Monday, March 24, 2008

Que'd up for food and fun

Morton, Mississippi · Home to the state's poultry farms and Roosevelt State Park

WHEN? Thursday · March 20 through Sunday · March 23

WHERE? Morton, Mississippi · find us on the map

What Q-Fest is:
It's about the Q – How to prep it, tenderize it, marinate it, season it, grill it, serve it, even how to eat it! When our mouths aren't full of food, they stay busy jawboning about food: What we've cooked, how we fixed it, who ate it, and ideas for improving our already-perfect recipes. If you love to cook out – or love someone who does – it's a weekend of food and fun in which you'll never go hungry.

What Q-Fest isn't:
No pressure – It's not a contest, not a cookoff — just lots of bragging from the diners during mealtime.

Mississippi Q-Fests began about ten years ago, after stories of a similar event in New Mexico began circulating on Internet BBQ forums. New Mexico's annual Q-Fest was inspired by Q-Man Danny Gaulden, a native Louisianan whose outstanding pit barbeque outsold ice cream at the Carlsbad Dairy Queen.

Japanese Magnolia
A young Japanese Magnolia in bloom

This year's cookout was attended by 27 people from eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Its permanent location ended up in Roosevelt State Park because it suits the group's needs so well. Besides being easy to travel to, its natural beauty is a welcome change of scenery for city dwellers, and those from further north love to come see the area's early Spring color. Fishing, hiking and other family-friendly activities encourage folks to bring the kids along, and plenty of overnight accomodations are available, including rustic cabins and lakeside rooms for those who'd rather not camp out. A large covered pavilion means we won't get rained out, and lots of picnic tables save everyone from hauling their own — which allows more space for bringing lots of food.*

Wendell waves from the Official Pavilion of Mississippi Q-Fest
Howdy from the Q-Fest pavilion!

Most of the credit for organizing Mississippi's Q-Fest goes to Big Jim from Florida, whose love for cooking and visiting with other bar-b-quers gets the ball rolling. Since hauling in the large cookers and meat (sometimes even a whole hog) requires a group effort, lots of fellow Q-Festers pitch in to help.Big Jim
Big Jim

*And I mean lots of food!

  • Friday morning brunch included biscuits and gravy, Brunswick stew, gizzards and rice, assorted dips and chips, fruit and coffee ... too much to remember! As if that weren't enough, a local church group drove by selling Krispy Creme donuts (mmmmm) to raise money for their Summer mission trip.
  • Although Friday evening supper is called a fish fry, this one was much more. Along with fried fish and hush puppies, we also had deep-fried gator and something they called frogmore stew, which is similar to a crawfish boil but with shrimp, sausage, potatoes, onions, catfish nuggets and mussels. (That's right, there's no frogs in it.) When it's ready to serve, the ingredients are strained from the boiling liquid and spread out on the table for people to help themselves. And for those who saved room for dessert: Banana pudding and Ginger's decorated Easter cake.
  • Frogmore Stew
    Now serving: Frogmore Stew

  • We rolled out of bed the following morning for deep-fried farm eggs, old fashioned stone-ground cheese grits, red beans and rice, biscuits, and fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juice. And I'd sure like to know who to thank for those boxloads of delicious fruits and vegetables.
  • Our excellent cooks worked all day preparing Saturday evening's supper: Brisket, pork, chicken and ribs. Lots of side dishes, including baked beans and slaw. Leftover banana pudding and cake satisfied anyone with a sweet tooth.
  • Each QFest has its own twist. This year the Deans brought various cheeses from Wisconsin. After tasting my first-ever cheese curds, I'm now trying to figure out how to buy some myself. We also had oysters, either fresh-smoked or raw on the half shell (and those who couldn't decide simply had some of both).
  • Oysters fresh off the smoker
    Smoked oysters

  • Since I'm married to such a fine cook, I don't do lots of it myself. Trying Buzz's fried bread, though, has inspired me to try his recipe.

Since all Q-Fests I've attended have been fun, I'm hesitant to pick this one as my favorite. Q-friends from years past who didn't make this one were truly missed. The only downside to these gatherings: They're over too quickly! Like the after-Christmas blues, the same is true when people start saying their good-byes as they travel on to other places or return home. I hope to see them all again at another time down the road.

Shadow Lake sunset · Roosevelt State Park
Mississippi sunset
See more 2008 Q-Fest photos on flickr

  • Q-Man Danny Gaulden's restaurant is no longer a Dairy Queen. He now serves his famous mouth-watering barbeque at Danny's Place, located in the same Carlsbad location as the old DQ.
  • Since returning home to Alabama, Smitty has made his first ever Brunswick stew.

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