By B.C. Manion
Thousands will flock to Dade City on Jan. 26 to partake in the 16th annual Kumquat Festival, an event that began as the brainchild of a trio of women.
Phyllis Smith, Roxanne Barthle and Carlene Ellberg put their heads together to organize the first festival, which was on the lawn of the historic Dade City Courthouse.
“They had a handful of vendors and some food and the kumquat growers with their kumquats,” said John Moors, executive director of the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce.
The festival has become enormously popular since its humble beginnings.
It is a magnet for visitors and has raised the community’s profile, Moors said.
“It absolutely puts Dade City on the map. Dade City and this kumquat festival have become synonymous,” Moors said.
The Kumquat Festival was heralded as Pasco County Event of the Year in 2012 and has been named a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society, which selects the premier events in 13 Southeastern states.
It is an event of regional impact, Moors said.
“We estimate that last year, for example, we had probably 40,000 to 45,000 attendees. Using the state multiplier, we estimate the economic impact at around $1 million,” Moors said.
It is a gathering that features more than 400 vendors, a car show, children’s activities, a health and wellness section, entertainment and, of course, kumquats galore.
“It’s hard to believe that all of this came out of a little kumquat,” said Charlotte Kiefer, a former longtime Dade City chamber president. “We were trying to keep downtown alive,” recalled Kiefer, who used to arrive at 4:30 a.m. on festival days to pitch in.
The “little gold gem of the citrus industry,” as kumquat promoters like to describe it, can be found in virtually every form at the festival.
Vendors will be offering kumquat pie, kumquat salsa, kumquat jam, kumquat jelly, kumquat preserves, kumquat ice cream and even kumquat lotions and soaps.
Moors loves the taste of the diminutive orange-colored fruit.
“I love them. We put them in a bowl, and I eat them like candy,” Moors said, acknowledging that, for him, it was an acquired taste.
The hungry masses will find plenty of choices between the food vendors and local restaurants.
“We have food like you wouldn’t believe,” Moors said.
Local restaurants are swarmed.
“It’s almost like an invasion,” said Jim Hendry, of A Matter of Taste Café at 14121 Seventh St. near the historic Dade City Courthouse.
“Our town, which is about 5,000 people, swells to 30,000 to 40,000 or maybe more,” said Jim, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Carole.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful celebration. It brings people from all over,” Jim said. People drive north from Sarasota and south from The Villages. They drive west from Orlando and east from the beaches. They come from nearby communities, too.
“It has grown to be our biggest day of the year,” Jim said, estimating he does five times as much business on festival day as on a normal day.
Festival day is like a reunion, Carole Hendry said.
“Everybody who ever worked here comes back,” Carole said. “And they don’t just come back to chitchat. They work.”
Jim said it’s a good thing so many food vendors show up.
“The last thing we need is for people here to have to wait two hours to eat. You want them to have a good experience,” Jim said.
Pulling off a successful event depends upon help and cooperation from people of all walks of life, Moors said.
The festival has the support of the city, county and state governments, as well as corporate sponsors, Moors said.
Community volunteers play a vital role. They are involved in every aspect of planning and in helping to keep things running smoothly on festival day, Moors said.
Volunteers from Calvary Assembly of God in Dade City, for instance, help set a friendly tone for visitors who park in the satellite lot at the Pasco Fairgrounds.
They dole out bottles of water to festival-goers and offer them a place to sit in the shade while they wait for the next shuttle.
Festival organizers and volunteers strive to exude southern charm.
“Basically, our message is, ‘Come and enjoy the festival and come back and visit us again,’” Moors said.
He describes the Kumquat Festival as being old Florida, family friendly and unique — just like Dade City.
Festival day caps three weeks of activities leading up to it, including the Kumquat Pageant, the Kumquat Recipe Contest, the Merchants’ Window Decorating Contest and the grove and packing house tours. All of those preliminary events are finished, except for the grove and packing house tours, which are Jan. 24 and 25. There will also be a quilt show on festival day at the HiBrow Art Gallery, 14125 Seventh St.
Merchants benefit from the traffic the festival brings to town, said Dale Anne Laumer, of Ivy Cottage Antiques and Wine Merchant,in the heart of downtown.
“It helps people find out about Dade City,” she said.
Her antique shop, at 14110 Seventh St., is in the midst of the festival’s action, but Laumer doesn’t partake in the festivities.
