Food vendors at the McLoud Blackberry Festival must offer at least one item made from its namesake fruit, and they are more than happy to comply.
Blackberry kettle corn sold out a couple of years ago, says Melanie Krause, executive director of the McLoud Chamber of Commerce. Also popular are blackberry dream-cookie-crumble compote and funnel cakes adorned with a blackberry topping. Beverages include blackberry lemonade, blackberry sweet tea, blackberry beer and blackberry wine.
This year’s festival, July 12-13, also has blackberry shaved ice and blackberry wine slushies to help festival-goers beat the heat.
Annual fruit festivals are big business for towns across Oklahoma this month, from watermelons and huckleberries to peaches. They include carnival rides, contests, parades, food, desserts, drinks, displays and live entertainment. Following are some highlights.
Valliant has about 1,000 residents, but its watermelon festival draws upwards of 9,000 people from out of state and another 2,000 to 3,000 who live nearby, says John Rymel, the town’s chamber of commerce president. Festival-goers can eat as many free slices of watermelon as they want.
Many out-of-towners have ties to Valliant and come home to visit during the festival, July 26-27, says Rymel, adding that locals like the free admission and kid-friendly events, such as the turtle race (his personal favorite). There are dachshund races, a horseshoe tournament and a sawdust scramble, which has children digging through boxes filled with sawdust in search of $100 worth of coins.
Rymel says the festival is the chamber’s biggest gig of the year and a fundraiser for several local organizations. Most volunteers have organized the same events for years and often use their own money to pay for supplies.
The Stratford Peach Festival, July 20, offers more of the same as well as a three-legged race, hula-hoop contest and water balloon toss, according to travelok.com. Peaches from local orchards are sold by the bushel or mixed with homemade ice cream.
The festival’s car show includes classics, muscle cars, original trucks, modified trucks and street rods from the 1920s through the 1960s.
Alan Parnell, who chairs the Porter Peach Festival (July 18-20), says it “is all about community. A lot of the local organizations – that’s how they make their fundraising money for the year. It’s a worthwhile event.”
About 550 people live in Porter, he says, and there aren’t as many orchards as when the festival was founded in 1967, but peaches are still the star of the show.
“We give away peaches free after the parade,” he says. “We have a carnival with rides, and a tremendous set of vendors.”
Wineries are among the vendors, and some feature peach wine, Parnell says.
At the Jay Huckleberry Festival, July 4-6, the pie contest made with the featured fruit and the accompanying auction are crowd-pleasers. The festival celebrates huckleberries that grow wild in the area, which travelok.com describes as “more intense in flavor than the common blueberry.”
Like many festivals, McLoud has a pageant, but it’s not just a beauty contest, Krause says. The queens and princesses become ambassadors for the town, and they must appear at least six times during the year at public events. They attend ribbon cuttings and fundraisers, and ride in parades throughout central Oklahoma. Some are horsewomen who sport their pageant sashes at rodeos.
The McLoud chamber sells fresh blackberries by the quart, along with blackberry jam and blackberry cobbler with or without ice cream.
The McLoud festival has turtle races, a potato sack race, a horseshoe tournament and a money hunt that involves pawing through a haystack.
Elvis impersonator Mike Black is “extremely entertaining” and a perennial favorite, Krause says. She expects 90-100 entries in this year’s car show, and Great Plains Amusements has promised a carnival to occupy an entire football field.
Once people have had their fill of blackberries, Krause says, they can visit booths offering Indian tacos, turkey legs, hot dogs, chili pies, bratwurst and other typical fair foods.
“The festival has exploded in the last few years,” Krause says. “It has gotten larger and there is more to do.”
Krause says free admission and several entry points make accurate visitor counts difficult, but she estimates attendance at about 10,000 people.