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Great food, fall festival – Homer, Michigan

Published September, 2012  Battle Creek Enquirer

Michigan boasts hundreds of small towns and villages, off the beaten trail but always with something unique to offer. Take Homer, for instance, population some 1,700 dedicated souls. A village located on the banks of the Kalamazoo River, it’s 20 minutes west of Jackson, 35 minutes east of Battle Creek and less than one hour from both Lansing and Kalamazoo. Homer is a classic small town with an historic three-block downtown, surrounded by tidy, well-maintained homes.

In mid-April 1832, four pioneers, Powel Grover, William Wintersteen and two brothers, Richard and Henry McMurtrie walked all the way from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania to settle on land three miles east of the area that later became the Village of Homer. Imagine walking 523 miles for a new start? It makes you believe in the town’s slogan, proudly displayed on the water tower, Homer is Home.

In 1837, another early settler built a small gristmill on the banks of the river.  The mill was a source of employment to the growing town. Lost to a fire and rebuilt in 1887, the mill changed hands several times before it was converted to a restaurant in the mid-1970s. In 2006, the old mill became a haunted house attraction. According to local legends, several children swimming in the Kalamazoo River were pulled into the mill and killed, leaving only their spirits to wander the site. A devastating fire in 2010 destroyed the “haunted” mill. Even without the mill, Homer’s worth a visit.

Next Saturday is the annual Fall Festival, a 37-year tradition from11 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., at the Blair Historical Farm. It’s a great family outing with free admission and parking. You can learn to make a broom, cook a corncake on an old-fashioned cook stove or make a bar of soap.  For the adventurous, try cooking over an open campfire. Don’t miss a bratwurst and a slice of home made pie. The Blair Farm apple butter is a wonderful take home item. Proceeds support the ongoing restoration of the farm. Listening to the tunes of Uncle Carl’s Dulcimer Club, transports you back to those early days.

If you get an earlier start, stop by the Homer Farmers’ Market, opening at 9 a.m., to stock up on the last of the season’s fresh fruits and vegetables.  My bet is on the apples, and I always pick up fresh eggs.

No visit to Homer would be complete without a stop at Cascarelli’s for pizza. Frank Cascarelli came to Homer in 1935, buying a local tavern. In 1965, they added pizza and have been serving it continuously ever since. Today, Cascarelli’s s is one of those rare restaurants managed by the third generation of the same family.

We always start with an order of Annie’s Bread, their grandmother’s recipe of stuffed cheese bread topped with garlic butter and Parmesan. Eat too much and you won’t have room for one of their “funky” or classic pizzas. My husband likes “Frankie’s Big Ball Delite” covered with their famous meatballs, red onions, red peppers, pepperoni, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella and Asiago cheese. I prefer “Charlie’s Pizza Margarita” with red sauce, roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil. Their salads are as interesting and tasty as their pizza. With an excellent selection of wine and beer by the glass, Cascarelli’s is worth the drive.

We sometimes stop by Grist Mill Park, located on the Kalamazoo River. It’s a nice place for a stroll after eating too many pieces of pizza. We’ve never had any ghostly encounters, though. Homer may not be our home but it’s a nice place to visit.

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