Celebrating its 25th year, the Raspberry Festival at the Monastery at St. Gertrude in Cottonwood now draws around 3,000 people, tripling the local population on the first Sunday every August. Though the event has grown and changed over the years, one thing that has remained the same is the ample supply of raspberry shortcake.
The event began out of a need to raise funds to help cover operating costs at the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude, said Sister Janet Barnard who has helped with the festival since its early years. The need, combined with a productive raspberry patch, led to the idea for a fundraising event featuring the iconic shortcake, an auction of a few furniture items from the monastery and a yard sale.
It went so well, they did it again the following year. Then the next and so on. And thus, the Raspberry Festival was born.
At some point early on, there was rain on the festival weekend, Barnard said. Because the event was held in the open on the monastery lawn, they had to come up with an alternative that wouldn’t result in wet items and visitors. The event was moved to the Prairie High School gym, where it remained until its recent move back to the monastery lawn.
The festival evolved along the way according to need, vision and opportunity, Barnard said. Barbecue beef sandwiches were added one year when they were low on auction items. They combined forces with what had been Cottonwood’s Buggywhip Festival when they saw the need to draw more attendees and make it more of a community event. Vendors were then added, along with a kids’ carnival, then a quilt show, fun run, car show, art show and breakfast. There was something different every year, it seemed.
“We try to keep making it interesting,” Barnard said.
One year, professional basketball player John Stockton, whose mother is from the Ferdinand area, signed a basketball for the event. They held a raffle ball drop where people “purchased” squares of land and the ball was flown up in a helicopter and dropped above the designated area. The winner was determined by the square in which the ball landed.
As the festival grew, it sprawled across the town at both the high school and monastery locations, making it hard for people to take in the whole festival, Barnard said. They decided to bring it back to the monastery, setting up tents in case of rain.
Through it all, the raspberries have stayed the same. Most the berries come from eight rows of bushes that grow at the monastery. Some years, production is low or off schedule, and organizers have to purchase additional berries. But this year?
“They seem to be doing pretty good,” Barnard said. “We’re always praying for the raspberries.”
The shortcake itself is now made by volunteers. It’s not anything special, but then, it doesn’t need to be: Raspberry shortcake can hold its own.
“It’s a plain recipe,” Barnard said. “But you get a huge piece.”
The festival draws people from as far as Spokane and Boise. Locals often plan family gatherings or class reunions around the event, Barnard said. People from the area also help put it on; in fact, now it’s mostly run by community volunteers.
“It just is the event for the area,” Barnard said.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Raspberry Festival
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Monastery of St. Gertrude, Cottonwood
COST: Free admission, bring money for food, vendors, race registration
7 a.m. Fun run and walk registration
8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Fun run and walk, pancake breakfast
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Arts and craft vendors, new-used-and-vintage sale, kid’s carnival, car show, live music, art show, community education corner, museum visits, chapel tours and more. Food is available for purchase beginning at 10 a.m.: gourmet hamburgers, barbecue beef sandwiches, hot dogs, raspberry shortcake and raspberry lemonade available for purchase