The Magic History of the Tamale + 31 Years of Masa Dreams

Tamale is a traditional Mexican dish made of masa or dough which is steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper

“Hot tamales, and they’re red hot, and she got ‘em for sale.” 

Although this song has a double meaning it definitely alludes to the women selling tamales who “got two for a nickel, got four for a dime” from a cart on the busy streets of major cities in the Americas. 

From Blind Blake to Eric Clapton to Kanye West to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, countless musicians have crooned about one of the world’s most versatile foods. Even the child entertainers The Wiggles wrote a song called Hot Tamale though it was later changed to Hot Potato

No matter your musical taste, the world of tamales has something to please your palate. From pork to potato-filled, these tightly wrapped taste sensations will make you smile.

Indio International Tamale Festival, Indio, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of the tamale

The history of tamales is long and storied, dating back to pre-Columbian times. Tamales were first mentioned in Aztec texts and they were also mentioned in the journals of Spanish conquistadors. Tamales were a favorite food of the Aztecs and Mayans and they were often eaten as a portable meal while traveling. The Aztecs would wrap tamales in corn husks and the Mayans would wrap them in banana leaves.

Tamales came to the United States with the Mexican immigrants who brought their traditional recipes. Tamales became especially popular in the American Southwest where the climate is similar to that of Mexico. Today, tamales are enjoyed by people all over the world and they come in a variety of flavors and styles.

Women made tamales and the painstaking process was part of their daily routines and important religious traditions. Tamales were originally cooked over hot ashes in a buried fire. Later, when Spanish conquistadors brought pots and pans women started steaming the corn-wrapped packages. The Spanish also introduced more flavors adding meat and lard to the vegetable delights.

Indio International Tamale Festival, Indio, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Legends surrounding the tamale

The history of tamales is surrounded by mystery perhaps because the delicacies are hidden in inedible corn husks or because they are regularly mentioned in religious stories passed down through generations. 

One important tamale legend dates back thousands of years and features Tzitzimitl, the grandmother of the ancient god Chicomexóchitl. She was said to sacrifice her grandson and use his meat to make the first twenty tamales.

The tamale is also described in the Popul Vul, the Mayan’s major mythological document which says that humans acquired their lasting form from corn.  The legends continued over the years. 

Tamales were often offered to the gods during religious ceremonies. Spanish missionaries incorporated these native traditions to spread Catholicism in Mexico. Where tamales had been used in pagan rituals of the past they soon became associated with Christan holidays as explorers spread their ideas and religion. 

Even today, some mystery remains around tamales. Some believe there is a curse on whoever eats the tamale that sticks to the pot. But if you cook them correctly there should be no tamales stuck at all!

Indio International Tamale Festival, Indio, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Symbolism of tamales

What is the significance of the tamale as a food symbol? Corn tamales were commonly sent with hunters, travelers, and soldiers on their journeys to provide them with sustenance and luck and they were commonly chosen as the feast for spiritual and community gatherings. It is thought that the Aztecs used the word tamalli to wrap everything around their bodies.

It is now a world-famous dish with a long and fascinating history that has spread beyond continents and cultures. They are still popular in many Latin American countries including Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia where they were created.

Indio International Tamale Festival, Indio, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is a Tamale?

So what exactly is a tamale? Tamales are made of masa which is ground corn moistened with water. The masa is wrapped in whatever leaves are available such as corn husks, banana leaves, or even tree bark.

The wrapping gives the tamale its name as it comes from the word tamalli, the Náhuatl word meaning wrapped. Inside the tender masa is a filling of tender meats, aromatic spices, and carefully chopped vegetables. There are as many tamale-filling flavors as there are families who make them as each cook adds her own twist.

Pork tamales with red chilis are one of the most well-known varieties but fillings like shredded chicken, black beans, and beef are also popular. Imagination is the key; there are even turkey tamales!

The tamale has come a long way since the early Aztecs ate them at war. With the addition of flavorful fats and meats like lard and pork butt the flavor of the tamale has skyrocketed. 

Indio International Tamale Festival, Indio, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tamales in America

So how did tamales cross the border into the United States? One historian believes that Mexican migrants brought tamales to Mississippi when they came to pick cotton in the early 1900s.  Another historian writes that tamales hitched a ride with U.S. soldiers returning from the US-Mexican War in 1848.

