Jay Copp 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Lions sizzle, bake, roast, steam and fry foods that locals crave and devour year after year. Any way you slice it, the food fuels deliciously important causes. How many ways can you serve a strawberry? You can find out at the Mattituck Lions Club Strawberry Festival, held on Father’s Day weekend on Long Island in New York. There are strawberry pies, shakes and daiquiris. Strawberries are dipped in chocolate, mixed in with shortcake and eaten just by themselves. Mattituck Lions have run the festival since 1954. Long Island may conjure images of traffic and congestion, but strawberry growers congregate on the North Fork. The crop reaches its peak in June. A summer staple in the New York area, the festival is routinely featured in Newsday and the New York Times in articles titled “50 Things to Do This Summer” or “Best Festivals.” The iconic gathering draws the children of the children of the children who attended some of the first festivals. The festival began after two Lions vacationing in Florida came across a popular strawberry festival there. For years, until the crowds grew, farmers simply donated the berries. Nearly 750,000 strawberries are now sold. Those berries have to be hulled. The night before the festival and during it, hundreds of volunteers, including dozens of Leos, stand before long wooden tables laden with crates of strawberries and pull out leaves and stems. As many as 50,000 people attend the festival. They mingle among the more than 100 arts and crafts vendors, hop on one of the midway rides and applaud the new Strawberry Queen. Mostly, they eat strawberries. Fried Oreos Slidell Noon Lions Louisiana If you like Oreos, you are not alone. Nearly 500 billion Oreos have been sold since introduced exactly 100 years ago. That makes it the world’s best-selling cookie. In India, Kraft, understanding what resonates locally, advertises the cookie as “the world’s No. 1 biscuit.” In China, the Oreo comes as a wafer and its chocolate is less sweet to better suit the Chinese. China has become the second-largest market for Oreos after the United States. Oreos sell well for Lions in Louisiana, too, after they adapted it for the local palate. Slidell Noon Lions roll the cookie in the storebought beignet mix of Café Du Monde, the famous New Orleans coffee shop. Then they deep-fry it in peanut oil and sell the fried Oreos at the Slidell BBQ Challenge, staged by Lions and Rotarians. “We’re in southern Louisiana, so we deep fry everything,” says Lion Johnny Crow. Tongue firmly planted in check, Crow, who sells life insurance, hawks the fried Oreos to barbecue participants by shouting out: “They melt in your mouth. Your doctor approves of them.” But, seriously, how do they taste? “Yahoo! They’re good,” Crow exults. Cake Donuts Bolton Lions Massachusetts We love donuts so much that we ascribe mystical powers to them. “Donuts: is there anything they can’t do?” Homer Simpson marveled. No relationship is so strong that it can endure a pilfered donut. “Be sweet and honest always, but for God’s sake don’t eat my donuts,” warned former Spice Girl Emma Bunton. Since the mid-1970s, the Bolton Lions in Massachusetts have filled their fundraising coffers thanks to the power of the donut. Over six or so weekends each fall they set up a makeshift donut shop at a covered farmstand. “It’s an autumn tradition for a lot of people. They get their pumpkins and apples and their donuts,” says Lion Bob Nuzzo. The Lions fry one kind: a cake donut. That’s all they need to make. “They’re the best. You get a bag full of warm donuts,” Nuzzo says. The club began their donut operation because a member had a donut-making machine. They originally sold them at the Bolton Fair. But when other food vendors were allowed and sales declined, the club opted for the weekend gig. Making donuts is not rocket science. “The key is the right consistency to the batter. Too thin and they don’t rise properly. They’re oily throughout. Too thick and they’re oil bombs. Real heavy,” says Nuzzo. Lions are not forbidden to eat as they cook, but maybe the club ought to institute a rule: “You have to run two times around the parking lot if you eat one. No, we figure if you stand out in the cold you are entitled to eat the donuts and drink the coffee,” says Nuzzo. The history of the Lions’ donut making reflects our attitudes toward food. Early on, the