It's summer: Time to chow down on hamburgers, potato chips, and ice cream.
But what if it's raining, or so hot that the idea of firing up the grill seems nuts?
Then it's time to visit someplace that makes these summertime foods for an educational experience the whole family can sink their teeth into.
Herr's is one of the few companies that still lets visitors traipse around its food plant. The visitor center's circus-y, colorful decor and introductory video starring late company founder Jim Herr and the company's mascot, puppet chipmunk Chipper (Chip-Herr — get it?), are also charmingly retro. (The video's depiction of a devastating 1951 factory fire features Fireman Chipper battling a blazing paper drawing of the building.)
Visitors see fewer than a dozen of Herr's film-reported 1,500 employees on the tour of that plant's highly mechanized successor. Marching around windowed corridors and over open catwalks, you can see — and even more rewarding, smell — of all the major snack foods that Herr's makes.
Pretzel dough is extruded through metal plates cut in that twisty shape, tortilla chips bags are formed around their contents, and potatoes rush into a machine for their first bath before slicing and cooking. At that point, tour guide Kyle Grasty dons a hairnet to fetch the group potato chips hot from the fryer. (And yes, they will be the best potato chips you have ever eaten.)
Later, Grasty draws attention to some errant chips on the factory floor and says Herr's staff will pick those up, "put them in an Utz bag, and sell them for half-off," which gets some deserved chuckles. Herr's actually feeds the errant chips to cattle (thus explaining that aura of nacho cheese about some T-bones).
9 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays (live production Mon.-Wed.), 271 Old Baltimore Pike, Nottingham, Pa. $3-$4, 800-284-7488, www.herrs.com.
This ice cream maker's "Experience" isn't a tour of the factory (that's six miles away) so much as a kids' museum about ice cream. There are no tour guides, or any set order for encountering this brick former silk factory's many interactive exhibits and games.
Young children will gravitate to the ball pit and tunnel somewhat spuriously linked to ice cream pasteurization and homogenization. Grammar-school kids might like to star in an ice cream TV commercial. Parents and grands may have the patience to listen to audio of milk deliverymen reminiscing or view the factory live cam. But almost anyone will like milking the life-sized mechanical cow, playing the Pac-Man-like Bacteria Blaster video game, and eating unlimited amounts of free ice cream.
For extra money, you can also make your own real ice cream flavor in the "taste lab." Only do it if you have a big appetite and enough restraint not to use all the offered flavorings, swirls, and inclusions (as in my big pint of Confusion).
10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, 301 Linden St., Columbia, Pa. $5.45-$15.40, 800-847-4884, www.turkeyhillexperience.com.
No special credentials are necessary to spend time with one of the people behind the country's favorite brand-name hamburger and hot dog rolls. This tour is routinely led by third-generation Martin's Famous Pastry Shoppe family member Julie Martin.
The outline of the Martin's story is evident upon seeing the company's original garage/bakery inside their Golden Roll Visitor's Center, and comparing it with the 30-acre factory right outside.
Visitors aren't allowed in that factory, and so a tour basically consists of Julie Martin talking and showing you things, including a couple of videos. Among the things learned on an hour-plus visit:
On a tour with kids, Julie Martin will also demonstrate old baking equipment and ask questions that touch on math, science — even our system of government. She says most kids can't identify the scale and weights that her grandfather used to measure flour and dough. "And if they don't know that, how can they understand the scales of justice?" she wonders.