Everyone agrees that by the 1870s in Los Angeles, tamales were plentiful on street carts. In fact, they were considered such a nuisance that officials tried to ban them. The story was the same in San Antonio, Texas.

In Mississippi, tamales became a hallmark of African American food even inspiring jazz songs. These days, the tamale bends so many ingredients and ways of life. History professor Monica Ketchum says, “The modern tamale is a blending of cultures.”

It also brings together families and is a wonderful reminder of the past. Because of the labor-intensive method of making tamales, they are no longer a daily or weekly treat but are more often made for special occasions like the  Day of the Dead, Christmas, and New Year’s. 

Indio International Tamale Festival, Indio, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to make tamales at home 

No matter what kind of tamales you make know that it can be a long process. For instance, the Oaxacan style includes 120 specific steps! The ratio of masa to filling is of utmost importance. To make excellent tamales you want to be able to taste the succulent fillings not just the dough. A 50/50 ratio is best.

Tamale dough

Depending on where you live, you can often find masa in stores or you can always make your own. When mixed into dough, masa has a custardy texture. The corn dough is mixed with spices and lard and your goal is to create the consistency of peanut butter with nothing sticking to the sides of the bowl. When the dough is no longer sticky, you’re ready to go!

While you knead the dough, have the corn husks soaking in water. Trimming the husks is important for properly sized tamales. About five inches is a good length. Next, place two tablespoons of masa on each corn husk and spread it out with a spatula or putty knife.

Indio International Tamale Festival, Indio, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popular tamale fillings

When it comes to the pork filling, experts recommend using your filling when it’s cold placing it in a line down the middle of the husk so it doesn’t run to the edges during cooking. Whether you fill your tamale with tender beef, green chiles, potatoes, and garlic, or shredded chicken, corn kernels, and red sauce, the combinations are as endless as your imagination.

For pork with red chile sauce, use pork butt or shoulder as well as spices like oregano and cumin, topped with a spicy red chile sauce. Another popular filling is black beans and cheese.

31 Years of Masa Dreams

The Indio International Tamale Festival taking place every December (31st annual; December 2-3, 2023) is the largest festival in the world dedicated solely to the steamed savory treat. Visitors will see over 300 tamale vendors as well as live entertainment, interactive art spaces, beer gardens, craft stalls, and, of course, the largest-ever tamale. There is also a competition for the best-tasting tamale.

Other bites available at the event include tacos, nachos, carne asada fries, funnel cake, ice cream, and kettle corn. The festival is also known for its carnival rides and—since last year—the World’s Biggest Bounce House for kids and adults alike.

Food Network ranked the Indio International Tamale Festival in the top 10 All-American Food Festivals in the nation. The festival is a special occasion that kicks off the holiday season bringing the entire community together.

More than 300 vendors will be featured plus a tamale eating contest, five stages of live entertainment, and wine and beer gardens. Attendees will be able to sample a wide variety of tamales from traditional recipes to vegan and vegetarian options.

Admission is free.

Worth Pondering…

Do you want to make a tamale with peanut butter and jelly?  Go Ahead!  Somebody will eat it.

—Bobby Flay, celebrity chef, restaurateur

The Best Things to do this Spring in Georgia

Spring in Georgia is the perfect time to bask in perfect weather at festivals celebrating music, art, food, and local traditions

Spring in Georgia brings blooming flowers, warmer days, and activities of all kinds. Spring is an undeniably beautiful time of year to visit Georgia. From March to May the average low of 65 degrees F and an average high of 80 degrees F is perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, camping, and strolling through the state’s many parks and botanical gardens. Spring break trips offer perfect opportunities to explore new places and attend events throughout the state.

From outdoor adventures that take advantage of the great weather to favorite events that only happen once a year, here are nine of the best things to do around the state this season.

Beach on Cumberland Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Go to the beach

Georgia’s beaches are among its best resources. Plan a getaway to explore some of Georgia’s 15 barrier islands, including…

Golden Isles

Nestled on the Georgia coast, midway between Savannah and Jacksonville lies the mainland city of Brunswick and its four barrier islands―St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island. 

