For one weekend a year, Virginia City goes nuts. The city is inundated with gonadologists seeking to prove their stones with one of the most unique ingredients, lamb fries.
Saturday ushers in the 15th annual Mountain Oyster Fry, held in the parking lot of the Bucket of Blood Saloon on C Street. The contest features a dozen teams of cooks competing for bragging rights and trophies using the main ingredient, lamb testicles flown in from New Zealand.
The stoves fire up at 10 a.m. with judging scheduled to begin at 11:45 and public sampling slated for noon. Winners in the categories of Best Overall Taste, Most Creative Use of Flavors, Best Booth, Best First Time Cook and Best Presentation will be announced at 2 p.m. Samples are available at all booths while supplies last for $2.
The event serves as a kick-off for the St. Patrick's Day weekend events, including a parade beginning at noon Sunday and a new addition: a leprechaun train ride on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad.
The train rides will take place, weather permitting, at 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $7 for adults and $3.50 for children 12 and under.
The Sierra Highlanders Pipe Band will serve as the grand marshals of the parade following their 12th place in the world championships in Scotland last fall.
Yet the main event remains the Mountain Oyster Fry. Teams include Great Balls of Fire from the Delta Saloon, Los Huevos Pelones (Hairless Nuts) from Bonanza Produce and Famous Victorian Balls from Piper's Opera House.
Margo Memmott, director of Piper's, will be cooking in the event for the first time along with friends Jen Sigler and Mary Ringhoff, all of Reno.
"This is Piper's third year having a booth, but I have never done it before," Memmott, 30, said. "Our team has it narrowed down to a couple of recipes, but (the fries) will most likely be prepared in a way regular oysters are prepared."
The competition features up to 20 pounds of fries per booth and all cooking must be done in the parking lot, without the advantage of electrical plug-ins.
The event also marks the return of Jo-Ellen Fonzo, cooking with Lee Parker on the team representing the Mark Twain Saloon. Fonzo competed in the event for 10 years before taking off the last two. She said her secret to success is to spice it up.
"It's all about the spice. You can add almost anything to them and it works," Fonzo, 48, of Dayton, said.
This year, Fonzo's team will be going Italian, using a lasagna recipe as the basis for their entry.
"We are going to try it and if we don't win, there's always next year," Fonzo said.
As for the stigma attached to the event's pivotal ingredient, the contestants agree that for first-timers, you just have to grow some - well, you know.
"You got to taste it, there's so much going on," Fonzo said. "You just got to do it."
n Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1217.