Lomis and the great Eggplant Festival
On the first Saturday in October Loomis residents take to the streets in droves for a day of celebrating their small town friendliness and farming heritage – the annual Eggplant Festival.
The agricultural roots of this community date back to the Gold Rush when miners and their families turned to farming in the rich Loomis Basin. In the early 1900s Loomis was one of the largest fruit shipping stations in the region, growing peaches, plums, apricots, cherries and pears”but do eggplants grow here?
Well . . . . that’s a good question. If you’re curious, come to the festival and ask an old-timer sitting on a park bench. If he/she doesn’t just give you a sly smile, they might be willing to tell the story.
This year will be the 19th annual Eggplant Festival sponsored by the Loomis Basin Chamber of Commerce. Admission and parking are free. There is a park-and-ride facility along Taylor Road for those who must park quite a distance from the festival.
The Chamber makes a great effort to make the event family-oriented with free face painting and fishing as well as race cars, bumper boats, and lots of other games for the kids. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Darth Vader, Batman, ballerinas and, of course, the Giant Eggplant cruise the festival, talking with children of all ages. They
are all costumed volunteers from the performing arts classes of local Del Oro High School. The Wilderness Institute also sets up their rock wall for teens who wish to show off their climbing prowess to the passersby.
Besides lots of children’s activities the festival is divided into several areas. The Chamber Showcase features local businesses, with lots of raffles and giveaways. There is a Home & Garden section featuring displays by local nurseries, hardware stores, and home decorating shops. The Farmer’s Market area is hosted by Janice Thompson from nearby Newcastle Produce and other longtime farmers from the region. The festival begins with a Pancake Breakfast at the Horseshoe Bar Road Fire Department.
Even eggplant haters are bound to discover a dish they like. The Chamber sponsors eggplant cooking contests complete with ribbons, prizes and prestigious awards. Last year there were at least eight food vendors and every one offered one eggplant dish- everything from fireroasted eggplant burgers, eggplant tacos, eggplant pick-up sticks, Indian pakoras, and eggplant-parmesan pizza. For those with a wee bit more culinary hutzpah, there’s eggplant ice cream.
The festival takes place around the Loomis Station Plaza. It is a wonderful city improvement looking south toward the old train station that was, for so many years, the center of the community. Residents and visitors stroll in search of a bench to sit and eat the food overflowing their plates. This is prime territory for people (and dog) watching. Everything stops and all heads turn, temporarily mesmerized by the nostalgic rhythm of a passing train.
Teens linger in the rows of chairs nearest the entertainment stage where local rock groups perform, purposefully not projecting past the first five rows of their own friends (or perhaps that was the author’s own parental paranoia). This year there will be two entertainment stages ” one for local talent and another for professional musicians.
Surrounded by the booming communities of Roseville and Rocklin, proud Loomis residents and their town council are determined to retain the small town lifestyle and agricultural heritage. This year’s Eggplant Festival will take place on Saturday, October 7 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. It is located at the Loomis Station Plaza on Taylor Road between Horseshoe Bar and Webb roads.
For additional information visit their website at http://www.loomischamber.com/eggplant.
In Mediterranean kitchens eggplant is the workhorse of the summer kitchen. The eggplant has not, however, come close to being one of America’s favorite foods. In part, this is because we seldom eat them fresh and in season (August through October). Most supermarket eggplants have been in cold storage and shipped long distances which can cause bitterness.
The large purple-black eggplant is the variety known to most people, but there are a host of others largely available at Farmer’s Markets or vegetable specialty stores. The long Asian eggplants tend to be milder than round varieties. The smaller, white and magenta striped eggplants, called Rosa Biancas, have a wonderful sweet flavor with little or no bitterness.
The eggplant is widely used in Asian cuisine, flavored with dark sesame or roasted peanut oils, ginger, soy, garlic, and lemon.
In Middle Eastern countries eggplant is often partnered with feta cheese or yogurt as well as garlic, chickpeas, and tahini. In Mediterranean countries eggplant reigns as king of the summer vegetable garden, and is prepared with olive oil, tomatoes, peppers, basil, pine nuts and cheeses.
1 tablespoon mint (or 1 teaspoon dried from a tea bag)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh salt and fresh ground pepper
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
12 slices toasted baguette or crackers
Preheat the broiler or grill. Peel the eggplant and slice it into rounds about 1/2-inch thick. Pour olive oil into a bowl and brush both sides of each slice lightly with it. Set eggplants on a sheet pan and broil about 6 inches from the heat until golden, 12 to 16 minutes, turning once to brown the other side. Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over low heat until golden. (If using walnuts, toast them for 7 to 10 minutes in a 350º oven until fragrant.)
Add the garlic, pine nuts, remaining olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the food processor and coarsely chop. Add the eggplant and, with short pulses, work the eggplant into a somewhat rough puree. Taste for salt, and season with pepper. Add a little lemon juice to sharpen the flavors, and stir in the fresh herbs.
Spread the puree on the toasted bread or crackers, garnish with additional chopped basil. Makes about 1 cup puree.
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