The port city of Brunswick is laid out in a formal grid similar to Savannah’s with city streets and squares still bearing their colonial names. Explore the historic area which is enjoying a renaissance and features shops, restaurants, and beautiful homes reflecting a variety of styles dating from 1819.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive to St. Simons Island. Check out Fort Frederica National Monument, the archaeological remnants of the island’s first European settlement or make your way to Neptune Park, an oceanfront park next to the St. Simons Island Lighthouse that offers a playground, picnic area, casino, and pool. Cannon’s Point Preserve features 660 acres of greenery and Late Archaic shell rings dating back to 2500 BCE.

Since 1928, Sea Island has been known as an exceptional destination featuring five miles of private beach, a Beach Club, tennis center, Yacht Club, and Shooting School as well as three championship golf courses including the home of the PGA TOUR’s RSM Classic.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 10 miles of sandy beaches, four golf courses, a 250-acre Historic Landmark District and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, Jekyll Island has been a family-favorite state park destination for 75 years. 

In 1886, Jekyll Island was purchased to become an exclusive winter retreat known as the Jekyll Island Club. It soon became recognized as “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world.” Club members included such notable figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, and Marshall Field. Today, the former Club grounds comprise a 240-acre site with 34 historic structures. The Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark is one of the largest restoration projects in the southeastern United States.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip with these guides to the Golden Isles and Jekyll Island:

Tybee Island

Tybee Island is a family-friendly beach town 20 minutes from downtown Savannah. Rent a cute cottage, go on a dolphin tour, dig into fresh seafood, and much more. Those traveling with RVs and tents can stay at River’s End Campground and RV Park which is a few blocks from North Beach. There are more than 100 sites with full hookups, cozy cabins, and primitive sites. Campground guests will enjoy convenient amenities and comforts of home like a 24-hour laundry room, a fully equipped fitness center, the island’s largest swimming pool, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island National Seashore is the largest and southernmost barrier island in Georgia offering visitors more than 17 miles of secluded white, sandy beaches. Wild horses and other island wildlife roam freely throughout the ruins and along the beach. Glimpses of the Carnegie lifestyle can be easily imagined throughout the ruins of Dungeness, Plum Orchard, and Greyfield Inn.

Cumberland Island is accessible by ferry only. Reservations for the 45-minute ferry ride are recommended. Board the ferry to Cumberland Island in St. Marys, a historic small town located on the Georgia coast approximately midway between Jacksonville and Brunswick.

Dungeness Ruins, Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip with these guides to Cumberland Island:

2. Attend a spring arts or sports event

Just as daffodils, dogwoods, and azaleas flourish in the spring in Georgia so do outdoor arts and sports events. Pick any city and you’ll likely find a spring event to enjoy.

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

International Cherry Blossom Festival

Each March, Macon becomes a pink, cotton-spun paradise as over 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees bloom in all their glory.The International Cherry Blossom Festival is a perennial favorite held March 17-26, 2023 that features art exhibitions, rides, and performances. 

The Creek Indians were the first inhabitants of the area that would later become known as Macon, settled by Europeans in 1809. Celebrate the Native American tribes that called the Macon area home at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, a site dating back 17,000 years. The site has North America’s only reconstructed Earth Lodge with its original 1,000-year-old floor as well as the Great Temple Mound.

Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1960s, Macon was ground zero for the music industry thanks to Capricorn Records and artists like the Allman Brothers Band and Otis Redding. Learn about the band that called Macon home at The Allman Brothers Band Museum at The Big House, the Tudor-style home that Berry, Duane, and Gregg lived in with their family and friends. It has a large collection of guitars and band memorabilia.

The Blessing of the Fleet

Each spring, Darien holds The Blessing of the Fleet Festival for the captains of local shrimp boats. The largest event of its kind on the East Coast, it’s also a great time to get some exercise with the 5K run, admire arts and crafts, watch fireworks, and salute seagoing ships during the maritime parade. The 55th Annual Blessing of the Fleet on the beautiful, historic Darien Waterfront is set for April 21-23, 2023.

