March 26th Is Spinach Festival Day

Today is the day we celebrate the many spinach festivals around the country, all celebrating the leafy green vegetable that’s great for you and excellent on pizza.

There are many varieties of spinach, mostly falling into three distinct groups:

– Savoy: dark green, crinkly and curly leaves; commonly found in supermarkets.

– Flat/Smooth Leaf: includes “baby spinach”; easier to wash and clean than Savoy spinach; most commonly used for canned and processed spinach products.

– Semi-Savoy: a hybrid variety with slightly crinkled leaves; has same texture as savoy, but is much easier to clean.

The first Spinach Festival was held by the Winter Garden Chamber of Commerce in Texas in the year 1936. According to records, bushels of spinach lined the staged while people dressed as the character Popeye, as well as others from the cartoon series, danced around as “La Paloma” was played by the band. That same year, Texas Governor James V. Allred proclaimed Crystal City “The Spinach Capital of the World.”

Side Note: Alma, Arkansas, which has an annual spinach festival in April organized by the Alma Chamber of Commerce, also proclaims to be the “spinach capital of the world.” Alma is home to the “Allen Canning Company” which cans and ships spinach.

On March 26, 1937 a sculpture of the great cartoon sailor, Popeye, was erected in Crystal City, Texas in honor of the spinach-loving character as well as the staple crop of the local economy, spinach. Thus Spinach Festival Day was born!

In 1987, on the 50th anniversary of the Popeye statue, the Crystal City Festival Associated commemorated the day during the Spinach Festival.

During the Festival, Delgado unveiled a proclamation from King Features Syndicate, Incorporated wherein the President of the Board, Joseph F. DiAngelo, promoted every resident of Crystal City to captaincy in Popeye’s crew. Dignitaries from all over the United States, as well as special guests from all parts of the world, have gathered to pay special tribute to the Spinach Capital of the World and its patron Saint Popeye. [source]

In honor of Spinach Festival Day, here are the top ten facts about spinach that I found the most fun and interesting:

10. Spinach is native to Iran and was introduced to China in the 7th century; it then traveled to Europe around the 12th century, finally making its way to the Americas in 1806.

9. Spinach is a member of the goose-foot family, in close relation to beets and chard.

8. The best place for optimum spinach growth is cool, but not freezing, and moist; spinach grows well in sandy soils.

7. Today, California is the #1 grower/supplier of spinach in the United States, accounting for almost three quarters (3/4) of the national production. Spinach is also grown in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, and Texas.

6. U.S. spinach growers have credited the Popeye cartoon with a 33% increase in domestic spinach consumption in the 1930s.

5. ‘Birds Eye’ was the first company to advertise frozen spinach, in a 1949 issue of Life magazine.

4. Both raw and cooked spinach is good for your health. When raw you get vitamin C and folate, and when cooked spinach boots the bioavailability of beta-carotein and lutein.

3. Spinach leaves are both a mild diuretic and mild laxative.

2. In 2005, the national yield of commercial spinach was approximately 350,000 tons. That number is growing annually.

And the most interesting fact I found has to do with something we think is fact, but actually is not…

1. Spinach is not as high in iron as we’ve believed for hundreds of years, and it’s all due to a misplaced decimal point. In 1870, Dr. E von Wolf measured the iron content of spinach, and placed the decimal point in the wrong position. As a result, the iron content of spinach was overstated ten-fold. It was until 67 years later that the mistake was discovered by German chemists. While the high iron content of spinach has been proven to be a myth, the idea is still being widely circulated today.

Happy Spinach Festival Day! How are you celebrating! I think I’ll have a spinach salad with strawberries and crumbled blue cheese with a small amount of sweet balsamic dressing.

spinach festival day march 26
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