Monday, September 7, 2015

Somerville's Fluff Festival is Sticky, Campy Fun for your Bucket List

The What the Fluff? Festival scene

As New Englanders who grew up noshing on beloved fluffernutter sandwiches, we here at New England Fall Events were over the moon with anticipation to attend the annual “What the Fluff?” Festival at long last.

Somerville MA’s What the Fluff? Festival enters its 10th year of sticky-sweet jubilee on Saturday, September 24th, 2016 from 3:00pm-7:00pm. (Rain-date is Sunday 9/26). Click for event details.

Unless you are a transplant to New England, you probably share our childhood nostalgia for the squishy, sticky, gooey peanut-butter-and-fluff sandwich for which our region is known. The fact that marshmallow fluff was invented in Somerville, MA almost certainly plays into its popularity and local reverence. For us natives it is the ultimate comfort food (though we'll concede that chicken pot pie is nothing to sniff at).

In the event that you were deprived of a fluffernutter-filled childhood, here's the irresistibly wonderful original Fluff commercial that not only will teach you how to make your own fluffernutter but you'll have the added bonus of the delightfully addictive jingle planting a seed in your brain for the rest of the day.

Revelers at Somerville's Fluff Festival
Somerville, with its fabulously eclectic and creatively driven residents, is ground zero for off-beat, clever, and outside the box gatherings and festivals. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at the city’s annual PorchFest in July, their Ignite: Fire and Food Festival in August, and October’s insanely joyous three-day brass band extravaganza Honk! so it we were long overdue to attend September’s zany event which celebrates inventor Archibald Query’s 1917 culinary brainchild—fluff.

The day of the festival arrived feeling more like summer than fall. We snagged street parking on Highland Avenue –an easy ten-minute walk from Union Square where the festivities were set and we headed down the hill. Turning left onto Somerville Avenue, we walked right into the food and craft vendor stretch of the festival. The festival, with a decade under its belt, draws large enough crowds that several streets around Union Square are closed to pedestrian traffic, activities, stages, and games.
Polymer clay marshmallow people

Getting a feel for things, we peeked into the craft vendor tents as we worked our way down the street. Most of the vendors tip their hat to the day’s honored foodstuff (fluff) and the year’s theme (steampunk) by offering marshmallow or steampunk-inspired wares for sale.

The felted S’mores and marshmallow “pops” were fun and everyone was charmed by the polymer clay marshmallow people, but we snagged ourselves a super cool sculpted vertebrae mug by NH artist Megan McLeod Young’s Wicked Raven Studio whose gorgeous ceramic mugs, bowls and spoons drew her own respectable crowds.

The food vendors were populated by Somerville restaurants and a few even went the extra mile to create their own fluff-inspired goodies for our gastronomic pleasure. As with many events where they vend, the length of the queue for Union Square Donuts was as jaw-dropping long as ever. Previously intimidated by their lines that regularly snake down the block, one look at their mammoth Donut of the Day—a fluff-glazed donut with a peanut butter cream interior—and we couldn’t hold out any longer. We turned on our heels and aimed for the back of the line from which we could not even see the donut tent.

Many food vendors like Union Square
Donuts sold fluff-inspired food.
You heard it here—the Union Square Donuts line only looks interminable but in practice it was stunningly efficient and we made it through in 10-minutes flat (we timed it…we just had to know!). We learned what Somerville regulars already knew which is the USD line is never as bad as it looks and one shouldn’t be daunted—just get in there already!

With our colossal fluffernutter pillow of dough in hand, our festival-adventuring came to a grinding halt while we spied a seat from which to strategize how to eat the donut without wearing the donut—no small feat, indeed. Many napkins later and with a sugar rush reaching maximum velocity, we rallied to see what this festival had in store.

Original fun inside the Fluff-a-Tron 3000 
The whimsical and creative activities are what make this festival such riotous fun. The Fluff-a-Tron 3000 machine was a sight to behold and our descriptive will hardly do it justice. Intended for children (but wisely able to fit a parent too), one enters a tall framed box with clear vinyl paneled walls. The “door” closes and the machine operator turns on a giant fan which blows furiously into the clear box tossing countless pieces of “fluff”—Styrofoam popcorn-- swirling up and all around in a manic speed. The guests inside the box become nearly hidden inside the fluff whirling about them like a blizzard while those of us on the outside gleefully watch their reaction through the transparent machine walls.

Dare to eat the fearful fluff combos  
It’s hard to say who has more fun—the folks in the machine or the rest of us watching them! Kudos to the machine builders for making the Fluff-a-Tron large enough to fit an adult and child as we could see how the snowy, noisy experience could be somewhat overwhelming to a child entering the box solo.  

