Sunday, July 19, 2009

# 9 Bagel Festival - Mattoon, IL - July 18, 2009

# 9 Bagel Festival - Mattoon, IL - July 18, 2009

My life as a food festival blogger hasn't been very glamorous as of yet, and I still have to stand in line at these events like everyone else. This is the line stretching out for the free bagel breakfast at the Bagel Festival.

Here is the what I received for my "breakfast". A thawed out plain Lender's Bagel with mixed fruit jelly. The breakfast ended at 10 am and I arrived about 9:30. Unfortunately the bagel professionals knew to get there at 6 am to get a larger variety. Apparently there were chocolate chip, strawberry, and cinnamon bagels available earlier. I heard there was even some cream cheese around at some point that morning.

Having been somewhat disappointed by the bagel breakfast, I started to re-focus my hopes towards the parade. This was by far the largest parade I've seen this year as it lasted over an hour and a half. For some reason the parade had a pirate theme, and to the right you are looking at quite possibly the only bagel cannon in existence.

Again there wasn't a lot of variety when it came to vendors selling the themed ingredient. In fact, this bagel pizza was the only themed food item available I could find. It was solid and tasted good, but it was a basic bagel with sauce and cheese. I had hoped for more, maybe next year I'll go to these festivals as a vendor with different food recipes for each event. I think I could make some money selling steamed bagel sandwiches a la Bagel and Deli in Oxford style here (anyone who went to Miami of Ohio would understand).

Finally I introduce the Fudge Puppy. Although there was nothing exciting that was bagel related, I did find this treat fairly innovative. It is a "Belgian Waffle" dipped in chocolate and topped with whipped cream, sprinkles, and strawberries. Ok I got upsold on the strawberries, but why not go all the way with this heart attack/dentist's gold on a stick? It tasted like I was 6 years old again.

Video of the week. I thought it was safe to assume that the local High School band would march at these festival parades. Yet, I was wrong at every parade I've been to this summer until I made it to Mattoon. I love marching bands, and especially the drum line. I hope you enjoy a drum line solo from Mattoon High School as much as I did. (Also look for the little kid with a drum bigger than him at the end).

This festival did not start off with the bang that I had hoped for at the bagel breakfast. It was more like that Wah-Wah-Wah horn sound they make when a cartoon character is let down. I just expected more than a plain bagel with mixed fruit jelly. The problem was there was no limit on how many bagels each person took. In fact the bagel fest veterans brought their own plastic bags in order to help carry their loot. I have a feeling that the more uncommon bagels were swooped up by 7 am, and there was no way I was waking up at 4:30 am to drive for bagels.

So why Mattoon, IL for bagels? Apparently it all goes back to your local supermarkets preffered frozen bagel purveyor, Lender's Bagels. Harry Lender began his bagel empire back in 1927 in New Haven, CN. I'm not sure if I need to document the history of the bagel or its rise to one of the most popular breakfast items, but if you're a food history buff then click here to learn way more than you want. In 1962 Lender's introduced the first frozen bagel which enabled shipping his product further and making more varieties available across the country. By 1986 Lender's built its largest manufacturing plant in Mattoon, IL. It currently employs almost 300 people, and they produce everything from bagels to french toast sticks.

The parade was a definite spectacle at this festival, and by far the longest one I've witnessed this summer. I think every business, politician and social group in town participated in the parade. I think the most innovative entry I saw was a woman who owned a clothing store actually pushed a shopping rack of clothes the entire route. How do you know when a parade is over? When the horses come by the parade is over (hopefully I don't need to explain why there is no one behind the horses).

Although I was disappointed by the lack of bagels at the bagel fest, it was still a fun festival and much larger than I had expected. The professional Carnival folks were all over this festival, and they set up one of the most impressive amusement park I've seen. From spinning apples to roller coasters, it was all there. For any parents out there, this was a great family event which many families took advantage of. Food wise the fudge puppy was definitely the highlight. Here's another rule, if it's on a stick it is good.

I'll leave you with this thought,
"As you travel through life, brother...whatever your goal...keep your eye on the bagel, and not on the hole!" And maybe a wiener dog wrapped in a bagel figurine for purchase here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

#8 Catsup Festival - Collinsville, IL - July 12, 2009

#8 Catsup Bottle Festival - Collinsville, IL - July 12, 2009

This wasn't a festival celebrating catsup as much as it was a celebration marking the town's Catsup bottle shaped water tower's 60th Birthday. Above you can see a smaller display size bottle, an ice sculpture version carved at the festival, and finally the real thing. Apparently it was built in 1949 to supply water for the adjoining catsup factory's fire sprinkler system. Sadly the catsup factory moved to Indiana in the '60's.