club used beef fat. Then they used a combination of animal and vegetable oil before settling on vegetable oil. “We’ve got healthy donuts–as healthy as something made with flour and sugar can be,” jokes Bill Keysor. Lutefisk Stanwood Lions, Washington Bolton is in a rural area 30 miles from Boston, where a Dunkin’ Donuts stands on nearly every corner. The nearest Dunkin’ Donuts to the Lions’ shop is 10 or 15 minutes away. That’s far enough for donut lovers to stay put in Bolton. “We were amateurs, but we’ve become professionals. You have to learn to turn the crank [on the fryer] and you’re all set,” says Keysor. Lutefisk may be the world’s most maligned food. In Lake Wobegon Days, Garrison Keillor, normally a mild-mannered Midwesterner, savages the Norwegian specialty. Recalling his Minnesota upbringing, he writes, “Every Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat.” Keillor has company. Jeffrey Steingarten has an extremely high tolerance for exotic food. Yet the author of The Man who Ate Everything says this: “I gladly eat worms and insects. But I draw the line on lutefisk.” It seems lutefisk is so utterly unappealing that it explains mass migration. A Norwegian-American website claims that “about half of Norwegians who immigrated to America came in order to escape the hated lutefisk.” But don’t tell any of this to the Stanwood Lions on rustic Camano Island in Washington. They are known as the “Lutefisk Lions.” For 60 years, they’ve hosted an annual lutefisk dinner. Last October more than 1,000 people, many of them Scandinavians, put away 2,000 pounds of fish. Some patrons came from Montana and Oregon. Most Scandinavians consume the fish at Christmas or in lieu of a turkey on Thanksgiving. “Once a year is probably enough,” Norwegians like to say. So offering the lutefisk in late fall may help explain the popularity of the Lions’ dinner. After all, Lions know of just a few other lutefisk dinners in the entire state. The authenticity of the dinner also may account for its success. Jim Lund, 77, is the reigning expert of lutefisk in the region. When the Sons of Norway gather or a restaurant wants to serve it, he dons his chef’s hat and does the honors. He’s been in charge of the Lions’ dinner since 1959, the year after he became a Stanwood Lion. Lund is modest about his expertise. “I’m still learning,” he shrugs. Another Lion could probably handle it, he adds. “The trouble you get with these projects is that no one else wants to do it,” he explains. For the Lions, Lund purchases cod that was soaked in lye water for weeks. He puts small chunks of the fish in cheesecloth (a kind of netting). “That holds it together. Otherwise, it’s a heck of a mess. It would come out like cream of wheat,” says Lund, a third-generation Norwegian who farms rye grass, spinach, barley, wheat and potatoes. The fish is boiled in stainless steel pots for three to six minutes. “Some of the guys eat a whole plate of it,” says Lion Dick Loutzenhiser. For the non-lutefisk eaters, the Lions serve Swedish meatballs. That’s what Loutzenhiser, who is German, eats. “I don’t like lutefisk,” he frankly says. In fact, Loutzenhiser, a scout and machine gunner in World War II who fought under Patton, compares the fish unfavorably to most anything he has even eaten. “The GI dry boxes were better,” he insists. Lund counters that lutefisk is really no different than any other food. Some like it; some don’t. “It’s like anything else–it’s like pizza,” he says. Lions hold the dinner at a high school. Athletes wait tables, and Boy Scouts clean up. The fish has an extremely strong, pungent odor. But the high school students shouldn’t really mind that their school stinks a bit. “The odor goes away after three or four days,” says Loutzenhiser with a knowing grin. Southern Biscuits Apex Lions North Carolina The ancient Romans made biscuits–but not well. Their hard, unleavened food tasted like hard tack. The biscuit found its glory in the Old South and can be savored today at roadside restaurants and in grandmas’ kitchens throughout the South. These biscuits rise in the oven like a “cloud of delicate white deliciousness under a honey-gold crust,” raves Southern writer Joquita Burka. The traditional Southern biscuit is one of the attractions of the North Carolina state fair in October. Biscuit lovers make a beeline to the booth of the Apex Lions Club. For 10 days, Frances Lawrence and Monnie