Summertime in Oregon is prime time for food festivals. Small towns all over the state have devoted months of planning to one summer weekend, ensuring that hungry visitors go away with their stomachs pleasantly full and their minds at ease.
The second weekend of August offers three such festivals. With a bit of planning and an expeditious attitude, one might even be able to visit all three, sampling unique foods you just won’t find anywhere else.
Ninth Annual Elephant Garlic Festival
Fiery or mellow, nutty or creamy, there are practically as many different varieties of garlic as there are ways it can be used. For the past nine years, the tiny town of North Plains has celebrated this “stinking rose.”
Elephant garlic is an oversized cousin to the more familiar Italian variety. Mild and sweet, its featherweight flavor lends itself to being served raw: shaved in salads, rubbed on crostini or minced in vinaigrettes or marinades.
Don’t miss farmers Shawn and Jerry Lougheridge’s stand, where you will find an array of fresh garlic to take home with you. Just harvested earlier this month, it has been drying in the hot weather and will be ready for sale just in time for this weekend. You will never find garlic fresher and with a cleaner taste than this!
”Garlic is just like wine – there are many flavors and varieties from all over the world. Elephant garlic is more like a leek with its mellow flavor. We’ll also be selling some of the hotter ones with stronger flavors and others that have different colors like Oregon Blue, Purple Glazer and Korean Red,” Jerry Lougheridge said.
For dinner, try the Rogue Brewpub’s elephant garlic burger for dinner and taste fire-roasted corn with elephant garlic butter.
The Tigard Knights of Columbus are famous for their garlic sesame chicken thighs and mashed potatoes that are made on site, said Betty Martin, who coordinates the food vendors for the festival.
”This is an extremely family-oriented festival. Our hope is for families to eat and play, listen to music and just enjoy the weekend,” Martin said. With a parade on Saturday morning, music scheduled all weekend and a car show, there is enough planned to keep everyone entertained.
Tualatin Crawfish Festival
Shift gears to tiny freshwater crustaceans resembling miniature lobsters: crawfish. The suburban town of Tualatin has, for some 53 years, celebrated this delectable creature, which used to be plentiful in the Tualatin River.
Visit Friday evening for the cook-off, which features area restaurants competing for this year’s top honors. Sample the entries for just $1 a taste, and vote for your favorite.
On Saturday you can enter the crawfish-eating contest and the kids can participate as well. Don’t want to feel hurried? Buy a dozen and sit down with a bunch of napkins and clean hands. If you’ve never eaten these little buggers before, just watch the people around you – anyone can do it. It is time-consuming, but worth every minute. These are local crawfish, supplied by Pacific Seafood, from Lake Billy Chinook in Eastern Oregon.
The crawfish festivities end Saturday night – Sunday is just (another) car show.
Lastly, about a two-hour drive south from Portland, you’ll find Junction City, a town that has transformed itself for the weekend into a Scandinavian wonderland.
Cultural learning opportunities abound: you can learn traditional folk dancing, pick up a few phrases in Norwegian, and watch as traditionally dressed women-folk demonstrate lace-making and embroidery. No one, however, will be demonstrating old-world cooking. Bummer.
To taste, you will have to visit the food vendors, who offer a huge selection of authentic treats to sample: lefse, a Danish potato flat-bread that pairs nicely with frikadeller, meatballs of various kinds sometimes served with gravy or sour cream. Try biff paj, a sour cream pastry with a savory meat filling. Abelskiver is a pastry made right there while you watch; finished with jam or powdered sugar it is sure to satisfy any sweet tooth.
A meatball dinner is served every day except Sunday, for $6. Plan a week of salads and dieting to make up for these low-calorie specialties, or maybe you can stay and dance with the locals into the wee hours of the night!
Other festivals of note:
Sutherlin Blackberry Festival, Aug. 18-20
Mt. Angel Oktoberfest, Sept. 14-17
Chowder, Blues and Brews, Florence, Sept. 22-24
Blackberry Arts Festival, Coos Bay, Aug. 26-27
Yachats Wild Mushroom Festival, October