A feast of festivals
At small-town shindigs, get your fill of strawberries and sauerkraut, kolacky and sweet corn.
© Eric Oxendorf
Every year, the World's Largest Brat Fest in Madison sets a new record for brats consumed.
As soon as rhubarb leaves unfurl and morels pop out of the ground, towns across the region begin their salutes to the local specialty.
It starts with Norwegian lefse on Syttende Mai and continues to Finnish pasties, German pretzels, Czech kolacky, Danish
pancakes and American pie.
There will be music and parades and all kinds of goofy contests — rhubarb-stalk throwing in Lanesboro, the rutabaga
shot put in Calumet — but mostly, there will be a lot to eat.
If you’ve ever said, “I could eat a hundred of those!’’ you'll get your chance this summer. Here are some of the premier places to pig out in 2013.
And for ethnic festivals, see Celebrating roots.
For beer festivals, see Best brew fests.
April 26-28, Maple Syrup Festival in Vermontville, Mich. It's the 73rd year for this festival southeast of Grand Rapids, famous for maple-syrup cotton candy. There are games, music, an arts and crafts show and a grand parade at 2 p.m. Saturday.
May 10-12, Mushroom Festival in Mesick, Mich. This town near Cadillac is morel central, with mushroom contests as well as a carnival, flea market, games and a noon Saturday parade.
May 16-19, MorelFest in Boyne City, Mich. This town near Lake
Michigan offers a guided mushroom hunt, a mushroom competition with prizes, a morel seminar, cooking demonstrations and The
Taste of Morels put on by local restaurants.
May 18-19, Morel Mushroom Festival in Muscoda, Wis. This town along the Wisconsin River sells the mushrooms and holds fireworks, a flea market and a Sunday parade.
May 17-18, Asparagus Festival in Empire, Mich. On the edge of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, this festival features asparagus fortune-telling, cook-off and parade.
May 23-27, Chocolate Festival in Burlington, Wis. This big festival in southeast Wisconsin features such events as a battle of the chefs, a geocache treasure hunt, Project Yum-way candy-wrapper design contest and chocolate chase.
May 24-27, World's
Largest Brat Fest, Madison, Wis. It's a music festival featuring the world's
largest touring grill (a Johnsonville semi that can cook 750 brats at a time) and the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile.
Little girls dip treats in a vat of molten chocolate at Chocolate Fest in Long Grove, Ill.
There are also carnival rides and a Cut the Mustard high-school band competition. Admission is free. Outside the Alliant Energy Center.
May 31-June 2, Milk
Days in Harvard, Ill. The festival in this small town just south of Lake Geneva,
Wis., is the longest running in the state. There's a milk-drinking contests, milking demonstrations, cow-chip lotto, bed
races, hot-air balloon launches and a parade at 1 p.m. Saturday.
May 31-June 2, Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival in Little Chute. This Fox Cities festival includes cheese-curd eating, cheese-carving and
cheesecake contests and a 10:30 a.m. Saturday cheese parade.
June 1, Rhubarb
Festival in Lanesboro, Minn. The festival in this southeast Minnesota hamlet is
young but already beloved.
There’s a Rhubarb Olympics, featuring the Rhubarb Stalk Throw and Green Eggs and Rhubarb, and a Rhubarb Rant Speakers Corner for opinionated folks. The Rhubarb Sisters entertain.
June 7-9, Strawberry Days in Strawberry Point, Iowa. This town in northeast Iowa is all about strawberries and has a 15-foot-high fiberglass berry to prove it.
Festivities on Saturday include the longest strawberry shortcake, eating contests and a parade.
June 7-9, National Asparagus Festival in Hart and Shelby, Mich. These towns south of Ludington host an arts fair, motorcycle run, food show and Saturday parade, this year in Hart.
June 8-9, Strawberry Festival in
Farmington, Iowa. There's free strawberries and ice cream plus a cake walk, kids' pedal pull, powwow and dog show in
this southeast Iowa town, one of the Villages of Van Buren.
