5 Fall Food Festivals
In West Virginia, fall is synonymous with two things: football and food. This year, take a break from weekend sports and head to some of our state’s small towns to enjoy traditions as old as the hills—festivals that focus on food!
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The Clay County Golden Delicious Festival
In 1915, the discovery of the Golden Delicious apple in Clay County made international headlines. It was touted as one of the most important food discoveries of the century. In fact, the Golden Delicious apple is now the second most popular variety in the world. In 1973, locals decided it was time to celebrate this great accomplishment and founded the Clay County Golden Delicious Festival.
Celebrating its 38th year, the festival is a four-day event held in Clay, a small town along the Elk River, with an apple pie and cake baking contest, a parade, pageants, arts and crafts, quilting contests, and live music. It is a homecoming for all those with Clay County roots. No matter how far flung they’ve become, they’ll return home for this event, bringing their lawn chairs and staking out space along Main Street for the grand parade. One of the big draws is the music. Every evening, hundreds of folks gather up the hillsides, along the river, and in the courtyard in front of the Courthouse to listen to bands such as John Lilly & The Cheatin’ Hearts, The Dave McCormick Band, and more. This year, Clay County native and esteemed folk musician David Morris will make an appearance. So, head to Clay for a bushel of apples and bucket loads of fun!
West Virginia Pumpkin Festival
With October comes vibrant foliage, sweater weather, and festivals galore. Milton is among the many West Virginia towns that celebrate autumn, and this year the tradition continues with the Pumpkin Festival, showcasing the pride and joy of local farmers.
Held at Pumpkin Park in Cabell County, the Pumpkin Festival originally began in 1985 as a way for farmers to raise and sell their newly harvested pumpkins. The festival displays thousands of pumpkins every year and is a haven for pumpkin fanatics who crave pumpkin bread, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin pie, and other treats. “We have the best food for a festival, bar none,” says Barbara Brooks, festival secretary. “You can buy anything pumpkin you want here.”
This year, the festival takes place October 6 to October 9 and will feature activities such as the largest pumpkin contest, a Civil War reenactment, musical performances, apple butter making demonstrations, and arts and crafts.
“Economically, it’s great,” Brooks says. “We bring in more than 50,000 people over the course of the festival. It’s a chance for arts and crafts people to display their wares, a place where the kids can learn, and yet the parents can enjoy it as well.”
The RoadKill Cook-off Festival
You read that right. Roadkill. But don’t turn up your nose and pass judgment unless you attend! This lighthearted festival—the Autumn Harvest and RoadKill Cook-off Festival in Pocahontas County—is great family fun. And no, real roadkill isn’t used. But be warned, the concoctions that are served aren’t what you’d typically find on your dining room table. All dishes featured in the festival must incorporate animals commonly found dead on the side of the road—such as deer, squirrels, groundhog, snakes, and even chicken or turkey—as their main ingredient. “Frogut’s Jumpin’ Jamabalaya,” which includes frog meat, sausage, and chicken, “Smeared Hog with Groundhog Gravy,” or “Bear Butt Appetizers,” made with real bear meat, and “Slime Juice,” a concoction of grapes, sherbet, and ginger ale, are just some of the award-winning dishes.
Here’s what to expect: several food booths and displays are set up around the town square. Each contestant decorates his or her booth, dons a costume, and serves up creatively named culinary creations—all in hopes of winning a prize. You purchase tickets and travel from booth to booth, sampling the fare. Expect some pleasant surprises. And don’t worry, “Judges will deduct points for every chipped tooth resulting from gravel not removed from the RoadKill,” the official rules warn. “All judges have been tested for cast-iron stomachs and have sworn under oath to have no vegetarian tendencies.”
The RoadKill Cook-off has received national attention since it was added to the Autumn Harvest Festival in 1990. The Food Network, the Travel Channel, and the Discovery Channel have all traveled to this tiny town and featured the event, but it has also received its fair share of criticism for perpetuating stereotypes. But the naysayers are missing the point. It is meant to be fun. It is meant to be funny. And it brings tens of thousands of people and tourism dollars to Marlinton. And that’s a good thing.
The festival also includes a dog show, a Rockin’ Redneck parade, a Possum Trot 5K run, and a wide array of crafters and artists who set up booths along Main Street. From jewelry to birdhouses to furniture, you’ll find something other than the memories of a unique culinary experience to take home.