Savannah Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah Music Festival

The annual 17-day springtime festival (March 23-April 8, 2023) is Georgia’s largest musical arts event featuring up to 100 productions. Established in 1989, Savannah Music Festival features artists from all genres including classical, jazz, folk, country, and rock. 

Savannah’s Historic District is sprinkled with 22 historic squares, stunning period architecture, and beautiful cobblestone streets, each with unique elements and stories. Take a walk down America’s Most Beautiful Street, Jones Street, take photos in front of the iconic Forsyth Fountain, and stop at places like Chippewa Square, best known as the site of the bench scene from the movie Forrest Gump.

Plan your trip with this Guide to Savannah.

Hank Aaron, a Braves legend

Atlanta Braves

Take in an Atlanta Braves game at Truist Park. The Braves open at home on April 6, 2023 against the San Diego Padres. The Braves’ first homestand of the season will continue with three more games against the Padres and a three-game set against the Cincinniti Reds. 

The Braves baseball team was moved to Atlanta in 1966 from stints in Boston and Milwaukee. It’s the longest continuously operating franchise in Major League Baseball. In their years as an organization, the team has won four World Series (most recently in 2021). Legends like Hank Aaron helped make the team what it is today.

In March 2017, the Atlanta Braves officially moved to their new home at Truist Park (formerly SunTrust Park). It’s surrounded by The Battery, an entertainment complex with restaurants, stores, concert venues, and a hotel.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Masters

Tickets to the legendary golf tournament in Augusta are hard to come by but even if you don’t have tickets there is plenty to do off-course during Masters Week April 3-9, 2023. 

Established along the Savannah River in 1736, Augusta was once home to cotton production which helped it become the state’s second largest city. These days, much of the city’s industry surrounds the medical fields and technology thanks in part to nearby Augusta University. The city is home to Augusta National and the Masters Golf Tournament as well as the birthplace of legends like James Brown. A thriving arts community, plentiful outdoor exploration, and locally owned restaurants only add to its appeal for travelers.

Spring blossoms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Delight in spring blooms

Spring color pops out early in Georgia especially sunny yellow daffodils and cheery pink cherry trees and tulip magnolias. Trace the season’s progression through the rainbow of colorful flowers, trees, and bushes that burst onto the scenery from their winter slumber. From the North Georgia Mountains to the coast you can explore a gorgeous array of gardens expertly created to showcase the season’s best.

See the largest daffodil display in the nation at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground in early March. More than 200 varieties of early, mid, and late bloomers cover 50 acres of hillsides and valleys.

Experience the beauty of 20,000 azaleas in bloom at Callaway Resort & Gardens in Pine Mountain during Spring FlowerFest March 25-May 7, 2023.

Spring blossoms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrate Mother’s Day weekend at the 16th annual Picnic in the Garden in the Pecan Groove at Hills and Dales Estate in LaGrange on May 13, 2023 featuring a picnic spread contest, live music, pony rides, and yard games. Explore the historic Ferrell Gardens which are one of the best-preserved 19th-century gardens in America.

The Savannah Botanical Garden includes nature trails, a picturesque pond, and an archaeological exhibit among the formal and natural displays. Enjoy the Southern charm of the historic Reinhard House, the sweet sounds of songbirds, and wander along a path that explores camellias, ferns, and a children’s garden. Admission is free.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Take a culinary tour of the state

You can’t say we don’t eat well in Georgia! Go in search of fresh flavors this spring on a culinary trip across the state.

Food Festivals

Georgia’s spring food festivals offer a huge menu of options. A few choices include:

  • Georgia Strawberry Festival, Reynolds, April 22, 2023
  • Vidalia Onion Festival, Vidalia, April 20-23, 2023
  • Hiawassee Highlands Wine Festival, Hiawassee, May 13, 2023
  • Taste of Alpharetta, Alpharetta, May 11, 2023

Pick-your-own Farms

Grab a bucket and head to one of Georgia’s many pick-your-own farms for a true Southern springtime tradition. The whole family will have fun picking their favorite springtime treats fresh from farms throughout the state.

Springtime in Georgia means warmer temperatures, blooming flowers, and…strawberry season. The official strawberry season can stretch from late April to July 4th in Georgia with the best picking from May to mid June.

