Harvest Hoopla


September 27, 1992|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

The presidential election will be decided at a tomato festival on the square of a New England village next month. There, well-armed townsfolk will cast their ballots by pelting their favorite candidate with overripe garden tomatoes.

"We want people to cast their votes in a meaningful way," says David Mager, organizer of the event in Leverett, Mass.

Should the real candidates decline their invitations, townsfolk will instead pelt stand-ins wearing Bush and Clinton masks. Either way, democracy is served, along with hundreds of rotten tomatoes.

The tomato jubilee is one of several goofy galas nationwide that salute America's harvest each fall. Other festivals honor the zucchini, watermelon and gourd.

There is even a celebration hailing the lowly brussels sprout.

That fete regularly draws 20,000 people, who rally in Santa Cruz, Calif., each October to eat brussels sprout ice cream, sprout pizza and sprout cotton candy. This gives them energy to compete in brussels sports, in such games as the sprout toss. Contestants have flung brussels sprouts 150 feet. The idea is to put as much space as possible between man and sprout -- much the same as at dinner.

Other events include a basketsprout game and the popular sprout putt, in which entrants with golf clubs attempt to shoot holes-in-one on a makeshift putting green. It isn't easy; sprouts don't roll straight.

In Nelson, N.H., squash lovers gather annually to pay homage to their favorite garden vegetable. They eat curried zucchini and play zucchini croquet. Children enjoy zuke wrestling, in which they tussle with other youngsters in wading pools filled with mashed zucchini.

The highlight of this year's International Zucchini Festival was an appearance by the King of Squash, who arrived in a gold lame jacket, bell-bottomed white polyester pants and a pompadour made of real squash leaves. The King of Squash wowed the crowd with a medley of his biggest hits, including "Cook Me Tender" and "Don't Be Gruel."

A sock hop, held in a harvested squash field, featured couples dancing to oldies in their socks. The contestant with the dirtiest socks won a prize.

The fair ended with a sing-along around a zucchini campfire, with people roasting chunks of squash on sticks, like marshmallows. Except the squash tasted awful and nobody ate it.

Hope, Ark., hosts the world's biggest watermelon festival, a three-day affair that draws crowds of 80,000. Gardeners compete for the titles of sweetest and largest melons (this year's winner was a paltry 170 pounds, 90 pounds shy of the record).

People feast on watermelon cake, sip watermelon wine, and browse the tents filled with watermelon-shaped caps, candles and cookie jars.

Events include watermelon throwing, eating and seed-spitting. A Texan won the spitting contest with an impressive 30-footer that had all of the clout of a Brady Anderson line drive.

"Some people's seeds arch, but his just went straight out there," says Wanda Hays of the Hope Chamber of Commerce.

The American Gourd Society will hold its annual bash in Mount Gilead, Ohio, next weekend. Five thousand people are expected. Club members will be the ones wearing gourds on their heads.

Hats are one item people carve from the gourd, a warty vegetable favored more by craftsmen than cooks. This year's exhibits include gourd replicas of Columbus' three ships, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.

Gourd bowls and birdhouses will be displayed, along with seasonal sculptures like gourd turkeys and pilgrims. Gourd musical instruments are always a hit at the show; one member has promised a set of Hawaiian drums made of gourds.

Among those attending will be Minnie Black, 92, America's gourd guru whose works have appeared on several late-night talk shows.

One of her favorite creations is a quail, with Vice President Dan Quayle's head on it, which she made from several empty gourds.

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