’re shelling a succulent shrimp, twirling your fork into a steaming plate of spaghetti of putting extra pickles and onions on your slugburger, these festivals will satisfy your hunger for fun this summer. Please pass the ketchup.

Barbara Gibbs Ostmann is a contributor from Gerald, Mo.

Contents may not be reproduced in whole or in part unless expressly authorized in writing by AAA Traveler Magazines.