The food selection wasn't very diverse. I wondered what the options would be at a condiment festival, and I was greeted with hot dogs. I found a Vienna Beef vendor, and ate this uninspiring hot dog doused in Brooks Catsup.

There was a "Tangy Taste Test" booth at the fair which consisted of 4 different samples of catsup, and people were supposed to guess which sample was the Brook's brand catsup. Ok I'll admit it, I actually won on the second try, but who among you would know what the heck Brook's catsup tastes like. They didn't allow a taste of the Brook's beforehand, and only said that it was known to be tangy. I originally picked the tangiest one which turned out to be the generic supermarket brand. My distinguished palette was finely tuned to Brook's catsup once I knew what it tasted like and was able to identify each of the four brands individually on my second try. I think that earns extra credit, and a ribbon and bottle of catsup well deserved. This is my second victory at a festival (a sad victory but a victory nonetheless). For my first victory at the Horseradish festival check the story below, or see the official press release in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Video of the week. Meet Everett "The Rockin' Rebel" Dean (aka The Hillbilly Flash). If you read about Matt Barber from my Salisbury Festival, then you know I'm all about introducing up and coming new stars. He is actually pretty good on this rendition of "I'm All Shook Up", and you can find him at his website.

I'll have to admit I am not much of a catsup fan, but more of a mustard kind of guy. In fact I hope to be going to the grandaddy of mustard fests at the end of the month and thought it would only be fair to do a catsup fest as well. I'm not sure if you know, but on the professional food circuit mustard lovers and catsup lovers don't mix. It's kind of like Star Wars fans at a Star Trek convention, only bad things will happen. I still gave in to the kiddie condiment, and was forced to choose between a hot dog and a hot dog. So I had a hot dog. They had all the trimmings of a fine festival: a Little Ms. Tomato, a Little Mr. Ketchup, a hot dog eating contest (mystery hot dogs only so I couldn't participate), the taste test booth, a hula hoop competition, a water balloon toss, an antique car show, and even Ronald McDonald on an off day (PS If anyone works at McD's is reading this please email me to learn about sponsorship opportunities, I can learn to love Big Macs pretty quick). But, the food section was limited to professional touring vendors selling normal fare and a couple locals. Although it wasn't a true food festival, it was quite entertaining as there was always something going on.

The Brooks brothers actually started their company in Collinsville in 1907 as the Triumph Catsup and Pickle Company. They originally marketed their product as "tobasco flavored ketchup" until McIlhenny threatened to sue over copyright infringement. The Brooks brothers changed their official name to original tangy catsup, which it still is today. Although the company officially moved to Indiana in the 1960's the water tower was still used for a warehouse. In 1993 the company sold it's property and a preservation committee took over the tower. (cite) Now it is maintained simply for aesthetic and historical purposes, and people take great pride in the maintaining and painting of the tower. I spoke briefly with the person that has been painting it for the last 16 years, and he still climbs up the tower and paints it with a brush to this day.

Catsup or Ketchup? I've always been a ketchup guy, and think ctasup seems pretentious for some reason. It seems that ketchup was originally a Chinese concoction more akin to soy sauce and never even included tomatoes in the 17th centruy. The Anglican translation was "ke-tsiap". In yet another example of Anglican bastardization two spelling versions emerged. Tomatoes were introduced into this dipping sauce in the 1700's and Heinz began producing it in 1876. All I do know is that Heinz is by far the biggest producer of this product, and they clearly label it "ketchup".

Unfortunately this festival wasn't even held within eyesight of the actual Catsup Bottle Water Tower, and I had to drive five minutes to find it. Instead it was held at the local VFW which was nice but seemed to defeat the point. The organizers did an excellent job as there was always something going on onstage, and the car show was even very impressive to a non-gearhead like me. I hoped there would be some ketchup ice cream, or different variations of ketchup, or even some ketchup paintings. Again only hot dogs. They did incorporate the feature ingredient well with a lot of their activities though. I'm not sure what else you could expect from a festival other than a Litlle Ms. something, another award win, and even Elvis singing in the parking lot. I just can't wait to get this tangy flavor out of my mouth and taste the spiciness of mustard soon.