En español | The change of seasons — and its accompanying harvest festivals — is a romantic notion for those of us from perennially sunny climes. There's something quintessentially American about the way we celebrate nature's bounty as part of our heritage. The Hispanic side of that heritage feels right at home at festivals that highlight staples of Latin cooking, such as corn, garlic, chiles and even avocado.
This year, I'm hoping to attend fall harvest festivals around the country. Whether you're in San Jose or San Juan, why not plan to visit a fest in your area? Most are family-friendly affairs that feature cooking demonstrations, regional music, juried prizes for baked goods and crafts, as well as kids' rides. Best of all, admission is often free or reasonably priced at less than $10 per person.
If a harvest fest fits into your schedule this fall, here are some noteworthy examples sure to bring out the farmer — and taste tester — in all of us.
1. Hatch Chile Festival, Sept. 1-2, Hatch, N.M.
Chiles are the official state vegetable of New Mexico, despite being a fruit. During the fall roasting season, trendy food and wine fests abound throughout the state. But, the Holy Grail for chile lovers is found in tiny Hatch over Labor Day weekend. The self-proclaimed "Chile Capital of the World" — about 40 minutes northwest of Las Cruces — attracts aficionados from across the country. The town fills to the brim with visitors who stuff their car trunks with bags of dried chiles, ready to be transformed into holiday tamales and delectable sauces. I'll be one among the throngs.
2. 46th Annual Pumpkin Festival, Sept. 12-15, Morton, Ill.
I have fond childhood memories of my grandfather savoring spoonfuls of sweet dulce de calabaza. It's but one traditional dish incorporating the familiar orange orb of fall. Though the pumpkin grows heartily throughout the country, one destination in particular is worth noting. Morton, Ill., near Peoria, bills itself as the "Pumpkin Capital of the World." Home to the Libby pumpkin processing plant, the town hosts a Pumpkin Fest that dates back nearly half a century. The 2012 theme is "Peace, Love and Pumpkins," and features food, crafts, entertainment and even Pumpkin Bingo.
3. Twin Cities Harvest Festival and Maze, Sept. 22-Oct. 28, Brooklyn Park, Minn.
An enormous corn maze is the centerpiece of this festival set amid a 19.5-acre expanse of sweet corn in suburban Minneapolis. Attractions include music, hayrides, pony rides, a kid-size maze, pumpkin slinging, a petting zoo and food. The festival donates a portion of each ticket to a local Twin Cities charity.