June 12-15, Ice Cream Days in Le Mars, Iowa. This town in northwest Iowa, the home of Blue Bunny ice cream,
calls itself the Ice Cream Capital of the World and celebrates with an arts show, a parade at 9 a.m. Saturday and, of course,
an ice-cream social.
June 22-23, Strawberry Festival in Cedarburg, Wis. The festival in this idyllic town of 11,000, half an hour north of Milwaukee, draws a throng of 40,000 people to historic Washington Avenue.
© Beth Gauper
A young contestant gets messy in Cedarburg's strawberry shortcake-eating contest.
Don’t miss the freshly grilled strawberry brats from Hoffmann’s Meat Market, the strawberry tarts from GrandDad
Bakery and the strawberry wine from Cedar Creek Winery. There are sundae- and pie-eating and berry bob contests, a pet
fashion show and a fine arts and crafts fair.
For more, see Jolly Cedarburg.
June 28-30, Sauerkraut Days in Henderson, Minn. This town in the Minnesota River Valley is only an hour or so southwest of the Twin Cities. There’s a kiddie parade, tractor-ride parade and grand parade, plus fire-department water fights and a kraut-eating contest.
June 28-30, Cheese Curd Festival in
Ellsworth, Wis. In this western Wisconsin town, there's a cheese-curd eating contest, beard and pie contests, kids'
games and a 1 p.m. Sunday parade.
June 29-30, PastyFest in Calumet, Mich. The humble miner's lunch — meat and rutabagas in a pocket of piecrust — has inspired this Keweenaw Peninsula festival, which includes a PastyWalk, PastyParade, PastyPoetry contest and, of course, a PastyCook-Off.
Toivo the walking and talking pasty will appear, and there will be games — the PastyPull, Rutabaga Shotput, Onion Pass and Egg Toss. Free pasties for the first 500 people.
June 29-July 6, National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, Mich. This town on Lake Michigan calls itself the Cherry Capital of the World and attracts half a million people to events that include many pie-eating and pit-spitting contests and the Cherry Royale Parade.
July 5-7, Wild Rice Festival in Deer River, Minn. Amid Chippewa National Forest north of Grand Rapids, this town celebrates the Ojibwe staple with a powwow, parade, kiddie tractor pull and fireworks.
© Beth Gauper
"Hamburger Charlie'' Nagreen sold the first hamburger in Seymour in 1885.
July 13-21, Raspberry Festival in Hopkins, Minn. This
west-Minneapolis suburb calls itself America's Raspberry Capital. There's a parade at 1 p.m. the last day.
July 26-28, Aebleskiver Days in Tyler, Minn. The festival in this southwest Minnesota town features the ball-shaped Danish
July 26-28, Pierogi
Fest in Whiting, Ind. This suburb of Chicago exalts the plump Eastern European
dumplings, filled with cheese, mashed potatoes or sauerkraut, with pierogi eating and tossing contests, a Mr. Pierogi
songfest and a Polka Parade at 7 p.m. Friday.
July 26-28, Kolacky Days in Montgomery, Minn. This southern Minnesota town, settled by Czech immigrants, calls itself the Kolacky Capital of the World.
That’s quite a claim, but the town will try to live up to it by producing thousands of the fruit-filled pastries for
its annual festivities, which includes a Tour de Bun Bike Classic, a Bun Run and performances by Czech dancers.
The Grand Day Parade is Sunday, and of course, there’s a kolacky-eating contest. It’s just south of New
July 27-28, Blueberry Festival in Iron River, Wis. There are blueberry pie-eating contests and a Sunday parade in this town between Duluth and Ashland.
© Beth Gauper
In Seymour, a giant hamburger sits on a grill used in 2001 to grill a world-record 8,266-pound burger.
Aug. 1-3 Brat Days
in Sheboygan, Wis. This festival in the home of the brat features every kind of
sausage plus music, a carnival and big parade.
Aug. 2, Pie Day in Braham, Minn. In the 1930s, this tiny town north of Cambridge became a pie stop for Twin Cities folks driving to cabins up north. It was named Homemade Pie Capital of Minnesota by Gov. Rudy Perpich in 1990, the year it started its now-famous Pie Day.
