Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Food, Glorious Food!

What better way for Floridians to show pride in our heritage, our towns, and the fruit of our fields or the catch of our rivers and oceans, than to host a food festival? These festivals have always been a means of uniting communities through celebrations of harvests and giving thanks for a plentiful growing season. They can be traced back thousands of years to celebrating the arrival of harvest time, the autumnal equinox, and the honoring of earth gods.

Combining the excitement of celebrations with the fresh taste of local foods, Florida’s food festivals continue those traditions today—typically honoring a crop grown or seafood harvested in the region. From mullet to crawfish, frog legs to sausage, mangos to kumquats, garlic to swamp cabbage, flap jacks to chocolate, and anything and everything in between, there’s a festival for every taste.

Florida’s food festivals are ideal entertainment for the whole family. Besides the main attraction—delicious food—these festivals feature a variety of events. Education abounds at the “Garlic University” during Delray Beach’s Garlic Fest. Country music fills the sprawling festival grounds in daily concerts at the Plant City Strawberry Festival. Eating contests are popular, as well as off -beat competitions such as the “pig chase” at the Jay Peanut Festival or the “Tickle Pig” contest at the Pig on the Pond where participants decorate porta-potties. Like fairs or carnivals, food festivals often feature children’s activities and exciting midways with their fl ashing lights, daredevil rides, and games of chance.

Pageants are often highlighted by the crowning of the festival queen. Small or elaborate parades create fun for all ages with imaginative fl oats and marching bands. Races burn off  calories—or build an appetite. Evenings are crowned with firework shows. Slower-paced attendees can meander through arts and craft booths, farmers markets, or displays of  antique cars, fi re engines, or farm equipment. For those strictly there for the food, many festivals hold recipe competitions or cookoffs.

The best thing about Florida’s food festivals is that none of the rules your mother taught you apply. You can eat with your hands and put your elbows on the table, wipe your mouth on your sleeve, and lick your fingers before wiping them on your pants. It’s no wonder people love food fests!

The Sunshine State is known internationally for its great food. The best places to find the heart and soul of tasty Florida fare is in the multitude of local food festivals held throughout the year in the state’s pleasant and welcoming climate. So get outdoors and enjoy the clear air and sunshine.

Many festivals have a small-town character, while others have gained nationwide recognition. Festival length varies—from one-day affairs to a week or more.

While most Florida food festivals are free or charge a nominal admission fee, and many offer free samples, some are ticketed events for admission and/or the food. Depending on the location, there may be a parking charge. Since fees change frequently, please contact the festivals ahead of time so there are no surprises. Keep in mind that many festival proceeds go to charity, which may make swallowing the cost more palatable.

At most food festivals, you go from booth to booth (pay as you go) and sample different foods or recipes of the same food. But others have whole meals for purchase or are sit-down meals. Festivals may feature a particular raw ingredient (like strawberries or tomatoes) while others involve preparing dishes onsite (like chili or  barbecue). Or if you crave variety, “Taste Of” events typically feature the signature dishes of local restaurants.

Bon appétit!

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