It’s Festa Time!

HerrinFesta Italiana kicked off this week in Herrin. The event has been a Memorial Day Weekend tradition in Southern Illinois since its beginning in 1991 and celebrates Herrin’s Italian heritage.

There are two entrances to the Festa: The Piaza and The Midway. An admission fee is required for many of the concerts in the Piaza, but admission to the Midway is free. While beverages requiring proof that one is 21 years of age or older are sold within the Piaza area, (with the exception of Faith & Family night,) they are not permitted on the Midway. A carnival, food, and shopping opportunities make up the Midway.

Over the years, many local and famous acts have graced the HerrinFesta stage in the Piaza. Some of these include Survivor, Firehouse, 38 Special, Drew Baldridge, and Three Doors Down. 2015 became known as the year that “Riding the Storm Out” was not an option when a heavy downpour and lightning storm interrupted the REO Speedwagon concert. (It was still a great performance as the band played as long as feasibly possible.) The 2018 line up includes The Beach Boys, Slaughter, Queensryche, and a first for the event, Faith & Family Night at the Festa with Natalie Grant and Jordan Feliz.

Some of the special events that people look forward to each year include the parade, bocce ball, pasta eating contests, and the Road Races. This Year’s HerrinFesta Parade Grand Marshalls are Mayor Steve and Sharon Frattini. On May 21, Lexie Tourville was crowned Miss HerrinFesta Italiana 2018.

More information is available at http://www.herrinfesta.com

Photos from Past Years at the Festa:

Corn, Ranch Dressing, and Giardiniera

Contestant Robyn opened her cooler on this Sunday night’s episode of “Worst Cooks in America” and found the following three ingredients: corn, ranch dressing, and giardiniera. These foods had been chosen to represent Illinois. (Technically, the dart she threw at the map to choose her state landed in Southern Illinois –more specifically, Southwestern Illinois… ) I spent commercial breaks researching how ranch dressing and giardiniera were indicative of Illinois. Since the official state vegetable is sweet corn, the official state snack is popcorn, and as of this New Year’s Day, the official state grain is corn, I get that one.

An internet search revealed that giardiniera, a pickled vegetable condiment, is reportedly very popular in the Chicago area served with foods such as Italian beef and pizza. Guess what. Southern Illinois has some pretty great Italian food too (Can you say, “Herrinfesta Italiana?”) We also have locally made giardiniera. Louie’s Seasonings in Johnston City makes both hot and mild giardiniera as well as muffaletta and olive salads.

As for the ranch dressing….well, that one was more of a stretch for me. The best I could determine is that it was perhaps a veiled nod to Miracle Whip. Although it is not mayonnaise, it has similar color and appearance. Ranch dressing often has mayonnaise in it. As for the Miracle Whip connection to Illinois, it has been reported to have been developed in Salem. Originally, it was said to be Max Crosset’s X-tra Fine Salad dressing as used in Max Crosset’s Cafe. He reportedly sold its recipe to Kraft Foods for $300 in 1931. As with other things (like internet and sticky notes…) there are some conflicting reports regarding the invention of the famous salad dressing.

Whether or not she was familiar with Illinois or the three ingredients, Contestant Robyn did win the burger creation challenge for the Red Team. In fact a couple of the ingredients she chose to incorporate into her burger creation had elements that are representative of Southern Illinois: pepperjack cheese and barbecue sauce. Peppers seem to grow well here. Darn Hot Peppers has a wide variety of products featuring them. Good BBQ is also readily available in Southern Illinois. 17th Street Bar & Grill, Smoked to the Bone, Pat’s BBQ, The Wylde Hog, and Southern Que are just some of the options. Chef Anne seemed impressed with the Illinois burger, and it did look delicious.

Stronger Together

On this Martin Luther King Day, I am reminded how one of the things I love so much about Southern Illinois is its diversity. We don’t all have to look alike, sound alike, or even prefer the same foods to be a community. We may share a common region, but not all being carbon copies of each other is a good thing. I am by no means a carpenter, but I have seen things made that have different shaped interlocking parts. Those different parts coming together make the object stronger than just straight boards and nails.

Yes, English is our primary language. However, many folks do know another language as part of their family heritage or tradition, and I love that. As someone who spent a portion of grad school as the only one in my apartment who was not from Costa Rica, it is comforting for me to hear families speaking in Spanish. (Of course, that does depend on the tone of voice and words used…)

I also love that we have been blessed with people from many backgrounds sharing their art and cuisine. For example, in Carbondale, you can have Mediterranean, Italian, Indian, and array of other food choices. Personally, I am fascinated by the choice of ingredients at Monah’s International Grocery Store and Tienda Paisano. As someone who loves to cook, I am like a kid in a toy store looking at all of the possibilities at both stores.

We are fortunate to be a region where our people are as beautifully diverse as our landscape. There are towns with a long history of heritage from other countries that share their traditions through community celebrations like Herrinfesta Italiana in Herrin and Fruehlingsfest in Maeystown. There are educational opportunities at places like the African American Museum of Southern Illinois in Carbondale and the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

Southern Illinois is like a beautiful, colorful quilt made of many different types of fabric woven together. Each block is beautiful on its own, but together we become even stronger as we support each other.