The annual Red, White & Blueberry Festival at Hammonton High School had a fourth color added Sunday - in the form of mostly gray skies.
But clouds that turned into occasional rain couldn't spoil this popular party celebrating the favorite fruit of "The Blueberry Capital of the World," even if an afternoon downpour did force an earlier-than-normal closing for the festival.
The Greater Hammonton Chamber of Commerce has thrown the party for 27 years now, always in late June or early July, near the height of the local blueberry season. And volunteers for the chamber stayed busy Sunday selling close to 2 million fresh blueberries, by the calculations of John Runfolo, the festival's longtime chairman.
He figures there are about 200 berries to the pint, and the sponsors brought in 800 cases of blueberries, at 12 pints to the case. That multiplies up to more than 1.9 million berries, most of which were still ripening on their bushes Saturday, he said - in Hammonton, of course.
And the fresh-blueberry counter always sells out, Runfolo added.
But for ambitious blueberry believers, Anthony DiMeo III was offering a more labor-intensive alternative at the DiMeo Farms stand - "organic, non-GMO" blueberry bushes, at $10 apiece. He could offer proof that these plants will bear fruit, because all of them seemed to have healthy clusters of blueberries on them, some fully ripe and some still on the way to turning blue.
DiMeo Farms, of Hammonton, brought more than 1,000 blueberry bushes to sell Sunday - and brought instruction sheets for buyers on how to plant them properly, and take care of them once they're planted.
"They're always a big seller," said DiMeo, who was touting the strong points of his blueberry bushes over those sold at some "big-box" stores. He said those other bushes are usually grown indoors, in greenhouses, and never see the light of the outdoors until the customer takes them home and plants them.
"So they have no hardiness," DiMeo argued, before pointing toward a picture of his farm. "We don't even have a greenhouse."
But this festival had plenty to offer blueberry fans who prefer less labor and quick gratification, including blueberries in almost every form imaginable.
The Chamber of Commerce tent had another long line of customers for blueberry cannolis with ingredients - shells and filling - prepared by Cacia's Bakery in Hammonton.
The actual combining of the cannolis was being done on the spot by Tiffany Kresky, of Ventnor, a graduate of Atlantic Cape Community College's culinary-arts program who was happily taking individual requests, but who looked like a factory worker using her pastry bag to fill orders for two cannolis here, four here and six here, and on and on.
Even an early-afternoon burst of hard rain, shortly after the opening ceremony, barely cut into the line for the dessert, which Runfolo said is a tribute to both Hammonton's traditional Italian heritage and its bounty of blueberries.
But at the booth for Las Lomas, a 4-year-old Hammonton restaurant making its first appearance at this festival, owner Jose Martinez worked a whole different heritage into his hot-selling dish for the the day.
"Blueberry-pomegranate grilled chicken tacos," he explained, adding that the secret ingredient was a special "Hammonton-Mexican blueberry salsa," an item he invented just for the occasion.
"Being in Hammonton, you just get influenced by blueberries," he said.
Still, blueberries are much more than just a food at the Red, White & Blueberry Festival. They come in all forms, including a line of products targeted at people who enjoy the blueberry lifestyle.
"We are all things blueberry," proclaimed a sign over the booth run by Judy Church, of Simons Berry Farm in Tabernacle, Burlington County.
"We have pillows. We have napkins. We have potholders," she said, looking over her product line, all bearing images of blueberries. "We have coasters - not toasters, coasters - (and) we have tissue holders."
And the list goes on to include enough blueberry-themed products to throw your own small-scale blueberry festival any time the mood strikes. But,, if just one a year is enough, look for Hammonton's 28th annual Red, White & Blueberry Festival on the last weekend of next June.
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