Adairsville Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Food Tours

Eat your heart out in Georgia where restaurant and dining options range from casual to fine dining and you’ll find all types of cuisines—especially Southern. Dig in to the South’s best barbecue smoked to perfection and matched with mouthwatering sides like baked beans and macaroni and cheese. Peel and eat sweet, wild Georgia shrimp served with a basket of warm hush puppies while a sea breeze carries away the cares of the day.

Check out one of the many food tours like Atlanta Food Walks, Taste of Thomasville Food Tours, or Savannah Taste Experience.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Taste of Thomasville is a three-hour progressive lunch though downtown Thomasville that starts in the courtyard of The Gift Shop. Participants and the tour guide walk to award-winning food establishments in the downtown area. Between the food establishments, the participants learn the history, culture and stories that make Thomasville a unique town. 

Take a three-hour walking and tasting tour through the gardens and historic, cultural landmarks of the squares of Savannah, the Hostess City of the South. Savannah Taste Experience food tours will open your palate through bites and tastings at distinctive restaurants, extraordinary specialty food stores, and other notable eateries while providing a local’s perspective on culture, history, and architecture of Savannah. 

Getting out on the water at Stephen S. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Get out on the water

Enjoy the great outdoors around Georgia, especially the lakes, rivers, and ocean.

Lake Life

Georgia’s Lake Country boasts two expansive lakes with more than 15,000 acres of water (Oconee and Sinclair) and more than 10 golf courses nestled in the neighboring communities of Eatonton, Greensboro, Madison, and Milledgeville.

Closer to Atlanta, Lake Lanier welcomes boaters and fishermen. Lakes Burton, Rabun, Hartwell, and Blackshear are also worth exploring.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploring the Okefenokee Swamp

Take a walk on the wild side at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine 680-square-mile wilderness is an ecological wonder. The main entrance to the National Wildlife Refuge is located near Folkston.

Hike the Chesser Island Boardwalk to the Owl’s Roost Tower for an unparalleled view of the swamp prairies and the Okefenokee Wilderness. The Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center is a perfect place to begin your Okefenokee experience―talk to refuge staff and volunteers about recreational opportunities, recent wildlife sightings, and take a guided boat tour with knowledgeable naturalists or rent a canoe or kayak and set out on your own.

Take advantage of the discounts on multi-day, multi-entrance passes to Okefenokee Swamp Park in Waycross and Okefenokee Adventures in Folkston to experience boat tours, train rides, nature shows and the incredible scenery of the fascinating swamp environment.

Brasstown Bald with fall colors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Plan a road trip

What’s a better time to start planning a getaway by car or RV? Decide what you want to see whether it be coast or mountains, cities or small towns. Follow the 41-mile Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway through the mountains, drive along US-17 to coastal communities from Richmond Hill to Darien or taste your way through the state on Georgia Grown Trail 37.

Surrounded by the beauty of Chattahoochee National Forest, the 40.6-mile Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.

Georgia Grown Trail 37 is Georgia’s first officially branded agritourism highway created to spotlight the agricultural bounty and beauty found in Southern Georgia. Featuring over two dozen agritourism hotspots and out-of-the-way shopping adventures, Georgia Grown Trail 37 takes you on a tasty adventure through small towns and family farms. You will find olive farms, vineyards and wineries, U-Pick berries and produce, unique farm products, and specialty shops. Take I-75, Exit 39, East or West.

Hunt for murals © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Hunt for murals

Looking for colorful walls to photograph? You’re in luck. Atlanta has hundreds of murals in every corner of the city especially around Cabbagetown and Old Fourth Ward. Savannah also has its own usually commissioned by art galleries and non-profits to beautify their buildings. Macon also has upped its game in terms of public art, with murals, sculptures, and Little Free Libraries around town. Don’t miss the mural in Dublin which honors the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

8. Tour a brewery, cidery, or distillery

The Peach State has a thriving scene for craft beverages as new breweries and distilleries are opening every year in every corner of the state. No matter where you go, plan on having a designated driver.

A brewery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breweries

They may be found in old warehouses where the grind of machinery has been replaced with liquid gold and the sound of good times or in new wide-open spaces.

