Celebrating the lima bean in West Cape May

Posted: October 11, 2013

WEST CAPE MAY This weekend, West Cape May will host a festival that has it all: music, fashion, food the likes of which you've probably never tasted before. There will be pageantry. And, sigh, romance.

But mostly, limas. Loads and loads of limas.

Saturday - Sunday if it rains - is the nearly three-decades-old West Cape May Lima Bean Festival. On this one day every year since 1985, the lowly legume is elevated to rock star, with a fan base to match.

"We've gotten calls from Texas, from California. They want to know what weekend it is this year," said Diane Flanegan, a local artist and businesswoman who has organized the festival for about 10 years.

An estimated 10,000 people turned out last year, she said.

Back when the festival started, lima beans were a key crop for West Cape May, which supplied the Hanover food company and adopted the moniker "Lima Bean Capital of the World."

In the 1990s, Hanover switched to California beans, Flanegan said, but by then, the New Jersey festival had wedged its way with all manner of things lima into the hearts of the locals in this small and charming burg, a proudly quirky, somewhat rustic cousin of the more intensely Victorian Cape May.

As with every year, this weekend's festival will feature edible offerings that stretch the imagination: lima bean cakes, lima tarts, lima chili, and more. Bliss, a local ice cream-maker, has for the last few years, provided lima ice cream.

There will be lima-inspired arts and crafts; Flanegan, a glass artist, was making lima earrings Wednesday. Of the 100 vendors expected to be on hand, all have been asked to bear in mind the lima theme.

And, of course, a Lima Bean King and Queen will be crowned. As tradition has it, they will participate in the town's annual Christmas parade.

This year, there is an added twist: A Lima Bean Prince and Princess also will be named.

It's all about access. According to Flanegan, who, along with her husband, quit a day job to move to West Cape May in 2000 to pursue her art, the lima royals have always been picked by luck of the draw. They could be any age, but a lot of the candidates were on the younger side of the age spectrum.

"You'd have all these little girls crying," the organizer said.

Hence, the princess and prince.

"But even with the adults," she said, "sometimes I've heard, 'This was my lifelong dream.' "

This year, romance also will make its festival debut. An hour after the 3 p.m. coronations, there will be a wedding at the festival. Flanegan wasn't at liberty to release the couple's names, but they have local ties. The ceremony will feature a lima cake, lima bouquet, lima tiara for the bride, and lima boutonniere for the groom. West Cape May Mayor Pam Kaithern will officiate. (If it rains Saturday, the wedding will be moved to Borough Hall.)

There will be nods to tradition as well. Flanegan managed to find the lyrics to "The Lima Bean Blues," a song sung at festivals past. One of this year's musicians said he'd see what he could do.

This year, as always, folks look forward to seeing the designs of the festival T-shirts, fanciful creations that have become collectors' items.

Sue Lotozo, 54, artist and owner of Flying Fish Studio, has been designing the T-shirts since 1990. This year, she said, she has three designs, including the Lima Legend, inspired by Rolling Stone Keith Richards.

Raised in Metuchen and a graduate of what is now the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Lotozo said that in the 1980s, West Cape May drew twenty-something artists such as herself, who were attracted to the area's beauty but who were unable to afford Cape May.

Some, like Lotozo, stayed to raise their children and help shape a community.

"West Cape May," she said, "is definitely a little offbeat."

Of course she meant it as a compliment.

Go, limas.

The festival takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Wilbraham Park off West Perry Street. The rain date is Sunday. If Sunday is a wash, the festival will be held next year.

For information, call Flanegan

at 609-884-9325.




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