Slicks and I saddled-up our motorcycles and headed a few hours north into Pennsylvania’s coal region– specifically to the town of Pittston. Our goal? The Pittston Tomato Festival!
Pittston is located between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, PA. Because of its proximity to the Susquehanna & Lackawanna Rivers, it was a booming anthracite transportion artery from the 1800s through the late 1950s. It also once boasted many industrial businesses (including apparel, electrical equipment, paper, and beverage factories). Local coal mining and many of the surrounding factories were gone by the early 1960s. The current population is less than half of what it was in the early part of last century (it’s now a relatively small city of about 8,000 +).
The legacy of the industrial boom in Pittston lives on in the number of elaborate churches, cozy bars, shops, and other public buildings. Even though its “boom years” are decades past — it still has a wonderfully proud mix of Italian, Slovak, Lithuanian, Irish, and German influences. Pittston has the sites, smells, and “feel” of a larger city’s ethnic neighborhoods. This phenomenon is what makes the Tomato Festival a great roadside wonder!
Pittston bills itself as “The Quality Tomato Capital of the World” and holds the festival each year to celebrate local tomato cultivation. The events include a Tomato Festival Queen Pageant, a parade, tomato sauce competitions, a 5K Run, and even an organized Tomato Fight! (The fight was what inspired me to visit; but the entire festival was more than worth the trip). There are a few small rides for kids, but the main attractions center around food … and we’re not talking garden variety carnival food!
Vendors of authentic Italian, Lebanese, and Eastern European food provide a dozens of options. John and I went with kibbe and falafels. I’m still kicking myself for not grabbing a cannoli from one of the vendors.
Now About That Fight
A large section of the parking lot of Cooper’s on the Waterfront restaurant is cordoned-off for the fight.
Up to 100 participants plunk down $5 (which benefits local charities) to lob 150 cases of tomatoes at each other for approximately 5 minutes. Everyone, including spectators who stand too close, quickly becomes covered head-to-toe in tomato pulp. The smiles, battle-cries, and fun have to be experienced to be believed 🙂
Here is the tomato fight from our vantage point … take a look!