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The Blueberry Festival isn’t just for eating anymore

July 19th, 2015 |

July 18, 2015 | In The News

Written by Matt Assad for The Morning Call

Connie Gilbert’s culinary exploits aren’t going to get her a TV show where she can bark catch phrases such as “Bam,” or a string of restaurants where she can charge people $9 for french fries.

But the Fountain Hill woman would put her blueberry crumb pie recipe up against anyone’s. In fact, she did that Saturday during the first Bethlehem Blueberry Festival contest that didn’t require contestants to mash their faces into a pie.

“The secret is lemon zest and just a little bit of cinnamon,” Gilbert said as she decorated her pie with a day lily. “This is going to be the winner.”

And it was as Gilbert’s no-longer secret recipe won first place, with Eva Seibert of Salisbury Township finishing second and Joanne Ronyack of Bethlehem third.

Of course the real winners were the people who showed up to watch. They got all the leftovers.

“So good,” said Sue Hunsberger as she began her quest to taste every pie in the competition. “I wish they’d stop taking photos of the winners so we could get those pies over here.”

The cooking contests were a new twist on a festival that is really all about tradition. Now in its 29th year, the festival is expected to draw more than 7,000 people taking advantage of that one chance a year where they can sample an endless variety of stuff made from blueberries, from pie to ice cream to salad dressing — and yes, they have blueberry beer, too.

Why blueberries? Why not, said LoriAnn Wukitsch, vice president and managing director of Historic Bethlehem Museum & Sites, which runs the festival.

“When they were planning the festival 29 years ago, they wanted to base it around a fruit no other festival was using,” Wukitsch said. “Pretty good choice, right?”

Other attractions include wine tasting, crafts, animals, pony rides, blacksmith demonstrations, and all sorts of food, but the real attraction is the setting. Burnside Plantation is a bucolic patch that is home to Colonial era structures built when Moravians settled in Bethlehem in the mid-18th century. It’s also in the shadow of the city’s busy Main Street.

“Here you have this 6.5-acre area surrounded by trees and the Monocracy Creek, and yet it’s right in the center of the city,” Wukitsch said. “It’s just off the downtown and yet it’s so private that most people don’t even know it’s here.”

Burnside’s beauty may be the headline attraction, but if you’re going, it helps to like that tiny teeth-staining fruit.

Carlos Morales, of Allentown, was struggling to hold the blueberry pie he just bought to take home, while he ordered a bowl of ice cream.

“We’ll have the blueberry,” he said. “And go ahead and sprinkle some blueberries on there.”



What: 29th annual Blueberry Festival, hosted by Historic Bethlehem Museum & Sites

When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Burnside Plantation, 1461 Schoenersville Road, Bethlehem

Tickets: Available at the gate, $8; $4 for children ages 4-12; free for younger children

Parking: Free and available in the Martin Tower lot, 1170 Eighth Ave., Bethlehem

Featuring: Blueberry pie, ice cream, beer, wine, mead and other treats; crafts, demonstrations, pony rides, music and pie-eating contest.

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