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Swedish Days festival proves good food is where you find it
by Phil Soreide, Betty Sayers and Pam Soreide,
The sun is bright overhead and the immediate vicinity is thronged with people in shorts, tee shirts and sun glasses. Among brightly-colored awnings and umbrellas, Grandpas push strollers while small children skitter in and out among the bare legs. Teenagers gather in tight-knit same-sex packs glancing warily or hungrily, depending, at their opposite number. Off in the distance, colors and noises hint at other attractions, but here they barely penetrate the happy babble and the heady odor of grilling meat mixed with dough slipping into deep fat.
Although “cuisine” is a French word, it really just refers to a specific set of cooking traditions and practices, often associated with a specific culture. So if we have French, Greek, Italian and Thai cuisine, why not the unique cuisine of the county fair, festival or midway?
Only true food snobs would turn up their noses at funnel cakes, double-dipped ice cream bars and fresh kettle corn. And whatever else the Rural Foodies may be, we are definitely not food snobs.
We research Swedish Days
We’ve chosen for our research the Street Festival which follows the annual Swedish Days parade in Holdrege. On one of the city’s bricked downtown main streets a colorful marketplace has sprung into life across from the huge shady trees surrounding a stately county courthouse. Around the corner, a car show with rows of gleaming automobiles, most of them decades old but tuned, polished and customized well beyond sanity, attract the longing gaze of many a male. The sound of the Beach Boys and Buddy Holly drifts on the afternoon air.
Our plan is to sample what the street fair has to offer, saving room for the big Swedish Days Rib Fest as the climax of our experience. Since some of the entrants have been on the job since 8:00 o’clock this morning, we suspect it will be an experience not to be missed.
Our first foray is to the Italian Wedge stand. It’s an old travel trailer painted in the red, white and green stripes of the Italian flag and fitted out to serve just two things: Italian meatballs on a stick and the Wedge, a thick grilled sausage smothered in grilled onions and red and yellow peppers and served on a hoagie roll.
As ours is being prepared, I ask the proprietor, a sturdy man of a certain age about his business. He tells me he and his wife operate from tiny Bloomington, Nebraska, taking their mobile stand to as many festivals and county fairs as they can squeeze into a summer…without traveling too far. His limited menu, he says, “keeps things simple”.
“Enjoy that,” he grins as he hands me my sausage. And we do. Add a little spicy mustard and it’s truly molto buona.
Ice-cream and ribbon potato
There’s a long line at Bianca’s Mexican food stand – not surprising, because she’s also a regular at the weekly farmer’s market and the people in town have come to love her tamales, burritos and tacos with fresh homemade salsa. The Kiwanis Club is doing a land office business in traditional but well-executed hot dogs and hamburgers. And right next to the Friends of the Library booth, where we are stationed, the local Dairy Queen looks to be cleaning up on Dilly Bars.
Instead, we choose to get a ribbon potato and a cup of fresh homemade ice-cream. There’s nothing magical about a ribbon potato – it’s just a potato cut with a special machine into a very thin spiral and then deep fried – but we love fresh, homemade potato chips and this is one of the best ways to get them. The added cheese sauce we found to be totally unnecessary.
The homemade ice-cream was offered by a young local entrepreneur calling his enterprise County Seat 68949 after the postal zip code for Holdrege. We opted for the “Tre Kroner Chocolate” rather than the “Valkommen Vanilla” and found it to be creamy and delicious, and definitely a cut above the store-bought varieties.
We take a ribbing
About 5:00, we head down to the Rib Fest where a row of industrial-strength grills and smokers line one side of the street and the smell of smoke and barbecue is almost narcotic. Near the entrance a local radio personality, a bank president and the district’s state senator are seated in a row, judging the ten entries with concentrated solemnity. Although it’s an embarrassingly public venue, more than one passer-by mentions it’s a job they wouldn’t mind.
Our plan is to do something of the same, only more privately, at home. We split up, each assigned to purchase a sample from a different vendor. Although many are offering pulled pork or brisket, we decide to stick only with ribs in the interests of fair comparison.
Our booty collected, we take it home and spread it out on the table on the porch along with a quick homemade coleslaw (to clear the palate) and drinks. Our intent of judging the different entries scientifically quickly disintegrates, and we soon lose track of which rib came from which vendor. Who cares? They were all delicious, and although this one was a little smokier, that one a little sweeter, we could have been happy with a plateful of any one of the bunch. Suddenly we had a little more sympathy for the difficult job the rib judges had to do.
Good food is where you find it. A fancy foie gras eaten with a silver fork from fine china isn’t, in our estimation, intrinsically better than a ribbon potato eaten with your fingers from a disposable tray. Each is its own experience. So if you get the chance for some funnel cake or a homemade tamale this summer, take it. Life is too short not to grab all of it you can.
Rib Fest Conestants
Benjamin Landscaping, 308-995-6791
Holdrege Country Club, 308-440-7104
J-B Ribbers, 308-991-3022
Rusty's Ribs, 308-995-8697
Smoke'N BBQ, 308-832-7058
Smoky Bonz, 402-886-2275
Sooieee't BBQ, 308-999-1219
Triple R Bar-B-Que, 308-999-0122