Note: Last summer, Mary Malouf attened the Payson Salmon Festival, which is taking place this Friday in Payson, Utah. For those of you looking for something to do this weekend or an unbelievable experience - we highly recommend the festival. Here's Mary's recap from last year - hope this motivates you to join us down South this weekend!
At 5:00 p.m. Friday, we were drinking hard Arnold Palmers in the back garden at Trifecta Design, where owner Pam Ostermiller, native daughter of Payson, Utah, gathered her friends before we got on Le Bus to her home town, 64 miles away.
But such miles. Utah County is traditionally a daunting destination for Salt Lakers, and Friday afternoon traffic means the trip can take hours.
But the payoff in Payson is worth it: mouthwatering, heart-warming proof that food helps create community.
For 56 years, the little city's main fundraiser has been a salmon feast in City Park. Thousands of pounds of wild Alaska salmon are flown in. Volunteers construct huge grills, 32"-tall 20-foot long frames holding chicken wire mesh, anchored in tires in trucked-in sand and gather giant woodpiles of apple and cherry wood.
And the cooking commences.
Traditionally done by the town fire department, now the heavy and hot job of basting and turning the huge racks of fish, then carrying them like stretchers to the serving tent is shared by other volunteers. But everyone still wears protective fire-fighting clothing.
Driving into town in our giant bus, we could see the smoke rising when we were blocks from the park.
You go through the line with a Chinette platter and servers quickly load it up with potatoes, butter pats, packets of lemon juice, ears of corn, a roll and a bowl of cole slaw. You walk by the black tent and someone inside cuts off a huge hunk of salmon and plops it on your plate.
Then you find a seat at one of the long tables under the trees in the park, and share a meal with hundreds of friends.
Cooked slowly, far from the fire, mopped with melted butter from a galvanized bucket, this is possibly the best salmon I've ever tasted.
But that's not the only delight of this old-fashioned town event: shared food leads naturally to friendship.
We talked to a young Lebanese man who was going to be baptized into the LDS church the next day he had come to Utah because his Catholic mother had a dream her son should become a Mormon. We sat next to a young couple with a baby, she is a first grade teacher with long roots in Payson, he's Hispanic. We met a grandmother who was raising her precocious and sassy granddaughter because her mother was off "doing Goth things."
We got friendly with a woman who was standing in line with us to buy the extra cooked salmon; with 8 kids at home, she couldn't afford the $15 ticket per person ticket, but she could buy two sides of salmon for $30 and serve the family a feast.
And we met Brad and Brady Pulver, father and son, two of the men cooking the salmon. Brady's a relative newcomer to the cooking brigade; his dad has been working the grills for 22 seasons. Before that, his father helped cook the Payson salmon, so it's a three-generation family tradition. Here they are, near the end of this year's salmon-cooking marathon feast.
Brady's wearing his grandfather's firefighting gear.