HAINES CITY – Jewel Letchworth knows ribs competitions. She fully understands just what to cook up to convince the judges at a contest like Ribs on the Ridge in Haines City to lick their lips in satisfaction as they taste her barbecue.
“We came in second last year,” Letchworth said.
What she didn’t expect, by early Saturday afternoon, was to have an empty container once filled with ribs waited to be cooked, sold, and eaten.
“We’ve already sold out of ribs,” Letchworth said. “We sold so many last night, we only had a limited amount left today.”
Empty ribs containers, nonetheless, are a sign of success for a business like Buttweiser, which Letchworth runs with her husband Terry, and which was one of many that participated in the annual Ribs on the Ridge 2012 competition, which kicked off on Friday night and continued through today at Lake Eva Park in downtown Haines City.
It was an day for live music performed by local bands, food and craft vendors, trophies awarded to backyard teams, and sauce and dessert competitions – and, as Letchworth pointed out, plenty of eating.
“The crowds have been really good,” she said, adding that with the ribs long gone, “We still have pork left, and hot dogs, and strawberry shortcake.”
Buttweiser is a veteran of the Ribs on the Ridge competition – this is the fourth year the city has sponsored this event – and Letchworth said she and her husband had been there selling ribs from the very beginning.
“We’ve been here the whole time they’ve been doing this,” she said.
That wasn’t the case with Heather Reeves, who was selling Gator Puppies to the crowd.
“This is our first year here,” she said, adding that everyone seemed intrigued with what they were selling.
“We’ve got free samples of Gator Puppies,” she said. “It’s a hushed puppy with gator tails in it. It’s going good so far. All of our boxes have looked wonderful for the competition.”
Janet Hill is a regular at Lake Eva Park, which hosts a weekly Movies in the Park night. She comes there to sell something considered rare in this state: Florida Sno – not snow, of course, but Sno – and Sno-Balls. Her tag line is “New Orleans Sno that Falls in Florida.”
“It’s a snowball,” Hill said. “Technically it’s shaved ice, but it was invented in New Orleans.”
Hill said business was okay, though not as good as she usually does on movie nights in Lake Eva Park – something she thinks may be because temperatures didn’t rise much above the mid-60s on Saturday, leaving a limited number of customers seeking ice to cool them from the heat.
“It’s been kind of slow,” she said. “It’s a mild day.”
On the stage, Rosie Maria Cafarelli of Lakeland was warming up the crowd for an upcoming series of country music performances. Cafarelli is best known for writing “Rosie’s Take on Country,” a online blog about the local country music scene.
“How y’all doing today?” she asked. “The crowd is beautiful today. The weather is beautiful today.”
More importantly, she added, the food and competitions there were top notch.
“Do you know about the American Corn Hole Games? It’s kind of fun,” she said. “You can go over there and play and win prizes. Did you guys know there was a corn hole competition? I didn’t. I thought it was just a bean bag toss.”
Even the folks who weren’t entering the competition, she said, had plenty of tasty dishes to savor.
“You can go around and support everyone here and get some really tasty barbecue,” Cafarelli said.
The first act, Joey Foley and the Midnight Crossing Express, warmed up the crowd with some country and bluegrass music.
“Everybody in Haines City say ‘Yeee-hah!” Foley yelled out to the crowd. “We’ve got to tell you guys, we are here to have fun. If you just sit there and stare at us, we’ll just have to stare back at you.”
In addition to music, the crowd got to sample a wide variety of meals that included homemade cup cakes, frogs legs, fried pickles, fried mashed potato balls, and pork tacos, all sold for “pigs bucks” – Ribs on the Ridge currency that guests could purchase with real dollars.
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