GREENFIELD — One whiff of downtown Greenfield during the Riley Festival and you realize you’re in a hot spot for good food.
From fresh-squeezed lemonade to smoked pork and everything in between, visitors have the choice of nearly 50 vendors offering up flavors both familiar and unique.
But what are the most quintessential foods of the four-day street fair? It depends on whom you ask.
Friday’s rain slowed down the sale of food significantly, but James Thornburg said Thursday night was hopping for his ice cream stand. After all, people have been waiting all year to get his signature soft serve – a pineapple whip.
“When I first came here, I was here with the corn dog trailer,” said Thornburg, a Shelbyville resident who says he was one of the first vendors at the festival over four decades ago. “I do not know (why people love pineapple whips), but I’ve seen people lined up and down that street all night long.”
Thornburg sells twice as many of the sweet, tangy pineapple whips than he does chocolate in Greenfield. But in other communities, he can’t even give the pineapple away because it’s not popular.
He chuckled that his best customers on the cold and rainy afternoon were the city’s public safety officers. A large group of them stood in front of his booth enjoying cones.
“The Greenfield Fire Department keeps me going,” he said.
For many festivalgoers, the more homemade the food is, the better.
“We get a lot of people just stop to watch us cut the noodles – it’s an unusual sight,” said Bill Faris, who sells chicken and noodles and other comfort food at the Granny Franers stand.
The Amish baked goods stand is popular for those who want to take something home. Walter Wickey of Milroy says people appreciate the fact that the breads and sweets are homemade.
“That’s the main reason I come for,” said Suzie Ailes, describing the pumpkin roles.
“They’re just so fresh,” added daughter Jessica Hensel of Fountaintown. “I don’t know how they do it. They’re so wonderful.”
For drinks, you can’t get much closer to homemade than a lemon shake-up. For New Palestine vendor Karl Leimgruber, the recipe is simple: water, plenty of sugar and lemon wedges – crushed and juiced with the wooden handle of a hammer in front of the customer.
“I heard some lady say, ‘You’re going to make them here?’” Leimgruber said. “I said, ‘That’s the only way to make them.”
Jewelry and stained glass crafter Jean Golgart appreciates the chicken and dumplings the First Presbyterian Church delivers to vendors.
“It reminds me of when my grandmother would do things like that,” she said. “It’s one of those things you’ve got to do certain things to get it right, and they get it right.”
Several community clubs sell festival food as fundraisers.
Rose Reiser said cherry pie is the most popular seller at the Extension Homemakers booth. She said people appreciate how the various pies are made from scratch; proceeds to go scholarships.
Lorna Leyte of Greenfield has been selling pork shish kabobs with her family for years. Her father, Larry Mann, was a missionary in the Philippines and had set up the stand as a way to give back to the mission field. When Mann died three years ago, Leyte and her mother, Leucy Mann, carried on the tradition.
What makes the grilled kabobs so popular?
“We have a secret sauce. That’s all I can say,” Leyte said.
Grant Ford, owner of BBQ’n Fools, said of his smoked foods, pork is his best seller. Ford has community groups work in his booth, and the proceeds help their organizations.
The Greenfield Sertoma club raises money annually by selling Wisconsin brats, sauerkraut and more. Proceeds go to community projects, such as purchasing hearing aids for people in need.
“It’s not overwhelming – it’s just a good-tasting brat,” said Dan Burnham as he cooked over charcoal Friday afternoon.
Greenfield residents Greg and Carol Roland said the Sertoma tent is an annual must-have item and ranks among many other favorite food traditions.
“I think all the food is good,” Greg Roland said.
Carol’s mother Barb Kanchak helped organize the entertainment for the festival years ago. Kanchak, who said the German potato salad was spot-on, adds that coming to the festival multiple times a year is a must-do for the family.
“It’s tradition. We’ve been doing it since the first one,” she said. “It’s just one of those things you do.”