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Of quilts, ox roasts and hex signs: the PA Dutch Festival June 28, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s time for the annual Kutztown Pennsylvania German Festival, which is conveniently located just down the road from us in scenic Kutztown, PA. You might be envisioning beer steins and Tyrolean attire from the “German” part of the festival’s name, but “Pennsylvania German” is a whole different critter. Better known as Pennsylvania Dutch (from Deitsch, “German” in their dialect), these folks did indeed come from Germany (sometimes via Switzerland), but settled in Pennsylvania so long ago, beginning in the 1600s, that they developed a colorful culture all their own. And it’s this culture that’s celebrated by the Kutztown festival, which they describe as “Pennsylvania Dutch Folklife and Fun.” The festival starts today, June 28, and runs through July 6. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

The festival hours, with that early closing time, should give you a hint that it’s extremely family-friendly. Kids can ride horse-drawn haywagons, try their hand at Pennsylvania Dutch crafts, participate in all sorts of games and activities, and feast themselves silly on regional specialty foods and a wide range of local sodas courtesy of the Kutztown Bottling Works, as well as cider, lemonade, and other treats. And there’s a fantastic array of farm animals to meet and greet, including some cuddly ones to pet and feed (our friend Ben always has to be forcibly dragged away from this exhibit).

But we can assure you that adults will find plenty to interest, engage, and plain old fascinate them, too. One of the highlights for me is always the huge, barnlike quilt building, with over 2,500 locally-made quilts for sale, from traditional Amish patterns with their darkly glowing jewel colors to exquisite Pennsylvania Dutch applique, from Colonial classics to quilts that are alive with modern batiked and hand-dyed fabrics. The quilts range from wall hangings to king-bed-size, so there really is something for everyone. (Our friend Ben would like to point out that I always have to be dragged out of the quilt building kicking and screaming, while our own extensive quilt collection is repeatedly mentioned.)

The selection of traditional Pennsylvania Dutch fare is staggering, but we’ll let you read about that in a wonderful post from the Weed Whackin’ Wenches (http://www.weedwhackinwenches.blogspot.com). In their June 23rd post “Pennsylvania Dutch Traditions and Festivals,” Weed Whackin’ Wench Wing Nut tells you about growing up eating Pennsylvania Dutch food, and even shows a photo of the iconic whoopie pie, as well as listing foods found at the Kutztown festival and discussing many other great features of the festival. Not being Luddites, the Wenches have provided actual photos (gasp) from the festival, including some of the quilts from 2007. Check it out! And note that Wing Nut’s mom even has her own stand at the festival, Bib-A-Lot, selling (shock surprise) handmade bibs for everyone from infant up. (I’ve already told Ben he’s getting one this year, and wearing it, too, or else.)

The one food-related thing that I just have to mention is the ox roast. The festival recreates a huge brick-lined oven and, sure enough, roasts an entire ox on a monstrous iron spit. Folks, oxen are big. This is a spectacle that rivets our attention every year. Admittedly, we’ve never hung around long enough to see if you could actually buy a platter of roast oxen after it’s cooked, but I’ve always assumed that you could. Don’t miss this, uh, “taste” of yesteryear if you go.

Oops, I also have to talk about another favorite food-related booth, which has an incredible selection of herbs and herb blends (also some great flavored salts and pepper mixes). It also hand-makes soaps, and has a demonstration tent where you can watch soap being made and buy just-made soaps of all kinds. (I bought a bar of old-style laundry soap last year.)

Which brings me to the crafts. Not only can you buy handmade crafts of all kinds from 200 master craftsmen, you can watch most of them being made. It really is an education for all ages. From pewter dishes, mugs, and toy soldiers to an array of the colorful “hex signs” that decorate Pennsylvania Dutch barns to leather goods, blown-glass buttons and jewelry, garden accessories, smith-forged iron hooks, crooks, and implements of all kinds, beautiful wreaths and other dried-flower crafts, wheat weavings, and pysanky (elaborately decorated eggs done by the wax-resist method), everyone is sure to find at least one thing they absolutely love.

There are marvelous photographers specializing in local rural scenes—we love Paul Grecian, and have quite a few of his nature photographs; a pumpkin field outside nearby Kempton on a foggy morning, with ripe pumpkins backlit by brilliant autumn foliage, is a special favorite—as well as painters and practitioners of the arts of scherenschnitte (amazingly elaborate paper-cutting pictures; we’re still lusting after one gifted artist’s tree of life) and fraktur, a form of illuminated manuscript with a folk-art slant. There are handmade rugs and fantastic hand-crafted wooden furniture, art, and kitchen utensils. I can never resist the handmade brooms made from real broomcorn, sometimes with the seeds still attached. And last year, our friend Ben and I discovered an artisan who made real horn buttons, powder horns, combs, and other traditional objects just as his Colonial forebears had. (Ben bought me a couple of hair combs and buttons, which I treasure.)

Even if I’ve convinced you that women and children would love the festival, you may still be wondering what guys would do besides eat and check out the ox roast.  But there’s really plenty to see. Smiths at their forges, Colonial craftsmen pouring bullets or shaping pewter, a huge array of old-time farm tractors and other primitive engine-driven devices in action—you will not be bored, I promise. In fact, like our friend Ben, you may just find yourselves hooked on the festival and eager to come back every year.

If you’re within driving distance, we urge you to try to find time this week to attend the Kutztown festival. You can even download discount coupons at the festival’s website, www.kutztownfestival.com, as well as reading all about it. Our friend Ben and I, our friend Rudy, our friend Rob, and, of course, Richard Saunders are all planning to go, and I’m plotting to try to lure my friend Huma and her twins, Rashu and Sasha, down from the Poconos to experience the festival as well. No doubt I’ll have some entertaining experiences to share, and if so, you’ll be hearing about them!

             ‘Til next time,

                          Silence  

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Comments»

1. deb - June 28, 2008

Wow, sounds like fun. Wish I could see the quilts.

Wish you could, too, Deb! Seeing them hung to the rafters in a stadium-sized building is an awe-inspiring experience!

2. Wing Nut & Curmudgeon - June 28, 2008

Hey Silence, thanks for the blurb about our post and my mom’s stand! I talked to her the other day and she said her stand is labeled as “smocks” on the map. She’s not sure where the “smocks” came from, but oh well. Most people seem to find her. Hope you enjoy the festival again this year.
— Wing Nut

My pleasure–and thanks for the tip about “smocks.” After I managed to drop a piece of fried tofu in a plateful of sauce at a Japanese restaurant in the middle of a class today, splattering sauce all over my top, then having to continue teaching for the rest of the day looking, need we say, ever so professional, you can bet I’ll be stopping by your mom’s and checking out her wares!


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