Aug. 2-4, Glad-Peach
Festival in Coloma, Mich. This small town in the southwest Michigan fruit belt,
also famous for its gladiolus flowers, celebrates with a peach-pit spit, peach dunk and parade, as well as live music and
Aug. 3, Cookie Daze in Ripon, Wis. The birthplace of the Republic Party also is home of Rippin' Good Cookies and calls itself Cookie Town USA. Cookie Monster appears at the festival, which also features cookie bingo and decorating. 920-748-6764.
There’s a medallion hunt, performances of the Pie-Alluia Chorus, a pie auction and pie-eating and -baking contests.
Aug. 3, National Mustard Day in Middleton, Wis. The National Mustard Museum serves up free hotdogs and mustard samples, plus music, games and entertainment.
Aug. 8-11, Sweet Corn Festival in Mendota, Ill. The festival in this
town between Rochelle and La Salle features 50 tons of free buttered corn, plus music, a flea market and a parade.
Aug. 8-11, Humungus Fungus Fest in Crystal Falls, Mich. This
festival, near Iron River in the Upper Peninsula, was started after the discovery of a 100-ton, 38-acre underground mushroom.
There's a 10- by 10-foot mushroom pizza, pie social, parade and fireworks.
Aug. 8-10, Sauerkraut Days in Lisbon, Iowa. The festival in this town east of Cedar Rapids includes a carnival, car show, parade and lots of brats on which to load sauerkraut.
Aug. 8-11, National Blueberry Festival in South Haven, Mich. Eat until you're blue in the face during the festival in this Lake Michigan beach town. The big parade is at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Aug. 9-10, Burger Fest in Seymour, Wis. The Wisconsin
Legislature has declared this friendly little town west of Green Bay the Original Home of the Hamburger, based on a local
15-year-old who put ground-beef patties in a bun, called them hamburgers and sold them at the Seymour Fair in 1885.
The town celebrates with a festival and hot-air balloon rally, featuring a hamburger-press strength contest, a ketchup slide
competition, a burger-eating contest and the World’s Largest Hamburger Parade Saturday.
© Julie Deters
Cookies reign during Cookie Daze in Ripon, Wis.
Aug. 10, Minnesota Garlic Festival in Hutchinson, Minn. There will be old-fashioned picnic games, kite-flying, music and demonstrations by celebrity chefs.
Aug. 10, Chokecherry Festival in Pequot Lakes, Minn. This Brainerd-area lakes town on the Paul Bunyan State Trail offers pancakes with chokecherry syrup and chokecherry culinary and pit-spitting contests, plus a water-balloon fight and blindfolded tractor-driving challenge.
Aug. 16-18, Pepper Festival in North Hudson, Wis. This town on the St. Croix River celebrates its Italian heritage with spaghetti- and pepper-eating contests, a pepper-cooking contest, a carnival and Saturday parade. 800-657-6775.
Aug. 16-18, Wild Blueberry Festival in Paradise,
Mich. This town on the east end of the Upper Peninsula is best known as the home of the Whitefish Point Shipwreck Museum,
but in August it puts on its "blue clothes'' and celebrates the berry harvest.
Aug. 17, Coffee Break Festival in Stoughton, Wis. This Norwegian town south of Madison claims its tobacco sorters started the coffee break tradition, and festival-goers get lots of free hot coffee. There's also a crafts show, car and bike show and music.
© Beth Gauper
In southern Minnesota, Olivia displays a 25-foot ear of corn.
Aug. 17, Watermelon Day in Vining, Minn. This tiny town in western Minnesota is known for its collection of unusual
scrap-metal sculptures and, in August, for free watermelon. There's a craft fair, petting zoo and parade.
For more, see Otter trail country.
Aug. 18, Corn on the Cob Days in Plainview, Minn. This town, amid bluff country south of Lake Pepin, celebrates the local product with a huge free corn feed and parade. Eight to 10 tons of corn cobs are picked, transported by forklift and steam-cooked in their husks at 212 degrees for about 45 minutes.
The public gets to dig in from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., or until the corn is gone. The parade is at 1:30 p.m.