Jenkins, not Lions but grandmothers who live on farms, churn out 9,000 or so Big Buttermilk Biscuits. They may clog your heart but they melt in your mouth. “They cut the flour and Crisco together. They add the buttermilk and squeegee it up. They pat it out, roll it out and bake it,” says Lion Horace Johnson, who works the booth. “We have a few secrets. I can’t share them because we don’t want the competition to catch up,” he adds. You can order the biscuits plain or try them with jelly, ham, cheese and, of course, sausage gravy. “We try to keep everybody’s arteries a little plugged,” jokes Johnson. A single biscuit is enough to satiate a fairgoer for hours. “We warn people–just eat one,” adds Johnson. Johnson wolfs down a biscuit with hot chocolate early in the morning to ready himself for a full day. He’s the “pie man,” known for his humorous, carnival-like pitches for the store-bought but gourmet pies Lions also sell at the booth. “Try some piiiie. We have all kinds of piiiie,” he screeches into a microphone in his authentic Cajun accent. “We have pee-can piiiie or pay-can piiiie. We have lemmon piiiie.” When he tires of talking, he plays a CD with his prerecorded pitch. Johnson has been featured more than once on a local CBS TV show on the carnival, and regular fairgoers know who he is. “Can I try some of your piiiie?” they ask him. Johnson, who is retired, puts in a full day’s work. He lives in a mobile home with his wife on the fairgrounds during the fair rather than commuting 20 minutes home. He’s up at 5 a.m. to get the kitchen going. Many exhibitors and fairground staff head over the Lions’ booth for a biscuit before putting in a long day. They just eat one–or maybe two or three. Seafood St. Augustine Lions Florida Tony’s clam chowder was a three-time world champ from 2009-11, and Bob from Florida could not agree more. “If God serves clam chowder in heaven, we are quite sure he uses the recipe from Tony’s,” he says on the website of the Florida restaurant. Speaking of award-winning sea food, Peerce’s crab cake is a four-time champ, voted the best in St. Augustine, Florida, from 2007-2010. Hah, staff at Laughing Crab in Havre de Grace, Maryland, probably scoff. Their crab cakes are 16-time winners in various competitions. Well, devotees of seafood can taste and compare each year at the Lions Seafood Festival in St. Augustine. For 31 years, the small Lions club in St. Augustine has run the mammoth three-day festival. More than 20,000 seafood lovers attend. The festival started as a Lions’ fish fry, evolved into fare cooked by local restaurants and now brings in 10 renowned seafood purveyors. The oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine is a coastal city. People know and love their seafood. Not that the Lion orchestrating the whole shebang is a fisherman or restaurateur. “I sell carpets. When you’re a Lion, well, you know how it is,” says Dominic Mercurio. “I don’t even have time to eat. My wife is always telling me, ‘You got to eat.’” But this festival has the kind of authenticity no other Lions festival does. You can look it up–on the Web at www. lionsfestival.com. Mercurio applied for that address just five years ago. “I couldn’t believe it was available,” he says. World-class seafood draws patrons to the Lions’ festiv al in St. Augustin e. Hogs Berlin Lions, Maryland Berlin Lions in Maryland go whole hog in selling food. They buy 25 hogs, each weighing more than 260 pounds. Ten butchers, four Lions among them, cut up many of the hogs the night before their February sale. Customers say the meat is fresher and cheaper than what stores sell. It’s also coarser–which is actually an upgrade over store meat. “You don’t get this kind of sausage. It’s very rare,” a pleased customer told the local newspaper. “Usually sausage is made from leavings. But this is whole-pork sausage where they put everything into it like the hams and other parts.” Lions package the hogs as sausage, scrapple, tenderloin, ribs and pigs feet. Patrons waiting for orders consume 300 or so sausage/egg/cheese sandwiches. The club also sells nearly eight gallons of Bloody Marys. The whole hog sale is a 40-year tradition. Years ago it took the club three days to sell eight hogs. This past year the meat was gone before noon. More Lions’ foods will be featured in November.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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