Festivals (and strawberries) are popping up all over
By Kara Kimbrough
I’ve been dreaming about strawberries lately. It all started when I saw a display table pilled high with “Louisiana strawberries” in the market section of Shady Acres. Located just south of Seminary of U.S. 49 Highway 49, Shady Acres is a sprawling food, restaurant, baked goods, produce and yard and garden compound. It's an interesting place to stop as you’re traveling through the area. I was there to have lunch with friends in the restaurant, but couldn’t resist exiting through the store on my way out. That’s where I spotted the tempting strawberry display.
I resisted the urge to purchase the strawberries, but it caused me to search for the date of the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival. Held annually in Ponchatoula, La., the self-proclaimed strawberry capital of the world, attendees can sample and purchase locally grown strawberries just as they reach their peak. This year’s event is scheduled for April 14-16 and while I’ve never been, it’s definitely on my bucket list of places to visit.
Closer to home, Mississippi is no stranger to festivals of all shapes and sizes. Food, music and cultural festivals are set to take place in every region of the state from now until the end of the year. This fun, mostly-weekend festivals provide the opportunity to taste flavors from around the state, experience local cultures and traditions, and enjoy being outdoors with family and friends.
If you’re looking for ways to fill your spring weekends with food and fun, here’s a short list of upcoming festivals:
* If driving down tree-lined streets surrounded by stately antebellum homes is right up your alley, you’ll want to visit the city of Columbus March 31-April 23 during the annual Spring Pilgrimage: Jubilee of Homes.
Speaking of alleys, you don’t want to miss Columbus’ Catfish in the Alley festival set for April 5-7. The story behind the name is an interesting one. During the 1800’s, African American fisherman caught and then fried fish to sell on Fourth Street, creating a delicious aroma that drew residents and visitors to the area. It became known as a hub for thriving African American business, blues music and fried catfish. The modem-day festival features lots of fried catfish, music and artisans.
* Vicksburg’s Arts and Music Festival on April 14-15 will feature live music, art demonstrations and plenty of food. That same weekend, Clarksdale’s Juke Joint Festival kicks off one day earlier to allow attendees additional time to enjoy blues music and food at the self-billed “small town fair.”
* Crawfish will be the main attraction at Laurel’s April 15 Downtown Crawfish Festival as well as on April 21 at Starkville’s King Cotton Crawfish Boil. Both festivals will allow cooking teams to compete for top boiling honors. * The following weekend, Cleveland’s Crosstie Arts and Jazz Festival will offer a juried arts s, jazz and food on April 21.
* Rounding out the month on April 28-29 are two of the state’s most popular festivals. Greenwood’s Que on the Yazoo features a highly-competitive barbecue cooking competition, along with plenty of “que” and music for attendees. And, Oxford’s Double Decker Arts Festival boasts over 200 arts and food vendors, along with live music of all genres.
This is just a sample of the festivals to come during the warm spring months. I’ll add a few more as summer brings even more around the state.
But back to those strawberries. After passing up the chance to purchase Shady Acres’ berries, I picked up a carton at the supermarket. They weren’t from Louisiana but combined with vanilla bean ice cream and Peabody Hotel’s vanilla muffins, they were almost as good.
And yes, I said "muffins." A television chef provided a good tip on making strawberry shortcake. Instead of using slices of pound cake, shortbread or biscuits, vertically slice vanilla muffins as the base for toppings. You can use cake mix, but making these delicious muffins is almost as quick and easy as the ones from the box. And like Louisiana strawberries, they never disappoint.
Peabody Hotel’s Famous Vanilla Muffins 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick of butter, room temperature
2 cups whole milk In an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar until well blended. Add flour, baking powder, butter and vanilla. Mix all ingredients together thoroughly, but don’t over beat.
Pour into well-greased muffin tins and bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
Tip: To easily remove muffins from pan, let cool slightly and place a sheet pan over the top. Invert pan and tap gently on countertop until muffins are released from tin.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.