Aug. 23-24, Mackinac Island Fudge Festival, Mackinac
Island, Mich. There are 17 fudge shops on this little island, so they need plenty of people to eat it. Besides fudge,
there will be hiking and biking tours, music, dance and extreme kite flying.
Five Golden Tickets, good for vacations on the island, will be placed in boxes of fudge for sale.
Aug. 23-24, Potato
Days in Barnesville, Minn. This goofy festival in central Minnesota features
mashed-potato wrestling, sculpting and eating plus potato car races, a peeling contest and a Saturday parade.
Aug. 23-25, Rutabaga Festival in
Cumberland, Wis. Root vegetables aren’t very glamorous, but this town in western Wisconsin has celebrated them
for 79 years. There’s no rutabaga feed, but there is a hot-pepper eating contest on Saturday and a pancake breakfast
and pie and ice-cream social Sunday. The grand parade is Sunday.
Aug. 30-Sept. 2, Wild Rice Days in McGregor, Minn. This town near the northeast shore of Mille Lacs is in the middle of Ojibwe ricing grounds. The fest includes a Wild Rice Education tent as well as music, games and a Saturday parade.
Sept. 2-7, Potato Bowl in East Grand Forks, Minn., and Grand Forks, N.D. This Red River Valley fest features baked-potato bars, chip giveaways, the world's largest French fry feed, fry-eating and potato-picking contests, a potato-pancake breakfast and a Saturday parade.
Sept. 7, Fondue
Festival in Fond du Lac, Wis. This town at the foot of Lake Winnebago offers
giant chocolate and cheese fondues as well as music on three stages, a free bicycle tour and kids games.
Sept. 7, Apple Dumpling Days in Elroy, Wis. This bicycle-trail hub in southwest Wisconsin features a half marathon, Dumpling Dash, fun run and plenty of pastry.
Sept. 7, Watermelon Festival in Pardeeville, Wis. The festival in this town just east of Portage features spitting, speed-eating and carving contests, plus games and an art and farmers market.
Sept. 11-14, Pumpkin Festival in Morton, Ill. This town near Peoria, home of the Libby's pumpkin-packing plant, calls itself the Pumpkin Capital of the World and serves pumpkin ice cream, pancakes and fudge at its festival, which features a 10:30 a.m. Saturday parade.
Sept. 14-15, Minnesota Cheese Festival in St. Paul. This fest in the International Bazaar area of the State Fairgrounds showcases artisan cheeses.
Sept., Pumpkinfest in Bessemer, Mich. There's pumpkin pie-eating, pumpkin seed-spitting and pumpkin bowling contests at this fest on the Upper Peninsula.
© Beth Gauper
People eat apples, peel apples and dress as apples during Bayfield's Apple Festival.
Sept. 27-29, Cranberry
Festival in Warrens, Wis. The bogs in central Wisconsin are scarlet red for this
big festival, which features a Sunday parade.
Sept. 27-29, Apple Festival in Gays Mills, Wis. Southwest Wisconsin is beautiful in fall, and the many orchards are a good excuse to visit. This festival features a parade at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Sept. 28, Beef-A-Rama in Minocqua, Wis. There's a Rump Roast Run, beef-eating contest and Parade of Beef on Saturday.
Sept. 28, Pancake Day in Centerville, Iowa. This town in
south-central Iowa, near Rathbun Lake, serves free and gourmet pancakes all morning, and there's also carnival rides, music
and a big parade.
Oct. 4-6, Apple Fest in Bayfield,
Wis. This huge event brings 60,000 people into this tiny village across from the Apostle Islands. There's music, an
apple-peeling contest, a Venetian boat parade and a big parade on Sunday.
For more, see Big apples.
Oct. 5, Apple Affair in Galesville, Wis.
Up in the Mississippi River bluffs, above Trempealeau, this bucolic village holds a festival featuring a 10-foot apple pie, a
hunt for a Silver Apple, a race of floating wooden apples and a bicycle tour with a 20-mile route through apple orchards and
hillier 35- and 60-mile routes.
Seems turkeys are castrated in early fall so they'll be big and juicy for Thanksgiving . . . these early leftovers are
deep-fried, and proceeds go to charity.
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