One of the neat things about living the RV lifestyle is coming across some truly unique small town festivals. We first attended LaBelle’s Swamp Cabbage Festival last year while visiting in the area. Back then we went on the first day of the festival to watch the parade, then walked to Barron park on the Caloosahatchee River to check out the rest of the festivities. Apparently everyone else in Florida did the same. All we saw were backs and butts, nothing else. We couldn’t even get near the booths let alone the bandstand. So this year we decided to go on the second and final day of the festival.
The town of LaBelle started as a settlement on the Caloosahatchee River in the 1880’s populated mainly by cattle drovers and trappers. Today the townspeople are chiefly Mexican cowboys and field hands, Miccosukee and/or Seminole Indians, and RVers. Lots of RVers.
The festival is held in honor of Florida’s state tree, the Cabbage Palmetto also known as the Sabal Palm, during the last full weekend in February. The festival includes a 5K walk/run, a bass fishing tournament, a rodeo, a carnival, a dance and beauty pageant. The big draw for us was the unique food offerings. And the armadillo races.
This time we brought along our friends Tom and Jean, and Ray and Karen from Seminole Campground. They are all foodies too.
Seminole women making traditional fry bread and meat filled fry bread
We parked just outside the grounds and walked to the riverfront festivities. We made one pass-thru checking out all the booths then on our second pass, we stopped at the ones that most piqued our interests. One of the booths was that of a local wood carver who made interesting and beautiful works of arts from Cypress. Believe me, if we still owned a stick and brick abode, I would have brought one of those one of a kind wall hangings back home with me. As it was, we only made two purchases. Don bought himself a new cowboy hat. He thinks it will contribute to his persona when he’s picking and singing. I bought a small purse that’ll hang across my torso similar to a camera strap. I like to carry my I.D. and a few dollars with me when I’m out but have found that toting a purse along with my two bulky cameras is too ponderous. Hopefully this will work out better.
We did pause for a time at the bandstand to listen to some of the local talent. One of the bands lead singer was the sheriff of LaBelle. He is a very talented singer and may have missed his calling. We also wanted our friends to experience the armadillo races, perhaps the biggest draw of the entire festival judging from the crowd surrounding the pen. If you’ve ever witnessed one of these races before, you know that the word race and what it implies is perhaps the wrong word choice to describe this event. I think armadillo crawl, armadillo creep or maybe armadillo mosey would be more accurate. The little armor-plated creatures are definitely not known for speed and often need to be coaxed just to get out of the starting gate.
The critters are presented to the crowd as they make their way down to the starting gate.
Hosted by the local Rotary Club, the six armadillos are presented to the crowd individually. Bets are placed and the buzzer sounds. The starting gate rises and……there they sit, dazed, a couple look around at the crowd, a couple sniff the ground around them, one curls up into a ball and one moves forward. The crowd cheers. Eventually one of the sniffers moves forward too. The “race” is on. About halfway down the track the lead armadillo stops to sniff a dog who’s come to watch the competition with it’s master. The second armadillo stops to check out the dog too. The crowd resorts to verbal coaxing. One observer steps between the dog and the fenced-in track. The armadillos again pick up momentum. The closer they get to the finish line, the louder the mob becomes. Until, at long last, one crosses the line and a resounding “Yay!” goes up from the winners. They go to claim their prizes before the next race begins. This was our friends first experience with an armadillo race and every one of them thought it was a hoot.
Notice the dog in the center photo
From here we moved on to the food concessionaires. One thing about the Swamp Cabbage Festival, it’s not your standard fair food. Oh sure, there’s plenty of that to be had here but there’s also some very unusual food offerings for the taste buds as well. Where else but in Florida can one find seafood paella, swamp cabbage gumbo or gator tail? Where else could one find Cracker food such as fried green tomatoes and collard greens? Where else but in southern Florida can one find Seminole Indians making traditional fry bread? Where do we even begin? We all sampled the swamp cabbage fritters and thought them delicious. Swamp cabbage is taken from the heart of the Cabbage Palm tree. In a fancy restaurant you would find it listed as Hearts of Palm. Swamp Cabbage or Heart of Palm, either way the taste is all its own and is used in a variety of ways.
Check out some of the unusual food offerings.
The Moore’s really liked the homemade pork rinds. They purchased a large bag of the BBQ flavored ones and thought it had a nice bite. I would have to endorse the fried green tomatoes as my favorite choice for the day. Not too thin, not too thick, with just the right amount of cornmeal and flour batter. The ones I got were piping hot right out of the frypan. The turkey nuggets and sausage on a stick were popular choices too but not one of us could bring ourselves to have the gator tail. Tom said that he had tried it once, a long time ago and recalled it as being chewy, much like octopus or bad calamari. Yep, I can pass on that.
Soon it was time to head back. Tucker was waiting for our return. What a great way to spend a sunny Sunday.
Here’s lookin’ at you kid…..