She’s too busy minding her shop, and she doesn’t make a peep of complaint.
Jim said he’s glad that the Kumquat Festival casts an annual spotlight on his community. He’s proud of the place where he lives.
“I tell people, ‘We’re like Mayberry.’ My insurance agent is just across the street. My banker is one block away. So much of what you do is just right here,” Jim said.
Laumer agreed: “We’re a tight-knit community.”
If you go
What: 16th annual Kumquat Festival
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Dade City
Where: Historic downtown Dade City
Directions: Take I-75 and go east on SR 52; or take US 301. Follow signs to get to downtown Dade City.
How much: Free admission, free parking and free shuttles from remote satellite parking lots at the Pasco Fairgrounds on SR 52 approaching Dade City or near Jarrett Ford, 38300 Dick Jarrett Way
Need more information? Visit www.KumquatFestival.org, or drop by an information booth at the festival. They are located at Third Street and Meridian Avenue and at Seventh Street and Meridian Avenue.
8 a.m. to 10 a.m.: Volkssport Family 5K and 10K walks ($2 per adult) at Church Avenue and Eighth Street
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Car and truck show on Live Oak Avenue, between Third and Fourth streets
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Antique fire trucks and tractors exhibit on Pasco Avenue, between Fourth and Fifth streets
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Quilt show and sale at HiBrow Gallery on Pasco Avenue, at Seventh Street
9 a.m. to 10 a.m.: Saint Leo University Lion Dancer – Opening Act SASS (Girls A Cappella); Just the Facts (Faculty and staff chorus); Student Soloists at the Historic Courthouse Square
10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.: Same on Sunday – Christian rock at the Historic Courthouse Square
10:30 a.m.: Dade City Junior Jazzercize at the Historic Courthouse Square
11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.: Wesley Chapel Ensemble at the Historic Courthouse Square
11:30 a.m. to noon: Caleb Balogh & The Furthering – Contemporary Christian at the Historic Courthouse Square
Noon to 12:30 p.m.: Strawberry Express Cloggers at the Historic Courthouse Square
12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.: Weston Ward, acoustic guitar of hits from the 60s through today at the Historic Courthouse Square
1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.: Helen Baton & Dance Studio at the Historic Courthouse Square
2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.: Arts in Motion at the Historic Courthouse Square
3 p.m. to 4 p.m.: Tumbleweed – Bluegrass at the Historic Courthouse Square
4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.: Caleb Balogh & The Furthering – Contemporary Christian at the Historic Courthouse Square
4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.: Same on Sunday – Christian Rock at the Historic Courthouse Square
9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.: Jennifer Lee and Nevaeh Peek – A new kind of country next to YMCA Building,
Noon to 1:30 p.m.: Ashley Shannon and D.C. Country – New country and Southern rock next to YMCA Building,
2 p.m. to 3 p.m.: Emily Rose & Buds – Young country and pop next to YMCA Building,
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.: Theopolis and the Soul Factory – Rhythm & Blues next to YMCA Building,
Prefestival events Jan. 24 and 25
Kumquat Talks: Roger Swain, champion of the kumquat, will give an informative talk on the history of kumquats in the Dade City area. He will also talk about the different types of kumquats and how they are used. The talks, which are about 15 minutes each, will be at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Kumquat packing house tour: Visitors will learn how kumquats are picked, processed, packaged and shipped. The tours, which last about 15 minutes each, begin at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.
Kumquat grove tour: This tour takes visitors through a kumquat grove, where they will learn about planting, maintenance and care for kumquat trees for commercial production. The tours, which last about 30 minutes, begin at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
How do you eat a kumquat?
—Kumquats taste best when they are gently rolled between the fingers before being eaten. The gentle rolling action releases the essential oils in the rind. Eat kumquats the same way you eat a grape — peel on.
—Kumquats can be candied or on a kabob with fruits, vegetables and meat, such as poultry, duck, pork or lamb.
—Kumquats are also a favorite for jelly, jam, marmalade, salsa or chutney.
Kumquat pie, anyone*?
First, you’ll need these things:
—One 9-inch piecrust
—One can of condensed milk
—One 8-ounce container of whipped topping
—2/3 cup of kumquat puree
—1/2 cup of lemon juice
To make the pie, beat condensed milk with whipped topping. Add lemon juice and beat until thickened. Add kumquat puree. Pour in pie shell and chill for several hours. Garnish with kumquats and mint leaves.