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LEWISTON – The nearly deserted midway, the easy parking and the bored-looking vendors told their own story on a rainy Saturday afternoon: the Niagara County Peach Festival took a hit from the weather.

But with today’s forecast much improved, Kiwanis Club organizers are hoping that the crowds return as they did Friday night, when the 56th annual festival opened successfully.

The event in Academy Park on Center Street continues from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and the turnout is more than a matter of pride.

“I believe there are 56 organizations looking for donations or cash,” said Gary Rose, co-chairman of the peach shortcake concession. “This is our biggest fundraiser of the year.”

Most of those who did brave the wet weather were gathered under the peach shortcake tent, where the festival’s signature delicacy was dished out.

“When it starts to rain, everybody comes under the tent and gets shortcake,” said Paul Orsi, a past president of the Lewiston Kiwanis.

Rose said Singer Farms of Olcott, owned by Jim Bittner, had supplied 5½ to six tons of peaches, with another ton and a half on standby in his cold storage building.

The Kiwanians never skimp on the peaches, either. Each $5 serving of shortcake is thoroughly buried in peaches and then covered with a mountain of whipped cream.

Often the actual shortcake is invisible, but it’s there. The Kiwanis ordered 500 dozen from DiCamillo’s Bakery in Niagara Falls, Rose said.

“We’re very generous,” said Rose, who was pumping the whipped cream from a hose connected to a pressurized cylinder. “They insist. They want people to be happy and they want them to come back next year.”

Frank Fracassi, shortcake co-chairman, said the recipe contained in each 64-ounce cylinder is four quarts of heavy cream, five ounces of rock-candy syrup and a charge of nitrous oxide as propellent. Rose said they expect to use 500 quarts of cream during the weekend.

Farmers selling their fruit by the basket said this has been an excellent year for peaches. Mike Tuck of Sanger Farms in Youngstown said, “The quality was exceptional this year and the numbers are just phenomenal because of the rain, the wet spring.”

The weather caused preliminary events in the Peach Blossom, Peach Fuzz and Peach Queen contests to be moved to the Lewiston Fire Company hall, but assuming good weather, the crownings will occur on the main stage tonight.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com