October snuck up on me, and the 53rd annual Maple Leaf Festival really showed up quickly. Saturday begins more than a week of fun activities for the entire family.

As a lifelong Carthaginian, I love everything Maple Leaf, but some of the events really make me smile because they revolve around food.

You will find food trucks Saturday in Central Park for Music Under the Maples. The next day, $5 will let you do some tasting at the chili cook-off at the same location. That same day, the chicken pageant is just what it sounds like and not about eating a leg or a thigh. No food, but it’s fun.

Friday the 18th, the Carthage Senior “Can Do” Center will host its fourth annual bake sale and pie contest and you will be able to enjoy brats on the square for lunch or dinner.

Start Oct. 19, parade day, at the Carthage Fire Department with a pancake breakfast. After the parade, head down to the Carthage square and visit one of the many vendors set up to feed us.

You are sure to find something to your liking. Personally, I go for anything fried, and I usually have to try more than one of the offerings.

Of course, the week is full of other fine choices for your entertainment. There’s a night of praise, a carnival, art and WWI exhibits, car and tractor shows, lip sync and royalty contests. After the parade is the ever-popular marching band festival. I get to be part of the queen pageant and the lip sync contest and always enjoy these evenings. Google “Maple Leaf Festival Carthage”: The Carthage Area Chamber of Commerce provides a complete rundown of all the activities. Enjoy!

It’s time to once again share my favorite Maple Leaf recipe.

My friend, Cindy Harding, gave me this recipe many years ago, and it’s great fixed ahead then warmed in the slow cooker, ready for you after the fun Saturday parade or for dinner after a day of visiting everything Maple Leaf has to offer. The ranch flavor mixed with the taco seasoning makes for a distinct taste I think will become a family favorite.

Buy a bag of caramel corn on the square for the chocolate bars, and make the orange cookies ahead of time to enjoy while parade watching. Super easy with a cake mix. Orange cookies made with cereal sound like breakfast to me. These two recipes are from Taste of Home’s “2003 Quick Cooking Annual Recipes.”

Happy Maple Leaf, and happy eating.

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Taco soup

1 pound ground beef

1 can diced tomatoes

1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes

1 can niblets corn

1 package taco seasoning

1 envelope ranch dressing mix

2 cups water

2 cans pinto beans

Brown ground beef; drain. Combine all ingredients in large pot. Simmer 30 minutes.

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Caramel corn chocolate bars

5 cups caramel corn

1 cup chopped pecans

1 (10 1/2-ounce) package miniature marshmallows, divided

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

In large bowl, combine caramel corn, pecans, and 1 cup marshmallows. In heavy saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add chips and remaining marshmallows; cook and stir until smooth. Pour over corn mixture; toss to coat.

With buttered hands, press into greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Cool and cut with serrated knife. Yields 24 bars.

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Orange crispy cookies

1 white cake mix

1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

1 egg, beaten

2 teaspoons grate orange peel

2 teaspoons orange extract

1 cup crisp rice cereal

In mixing bowl, combine first five ingredients; mix well. Stir in cereal. Roll into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool in pan for one minute then remove to wire racks to cool completely. Yields about 4 dozen.

Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.

Cheryle Finley is a food columnist for The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.

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