Mothers thanked us, nearly giddy, that we were serving fresh vegetables at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair.
At the pop-up restaurant Wednesday night, July 23, in Young McDonald’s Farm, Paul Cataldo, along with daughter Caitlin and son Tony, was preparing four dished using tomatoes, greens and eggplant. I was dishing up portions as Gwen Ragno of Flavor 574 was promoting the effort and Sara Granberg was collecting money.
You could smell the garlic and basil as Cataldo prepared the pasta in skillets on a gas grill. You could see the fresh, beautiful local produce. And as people carried the items through the fairgrounds, people asked where they’d gotten it and got in line.
Fried items get the headlines at the fair. Granberg, a fair board member who has built and advanced this part of the fair, wants people to eat fresh food.
So she’s planted a garden. Fairgoers were reaching down and plucking vegetables and eating them. She wanted to preserve some of the garden through the fair’s nine-day run and had some signs made asking them to refrain.
She enlisted Zach Lucchese of Swan Lake Resort and Cataldo to prepare and serve food from 5 to 7 p.m. three nights.
Lucchese served pulled pork and sales were OK on Monday and Tuesday. Cataldo brought more fresh vegetables and people nearly rushed the table. People said how thrilled they were to find something that wasn’t fried. Kids willingly picked which dish they wanted and we served them. A number of people came back for seconds.
Cataldo fixed items from his menu at Antonio’s Italian Ristorante, 1105 Goshen Ave., Elkhart. The tomato salad was vibrant. The eggplant arugula salad was stellar. One pasta with sausage, tomatoes, peppers and onions. Another had zucchini, greens, basil and chicken.
All of them were simple. And we sold a bunch of fresh food in a short time.
There are other salads on the fairgrounds. The one from the Bunny Hut operated by the 4-H Rabbit Club is popular. The Greek salad from Joe’s Gyros is pretty darn good. The taco salad from Crystal Valley Exchange Club attracts a crowd every year.
They’re all part of the buffet of items you can get at the fair. The Eat Team from Flavor 574 did a great job trying the new items, including deep-fried Gatorade. There were great contest entries in the Home & Family Arts Building. Kids got involved in dough-tossing contest and cooking classes. Nonprofit groups and other concessionaires had a great fair keep us fed.
Within hours of getting home from a trip afar, I was at the fair, working my way through my favorites and trying a few new things.
And another fair is gone. It was a great one. The weather was perfect, which made me remember the harsh winter and breathe a prayer of thanks that the county’s signature event got glorious summer days and nights.
As far as I’m concerned, this kind of weather and the opportunity to cook outside in it could hang around as long it’s able.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.
Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.