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Celebrated Texas Food Festivals

by John Raven, Ph.B.

Texas has a deep background of various ethnic groups. This has led to the many different kinds of "Texas" recipes. (The only dish that Texans can claim as their very own is chili. Hundreds of chili cook-offs take place all round the state, just about year round.) So it seems only fitting to make a quick tour of the various Texas food festivals.

Of course, you know about the barbecue cook-offs. I don't think there is any region of Texas that does not have at least one barbecue event.

I found several chicken fried steak eating contests, but no cooking contest. I had a CFS division at my "Texas Big Three" contest some years ago. The Big Three are chili, barbecue and chicken fried steak.

There is one festival in East Texas I bet you have never heard about. It is the Hopkins County Stew Festival held annually in Sulphur Springs. The Hopkins County stew is chicken based, cooked in a very large kettle and features corn as one of the ingredients.

The world-renowned hamburger has roots in Texas. Fletcher Davis is credited as being the father of the hamburger in Texas. At one time Frank X. Tolbert, the godfather of chili, promoted a hamburger cooking competition in Athens. You can investigate hamburgers in my article Build a Better Burger.

Athens is also the black-eyed pea capital of Texas. It features a Black-eyed Pea Jamboree each year.

The Torre di Pietra Winery near Fredericksburg has a Black-eyed Pea and Cornbread cooking competition on New Year's Day each year. (Last month I told my Texas Cooking readers everything I know about blackeyed peas.)

Another less well known event is the Spinach Festival in Crystal City. This is probably the oldest food festival in Texas. It was begun in 1936. The city also features a large statue of Popeye. (For you young ones, Popeye was a cartoon hero whose super strength came from eating spinach.)

Just a few months younger than the Spinach Festival is the Strawberry Festival held every April in Poteet. Poteet makes a full weekend of the celebration, including just about everything, along with a look at the World's Largest Strawberry. "World's Largest" may be debatable, but who is going to argue with the Poteet Chamber of Commerce?

In Luling there is the annual Watermelon Thump. "Thump" comes from the ancient practice of thumping a watermelon with your middle finger. A trained ear can detect the ripeness of the melon by the sound the thump makes. The Luling celebration features a full weekend of activities, including the Championship Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest and the Watermelon Eating Contest.

The Czech immigrants in Texas brought with them their kolache. A kolache is a sweet, yeast-risen roll with a sweet filling. A properly made kolache is one of life's true treasures. Where I grew up among the Czechs in Taylor, the kolaches came in five flavors -- prune, pineapple, apricot, cottage cheese and poppy seed. My favorite was any but the poppy seed. I never developed a taste for them. There was a popular variation on the kolache called pig-in-a-blanket. This was a small piece of sausage wrapped in kolache dough and baked. This was another exceptional treat.

The many kolache festivals don't get a large amount of publicity, but anywhere there is a concentration of Czech people, there is a kolache festival nearby, the best-known probably being the Burleson County Kolache Festival in Caldwell. Other celebrations are in Hallettsville and Ennis.

East Bernard has a Kolache-Klobase Festival. Klobase is a Czech sausage.

For many years the State Fair of Texas was home to Fletcher's corndogs. Most corndog fans say Fletcher's is the best. Every year the State Fair holds a corndog eating contest.

Throckmorton out in West Texas holds a Rocky Mountain Oyster Festival annually. Rocky Mountain oysters are bovine testicles often known as "calf fries." The "oysters" are battered and deep fried. There are many fans of the mountain oysters. To each his own taste.

Austin has been the home of Spamarama for many years. This is sort of a "Spam in cheek" contest to see who can come up with the best way to make Spam palatable. In the past couple of years, Spamarama has been cast out of the Pecan Street Festival where it used to be the star attraction. I guess Spam no longer fits Austin's criteria of being weird.

One of Texas' best known foods does not have any traditional celebrations. The Blue Bell Creamery in Brenham simply cranks out the best ice cream around. You know they are good at it as they have been in business for 102 years. Blue Bell comes in a multitude of flavors, and my favorite is Banana Split. Everyone who visits or lives in the Brenham area is invited to take a tour of the creamery and maybe get a sample of the product. It's a great thing to do on a hot summer day.

I doubt anyone has ever counted all the Texas wine festivals around. There is one nearly anywhere there is a vineyard, and they are everywhere now.

San Antonio has the Potato Expo. Not to be outdone, Laredo has the Jalapeño Festival. Also on the agenda are the Annual Fulton Oysterfest, Annual Austin Chocolate Festival, The Chocolate Festival at Humble, the East Texas Yamboree in Gilmer, and the Annual Crawfish Festival at Clear Lake.

Here's one that sounds interesting: the Annual Steak Cook-off, Beef Symposium and Tourist Trap in Hico.

Rounding the program out are the Annual Hot Sauce Festival in Houston and the Peanut Festival in Grapeland.

Some of these festivals may have fallen by the wayside. Some may be still improving. And if I have missed one of your favoritesIf you are interested in one, contact the local chamber of commerce for details. I think I'm going to head for that steak cook-off and tourist trap. See ya there.

[Editor's note: For a listing of upcoming Texas festivals of all kinds, as well as many other kinds of events, check out our Texas Events Calendar.]

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