Atlanta has the most craft breweries including big-name ones like Sweetwater and those with multiple locations like Monday Night. But there are many breweries in other cities and towns like Macon Beer Company, Creature Comforts in Athens, and Eagle Creek Brewing in Statesboro. Grab a bite with your pint at a brewpub, like Good Word Brewing and Public House in Duluth.

Located within walking distance of college dive bars, Creature Comforts Brewing Co. hangs out in a former car dealership and auto repair shop on the edge of downtown Athens. Try its Tropicalia and see why it’s considered one of the top IPAs in the country.

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown Macon has been making a resurgence thanks in part to breweries like the Macon Beer Company. This spot playfully uses the city’s name in the name of its beers such as Macon Love, Macon Plays and, of course, Macon Money.

Taking its name from the coastal Georgia Island, Jekyll Brewing has paved the way for craft breweries in the northern suburb of Alpharetta. And on the topic of branding you may be amused by the names of their beers such as Hop Dang Diggity, Southern Juice, Cooter Brown, and ‘Merican Amber.

Cideries

The gluten-intolerant can rejoice as there are also cideries around the state. Urban Tree Cidery is located on Atlanta’s Westside with a taproom to sample their varieties. Treehorn in Marietta is another favorite as is Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge. If you’re looking for a low-alcohol option, Cultured South on Atlanta’s West End brews the popular Golda Kombucha.

A distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Distilleries

Distilleries also are open to visitors to offer a glimpse into how your favorite spirits are made. Atlanta has the ASW Distillery, Old Fourth Distillery, and Independent Distilling distilleries. Dalton Distillery and Dawsonville Distillery both specialize in legal white lightning. Richland Rum in Richland and Brunswick crafts the only single-estate rum in the United States made from Georgia-grown sugar cane.

Moonshine and other spirits © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moonshine

Whether you go all in and tour a moonshine maker’s distillery or you attend a local festival named after the famous drink, Georgia is a great place to start your moonshine journey.

In the summer, classic cars and their owners head to the Georgia mountain town of Hiawassee for the annual Georgia Mountain Moonshine Cruiz-In. The three-day event features live mountain music, a real moonshine still, arts and crafts vendors, automotive vendors, and hundreds of classic cars.

Visit Blairsville in September for the Moonshine Market Arts & Crafts Show featuring regional vendors, live music, food, beer and spirits, and distillery tours. 

A winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wineries

Georgia is more than just craft beer and moonshine. The Peach State has its fair share of wineries especially clustered around the North Georgia Mountains. Muscadine and fruit wines are produced as well as well-known varietals.

Kaya’s Winery and Tasting Room in Dahlonega are built atop a ridge that is 1,600 feet above elevation and offers panoramic mountain views in North Georgia. Enjoy wine made from estate-grown grapes with a view from the covered deck.

On the Helen side of the North Georgia Mountains are a number of wineries but Yonah Mountain Vineyards & Winery is frequently listed as a favorite. The namesake mountain rises into view from the tasting room inspiring the logo that makes the rounded peak look like a bear’s back. Experience their tastings which showcase chardonnay, merlot, malbec, pinot noir, and sauvignon blancs. The wine cave tour is what makes Yonah Mountain completely unique, the only known one in the state.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Bike the trails

Gear up with your helmet and two wheels to explore the state. There are plenty of paved bike paths for beginner or expert riders.

The Silver Comet Trail rails-to-trails path connects Atlanta to the Alabama state line and is accessible from the cities of downtown Rockmart and Cedartown. Bikers, runners, hikers, skaters, and horseback riders use the trail for recreation and commuting. The Silver Comet Trail begins at the intersection of South Cobb Drive and the East-West Connector in Smyrna and runs all the way to the Alabama border. There, it meets the Chief Ladiga trail in Alabama. 

The Carrollton GreenBelt is the largest greenspace and greenway conservation project ever undertaken in the city of Carrollton’s almost 200-year history. The 18-mile long linear city park is the largest paved loop trail system in Georgia and provides residents and visitors a unique escape.

