For many of us Lehigh Valleyites, the Pennsylvania Dutch culture is just part of life – like how (nearly) every restaurant has potpie on the menu or the fact that we all know what a hex sign is. Why not take an afternoon and celebrate that culture and history? Escape to the 62nd annual Kutztown Festival, the land of shoofly pie and Amish quilts.
For nine days every year, thousands of people converge upon the festival fairgrounds, and yet, even though you’re surrounded by hoards of people, the fair manages to retain a quaint charm, with its wooden kiosks and abundance of antique farm equipment.
Clearly, after your long (or not-so-long) drive, you’ll be needing a snack. Take a stroll among the food vendors, and savor the scents and sights of chicken potpie, apple dumplings and sizzling bratwurst. If you have the time, head over to the main food tent for a full-on, sit-down dinner, complete with Pennsylvania Dutch style ham and all the fixins.
Walk off your meal with a lap around the quilt barn, where you’ll find 2,500 handmade wall hangings and quilts, from king to crib size. Technical demonstrations and quilting bees – yes, those still exist – will be occurring throughout the festival, so make sure to check your program for timetables and details.
For a more interactive, Pennsylvania Dutch experience take part in an old-fashioned cakewalk, try your hand at square dancing or grab a partner and bust a move to the Sauerkraut Band, a fan favorite.
And, of course, what is a festival without dozens of excuses to spend lots and lots of money on presents? One for a friend, one for you. One for a family member, one for you, etc.
Check out the handmade woodcarvings and chat with the craftsman himself. Marvel at the delicate art of papercutting, what the Pennsylvania Dutch call scherenschnitte. There are chair caners and blacksmiths and weavers and soap-makers. Buy a hex sign and hang it proudly in your yard.
But my very favorite aspect of the festival is the seminar stage. There, you’ll find a full roster of presentations, discussions and demonstrations about German heritage in Pennsylvania. Learn about old world customs and Pennsylvania Dutch humor. Find out who Belsnickel is and why children love and fear him. Take note of cooking secrets and watch a mock Mennonite wedding.
Escape begins: Kutztown Folk Festival, Saturday, July 2, and runs through Sunday, July 10. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily. For more info go to www.kutztownfestival.com
Where: 225 N. White Oak St., Kutztown
Cost: $14; $13 seniors; $5 for teens; children under 12 admitted free; all-week pass is $24.