When I made the decision a couple weekends ago to join Meghan and her family in their quiet (what I consider to be) upstate New York community for the annual Strawberry Festival, I was both excited and curious.
What exactly does one do at a Strawberry Festival? And what about Strawberries are we celebrating? The sweetness? The color? Are other fruits and vegetables invited?
More important, how will an apartment-dwelling, “Gabagool” sandwich-inhaling Italian boy from New Jersey, fare in the earthy environs of Tioga County. This is the OTHER New York, a region of the state more specifically known as the “Lower Tier”, where long, winding roads somberly slither surreptitiously through sylvan swaths of breathtaking wilderness and contiguous wide open spaces, forming the backdrop to a calmer, more serene life. Here, well beyond the reach of the City’s relentless obsession with the almighty dollar, close-knit community is cultivated, land is respected, and morals are revered.
Morality? Conservation? Camaraderie? Am I still in the U.S.? Did I miss my exit and end up in Ontario (Ay!)? I don’t see any Obama buttons or Hillary bumper stickers, so this can’t be Ithaca.
Maybe we can’t change.
And where the hell was I anyway?
My confusion subsided as the Strawberry-centric festivities commenced. After an enjoyable old-time parade that featured local music, a trio of beautiful (yet rather incontinent) Clydesdales, and some amazingly preserved antique tractors; I couldn’t help but ask, “Where’s the food at this thing?”
All this unbridled Americana is making me hungry!
Before long, we made our way into the town center where the festivities had already begun. Expecting a small, focused area dedicated to food with limited selection, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself walking right smack into the middle of crowded streets bedizened with countless food tents and kiosks offering an impressive array of local fare.
Wasting no time at all, I had to try a local treat known as a “spiedie”, where large supple chunks of chicken or pork (your choice) are marinated in a special “spiedie” sauce, then skewered and cooked like a shish-ka-bob. Once cooked, the large morsels are de-kabobbed and stuffed into a soft sandwich roll for your consuming pleasure. I had heard a lot about this Tioga County treat over the past year and now I finally had the chance to eat it. My pork variation was very good albeit a bit dry, but the chicken version (Below) was truly outstanding. The sweet, tangy "spiedie" marinade helped keep the seasoned chicken morsels moist and tender, and the roll was absolutely fantastic. These are the kind of rolls you want to make Prosciutto and provolone sandwiches on…but that’s another story.
Though already an impressive bite, I think a finishing slather of "spiedie" sauce either on the bun or the meat, or both, would bring this handsome sandwich to even greater heights. Nevertheless, I was duly impressed and wholly pleased with what was going into my mouth.
Not yet slowed by the "spiedie",I made a B line to the Methodist Church stand across the street, which was serving pulled pork sandwiches and salt potatoes to a claque of customers clamoring for food. Perhaps in honor of their name, the pulled pork sandwich was clearly a product of devout methodology, combining soft, silky threads of pork with a rich, claypot-red barbecue sauce on a light and airy bun. This was easily one of the best pulled pork sandwiches I've ever had and the accompanying salt potatoes were as equally notable. Simple, easy to eat, and damn good. I almost had another (but Meghan said no!)
Probably full at this point, though I didn't want to admit it, I rather accidentally passed something I've up until now, yet to encounter in my days as the Ubereater: A German Sausage stand. "ACHTUNG!" I said to myself as I gazed at the Knockwurst, Bratwurst, and all the other "wursts" being doled out here. Not ready to tackle the greyer-hued links (think Dan Aykroyd's Judge character in the movie Nothing But Trouble), I went for what was labeled the "Spicy German Sausage" (below) which looked like hot dog on steroids, topped with tart sauerkraut and little bit of onions, absolutely dominating a subservient potato roll.
Gyro's, Italian Sausage, and funnel cakes were just some of the other food stands lurking around the corner at this gluttonous gathering, though after the German sausage, I was spent for the day.
I did manage to get my hands on a frothy sweet "Strawberry Cooler", as well as a taste of the "shortcake", which in these parts, isn't actually cake, but a more rustic approach that beds whipped cream laiden freshly sliced strawberries with a duo of warm buttermilk biscuits. This was simply outstanding.
Stuffed, bloated, and downright disgusted with myself for overindulging, I managed to turn a pure, all-American celebration of the humble Strawberry, into an exercise in self-involved gluttony and insolence-infused inhibition. Even so, notwithstanding my usual disregard for moderation (and my impending worry that I had to make Italian Sausage sandwiches for dinner!), my Strawberry festival experience was as enlightening as it was enjoyable, providing an invaluable lesson that great food is a product, more than anything else, of love.
I can only imagine what I'll learn at the Apple festival in October.
My dearest thanks to Meghan's family for hosting me for the weekend and allowing me to experience and enjoy their family's tradition!