The Chattahoochee Riverwalk in Columbus runs 15 miles alongside the water offering views of the whitewater rapids and a connection to the National Infantry Museum. By foot or on bike, you will skirt the cityscape, examine historic monuments and markers, and take in the wild beauty of the rolling river and native wildlife. Geocachers can take on the RiverWalk GeoTour, the first of its kind in the world with 31 challenging geocaches with collector game pieces including three coins.

Worth Pondering…

Come with me into the woods. Where spring is advancing as it does no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible.

—Mary Oliver, Bazougey

The Best Food Festivals in 2023

Food festivals are great places to fill your plates beyond the level you ever thought possible

To celebrate a festival means: to live out, for some special occasion and in an uncommon manner, the universal assent to the world as a whole.

—Josef Pieper

Food festivals are about community, cultural heritage, and putting copious amounts of tasty things in our mouths. From a chile festival in the Chile Capital of the World to a crawfish festival in the Crawfish Capital of the World, these fests are as notable for their vibes and photographability as they are for their food.

Allow me to present America’s best food festivals to look forward to in 2023. Roll up your sleeves and prepare to dig in. If anyone calls for me, I will be dressed as a cheese curd at the Cheese Curd Festival in Wisconsin.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

May 5-7

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival float © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The world-famous Crawfish Festival began in 1960 as a spin-off of the Breaux Bridge Centennial Celebration. The Louisiana Legislature had just named Breaux Bridge the Crawfish Capital of the World in 1959. The festival is now known around the country and even the world. Every May, thousands of hungry people flock to Breaux Bridge to be part of the festivities.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Crawfish Festival has also become one of the largest gatherings of world-famous Cajun musicians. All weekend long you can hear the sound of authentic Cajun, Zydeco, and Swamp Pop music rising from the festival. Whether your musical taste is Cajun or Creole, you can witness over 30 bands perform over the three-day event if you think you have the stamina. It’s a perfect opportunity to see our musical tradition passed from generation to generation. Watch the Cajun dance contests, and if you’re brave, join in. There’s no better way to learn. There are even Cajun music workshops held in the heritage tent.

Cheese © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cheese Curd Festival

Ellsworth, Wisconsin

June 23–24

Cheese making on display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, Wisconsin would be the only place appropriate for a cheese curd festival. Here in America’s Dairyland, these small squeaky bits of unaged baby cheddar are a ubiquitous snack, as magical as snowflakes with no two alike. And at the cheese curd festival in Ellsworth—the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin, mind you—there are 6,000 pounds of cheese curds in every batch: fried, dipped, melted on tacos, slathered on poutine, served sweet in a cinnamon dessert curd, or smothered in marinara sauce, pizza-style. Pair them with hard cider, take in a classic car show, or show off your skills at the cheese curd-eating contest. There’s nothing cheesy about it.

Hatch chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hatch Chile Festival

Hatch, New Mexico

September 1-3 (51st annual)

Hatch chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hatch Chile Festival, held annually in the Chile Capital of the World over Labor Day weekend includes chile roasting, food and craft vendors, contests and fun for the kids, a carnival, and entertainment provided by local businesses along with volleyball, soccer, and softball tournaments.

Chicken festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

World Chicken Festival

London, Kentucky

September 21–24

Chicken festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may not think you need to see the world’s largest steel skillet but what if it was attached to a chicken festival? That’s what you’ll find in Laurel County, the birthplace of both Kentucky Fried Chicken and the World Chicken Festival—four days of egg-ceptional activities like a Colonel Sanders motorcycle ride, a Rooster tail mullet contest, and plenty of cook-offs. While you’re there, make sure to check out the Sanders Café & Museum in Corbin where the original roadside restaurant has been restored to its 1940s layout and also where the magical 11 herbs and spices making up KFC’s original recipe were perfected. You still won’t find out what they are, though.

BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

American Royal World Series of Barbecue

Kansas City, Kansas

September 27–October 1

BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America is not lacking in meaty barbecue festivals. From the Barbecue Festival (October 28; 38th annual) in Lexington, North Carolina specializing in the vinegar-dipped Lexington-style to Nevada’s Rib Cookoff (Nugget Casino, Sparks) to the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest (November 4-5; 14th annual) in Lockhart (the Barbecue Capital of Texas) and Jack Daniel’s World Championship Barbecue Invitational (October 13-14) in Lynchburg, Tennessee, you can get your meats dry-rubbed, slathered, whole-hog, boozy, smoked, ketchup- or mustard-based, and really, any other way you can dream up in all corners of the country.

BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But for the biggest barbecue bash—in the world, they say—head to the Kansas Speedway for four days of the region’s signature thick, sweet, tomato-based sauce, and western-style entertainment including a rodeo, equine events, and a livestock show. There’s a barbecue hall of fame ceremony and both an invitational and open competition where over 500 teams compete for meat supremacy. If that’s overwhelming then just maybe stop by the Kids Que where contestants aged 11 to 15 compete with steaks and little ones aged 6 to 10 go head to head with burgers.

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urbanna Oyster Festival

Urbana, Virginia

November 3-4 (67th annual)

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An evolution of Urbanna Days that began in 1957, the Urbanna Oyster Festival as we know it today hosts over 50,000 people in the square mile town over two days. Visitors flock from all over to celebrate the oyster!

In 1988 it was designated as the “official” oyster festival of the Commonwealth of Virginia and maintains that title today.

Urbanna © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come by BOAT or come by LAND! The charming Town of Urbanna closes its streets for this big celebration of everything OYSTER! It’s foodie heaven with over 50 food vendors and every kind of OYSTER! Raw, steamed, roasted, Rockefeller, fried, stewed, oysters in a pot pie and festival food fare like BBQ and crab bisque!

Arts and crafts, antique auto shows, children’s activities, and live bands are spread throughout the town.  The town marina offers historical boats and exhibits on the conservation of the Chesapeake Bay, watermen, and the oyster industry.

Peanuts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Peanut Festival

Dothan, Alabama

November 3–12

Peanuts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama just goes nuts for nuts, it seems. Over in Mobile, you can hit up the Alabama Pecan Festival (November 4–6) to down pies and see the annual crowning of the Pecan Queen.

But if peanuts are more your speed, it’s about a three-hour journey to the National Peanut Festival which promises a week’s worth of legume-themed activities. Located in the southeast corner of Alabama, Dothan is known as the Peanut Capital of the World and is a prime location for growing peanuts. If you’re in Dothan you’re in the heart of peanut country, considering the majority of all the peanuts grown in the United States are grown within a 100-mile radius of Dothan.

Pecans © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come for the nutty fare and carnival foods and stay for the chainsaw art, sea lion splash, racing pigs, circus entertainers, and live concerts. Dothan, too, hosts a Peanut Queen parade alongside a raucous demolition derby.

Cracklins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Barre Cracklin Festival

Port Barre, Louisiana

November 9–12 (37th annual)

It’s gratons galore at this festival, a fundraiser for the Port Barre Lions Club that also benefits all who love fried pork skins. And they definitely get into it: Not only is there a Cracklin Cookoff but a Cracklin Festival Queen will be crowned, complete with a court.

Crawfish pie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s also a parade, carnival rides, music, and food to let you know you’re in Cajun Country, in case the zydeco wasn’t enough. Besides your cracklins (of course), you’ve got your regular boudin, boudin balls and egg rolls, sweet dough pies, crawfish bisque and fettucini, jambalaya, shrimp po-boys, meats on sticks, and cowboy stew, a simple and hearty concoction stocked with enough meat to fill up a herd of cowboys. And cowgirls.

Indio Tamale Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indio International Tamale Festival

Indio, California

December 1-3 (30th annual)

Indio Tamale Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indio International Tamale Festival taking place every December is the largest festival in the world dedicated solely to the steamed savory treat. Visitors will see over 300 tamale vendors as well as live entertainment, interactive art spaces, beer gardens, craft stalls and, of course, the largest ever tamale. There is also a competition for the best tasting tamale.

Indio Tamale Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other bites available at the event include tacos, nachos, carne asada fries, funnel cake, ice cream and kettle corn. The festival is also known for its carnival rides and—since last year—the World’s Biggest Bounce House for kids and adults alike.

Worth Pondering…

Live every day as if it is a festival. Turn your life into a celebration.

—Shri Radhe Maa