If culinary risk-taking is your thing, you can try your hand at Fluff Fear Factor. Crackers piled with fluff and…hot dogs, pickles, salami, green beans, Tabasco, carrots, tuna, you name it. There were many revolting combinations on display we won’t stand in the way of your double dog dare.

Fluff Baking Contest Trophy
Those seeking fluff recipe innovation more than fearful fluff fodder joined us in ogling the display of fluff cooking contest entries. With trophies for Best Original Recipe, Best Traditional Recipe, Most Creative, Best Youth Entry and the coveted Best Overall, contestants submitted their own fluff-y treats—sweet or savory-- for the judges to taste. After the judge tasting is complete, they’ll sell off any remaining treats in a fluff bake sale to festival-goers.

Contestant Kiersten Dockerney took home the prize for Best Overall winner with her Fluffernutter Pie. Here’s her recipe (you’re welcome).

What the Fluff? Festival Cooking and Caking Contest entries.

You may be wondering if one can actually get a straightforward, honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned fluffernutter on Wonder Bread. Rest assured, teens from the local high school mill around the streets selling them to help fund-raise for their school so you are totally covered on the nostalgia front.

The Flufferettes 
The “Main Stage” was set up on the square itself and featured performances from the burlesque Flufferettes, Federator No. 1, and other familiar local musicians such as our beloved Emperor Norton’s Stationary Band who notably had the steampunk vibe going before What the Fluff? pinned it as this year’s festival theme.

Across Somerville Ave. toward Prospect Street was the “Shenanigans Stage” and the name clearly says it all.  Every 20 minutes or so the crowds are treated to “Blind Man’s Fluff”, “Fluff Jousting” with foam noodles, “Fluff Hair-dos”, a “Fluff Lick-off” and “Fluff Musical Chairs”.

Despite the crowds, the multiple streets cordoned off to accommodate the festival-goers spreads everyone out quite well. It’s not too jammed to bring your kids in tow and they’ll certainly enjoy the day’s quirky fun as much as you. The streets are stroller-friendly and a kiddie train makes the rounds on Somerville Ave. If you don’t want your child to subsist on creamy sugar alone, you might want to pack a snack as some of the food lines were long.

The Kids Midway is filled with free crafts and fluff-themed games in a contained area.
Families will be thrilled with the Kids Midway which is set up down Sanborn Court (look for the street between Bronwyn and The Independent restaurants). The thoughtful festival planners designated a large lot the Kids Midway which is both contained for peace of mind and out of the stream of festival crowds.
A sunny scene at the Fluff Festival

The classic games will have kid-appeal and have, as you would expect, a fluff-themed twist. In the midway, you’ll find Fluff Bowling, Pin the Tail on the Fluff Boy, a Fluff Shoot-out, Fluff Coin Toss, a Fluff Pyramid to knock down and marshmallow crafts. In the event that your fluff-fueled children are going bonkers, they can jump their energy away in the requisite bouncy house which was situation.

The takeaway from our visit is the What the Fluff? Festival is a memorable, free, gleefully off-beat bucket-list event that you won’t want to miss.

Save the Date: Somerville’s What the Fluff? Festival is coming up Saturday, September 24th, 2016 from 3:00pm-7:00pm. with a rain-date set for Sunday the 25th.

Our Tips for Visiting the Somerville What the Fluff? Festival
Felted marshmallow s'mores and pops.
  • Take public transportation if you can because parking is not abundant. If you must drive in, expect to park street-side and walk a bit. Read side street parking signs carefully because most streets adjacent to the festival area are permitted for residents only.
  • Though all of the entertainment is free, bring cash for food and craft vendors.
  • We spent nearly two hours there and saw just about everything. 
  • If you want to try some of the baking contest entries, be sure to hover around the contest tables after the judges have tasted to be there when they sell off the leftovers in a bake sale. 
  • The festival sells t-shirts to commemorate each year's event. Stop by their tent early on if you want a selection of sizes.
Family Tips for Visiting the Somerville What the Fluff? Festival with Kids
One of the free fluff games for kids
  • Unless you want your kids subsisting solely on sugar, have lunch before coming to the festival. The food lines for kid-friendly food like pizza can be long, and for the fluff-inspired treats like Union Square Donuts even longer. It was easy, however, to snag a classic fluffernutter sandwich from the teens selling them for their fund-raiser. We didn't see any gluten-free options.
  • The festival is physically stroller-friendly but could be crowded the closer you get to Union Square itself and the main stage area. The Kids Midway is the place to be--all the games can be enjoyed free of charge.  
  • There is a kiddie train ride that snakes up and down Somerville Ave did have a fee. We didn't see exactly where the train was loading/unloading but we think it was near the bouncy house and slide at the Prospect St. and Somerville Ave. intersection.

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