In Fresno County, a taste of ru­ral life — grilled or fried

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Diana Mar­cum

DUN­LAP, Calif. — The Turkey Tes­ti­cle Fes­ti­val is the big­gest so­cial event in this stretch of Sierra foothills. Its only com­pe­ti­tion is the yearly rodeo just down the road or the Amer­i­can Le­gion Hall dances.

“And they don’t re­ally come close,” said Mike Collins, who went to Dun­lap’s first turkey party the year he came home from serv­ing in Viet­nam.

On a re­cent Satur­day, Collins kept an eye on his en­try for best bar­be­cued ribs at the 41st An­nual Turkey Tes­ti­cle Fes­ti­val while his friend Bill Ce­laya manned a grill full of turkey bits.

“My trick is to keep flip­ping them un­til they’re crunchy. Some peo­ple don’t like them soft and gooey,” Ce­laya said.

Nearby, Cary Fore­hand bragged that his deep-fried turkey tes­ti­cles were out­selling the clas­sic grilled ones, 8 to 1.

It took a while to get the recipe right, Fore­hand said. He fi­nally set­tled on corn­meal, flour and three kinds of salt: gar­lic, Lawry’s and Tony Chachere’s Cre­ole Sea­son­ing. Signs warned that they were fried in peanut oil.

At least 200 peo­ple were there, play­ing horse­shoes, danc­ing to coun­try mu­sic and brows­ing through booths sell­ing items like the pink hat with “Keepin’ It Ru­ral” writ­ten in sil­ver glit­ter­glue. Or­ga­niz­ers said heav­ier ad­ver­tis­ing had brought in what they con­sid­ered to be a big crowd this year.

When the fes­ti­val started, Dun­lap was an un­in­cor­po­rated area of Fresno County with a post of­fice, a grade school, an inn and about 200 res­i­dents. Pretty much the same as now.

Teacher Bar­bara Hall — in­spired by the “crispy turkey nuts” at F. McLin­tocks saloon on the coast — had

come up with the idea as a way for the Cow­bells, her women’s club, to raise money for char­ity.

In case you were think­ing: “Wait, do tur­keys even have tes­ti­cles?” They do. But they are in­side the bird’s ab­dom­i­nal cav­ity, be­hind its wings. In 1943, For­tune magazine re­ported that the bites were con­sid­ered a “rare del­i­cacy by city slick­ers.”

There are at least three other turkey tes­ti­cle fes­ti­vals in the coun­try. A three­day cel­e­bra­tion in Fargo, N.D. — not ded­i­cated to tur­keys alone — was the site of a 2001 riot.

Danny Hall con­sid­ers the glory days of Dun­lap’s event to be the late 1980s. Af­ter he took over run­ning the inn from his Aunt Bar­bara and Un­cle Rod, he added bikini, beer belly and mus­tache con­tests to the fes­tiv­i­ties.

“It was nuts,” said Hall, a con­struc­tion worker with a black T-shirt, cow­boy boots and a han­dle­bar mus­tache that re­quires 25 min­utes of daily groom­ing. (The pre­cise tech­nique is a se­cret, he said.) Hall com­plained that since the inn burned down and he had to pull out as a spon­sor, the fes­ti­val had calmed down a bit.

This year, a band played crowd fa­vorites by Johnny Cash and Merle Hag­gard. Fore­hand felt that singer Cur­tis Mor­gan was talk­ing too much be­tween songs. He walked up to tell Mor­gan he should chat less, sing more.

Mor­gan said that made him want to talk more. And he did.

Even­tu­ally the mu­sic started up again, and Ce­laya and his wife joined the dance on the grass at the com­mu­nity cen­ter, with the Sierra in the back­ground.

The cou­ple moved to the foothills from Los Angeles 40 years ago. They used to visit his ex­tended fam­ily here on week­ends, and on one drive back, Bill swal­lowed hard and said: “What would you think if we moved here?”

Toni Ce­laya looked shocked, Bill said, and he was sure he had made a mis­take. But then she said: “I was think­ing how to ask you the same thing.”

Two weeks later they had quit their jobs, sold their house and moved to Dun­lap to raise their two sons in the coun­try.

Every year, peo­ple from Cal­i­for­nia’s ur­ban cen­ters re­lo­cate to five- or 10-acre lots carved from the old cat­tle ranches. Collins said most don’t last a year. Jobs are scarce and con­ve­niences dis­tant.

Collins said he wouldn’t want to live any­where else. He likes know­ing the moun­tains and tak­ing things slow. He was born and raised in Dun­lap. His son Derek, a soil tester, was born and raised here too. Derek mar­ried a lo­cal girl, and they have four daugh­ters.

The lit­tle girls were at the Turkey Tes­ti­cle Fes­ti­val — eat­ing ice cream.

‘What would you think if we moved here?’ — Bill Ce­laya, ask­ing his wife to leave L.A. for Dun­lap, Calif., 40 years ago

Diana Mar­cum Los Angeles Times

DANNY HALL says the ’80s were the glory days for the an­nual Turkey Tes­ti­cle Fes­ti­val in Dun­lap, Calif.

Diana Mar­cum Los Angeles Times

BILL AND TONI CE­LAYA dance at the Turkey Tes­ti­cle Fes­ti­val in Dun­lap, Calif. The cou­ple left Los Angeles 40 years ago, quit­ting their jobs and mov­ing to the Fresno County com­mu­nity within two weeks.

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