Fun, Funny, and Funky Food Festivals
Festival [fes-tuh-vuh l]
•a periodic commemoration, anniversary, or celebration
•a period or program of festive activities, cultural events, or entertainment
•gaiety; revelry; merrymaking.
Oh, who doesn’t love a festival, a cultural celebration, a public party? In my little corner of the world, we have an annual Apple Squeeze at harvest time. Other places in the United States show their own civic pride in various activities throughout the year.
Most sound fun and entertaining, some may be a bit quirky, and (at least one) simply defies description.
Allow me to be your tour guide:
The Fun and Entertaining
Banana Split Festival, Wilmington, Ohio
Rumor has it that in the winter of 1907, business was rather slow at Hazard’s Restaurant in Wilmington, Ohio. The owner, Ernest Hazard, proposed a contest to concoct a new dish, something so unique that the local college students would be enticed to visit--and become new customers.
The winning entry consisted of a banana, sliced from end to end, topped with three scoops of ice cream. The ice cream was then adorned with chocolate sauce, strawberries, crushed pineapple, and garnished with crushed nuts, whipped cream, and cherries—the banana split.
June 2016 will mark the 22nd year of an annual event to celebrate the birth of this all-American dessert. In addition to a Masters Competition between local chefs, there will be live music, a cruise-in and classic car show, a 5K run, a build-your-own banana split booth, and even a banana split eating contest. There should be something a-peeling for all ages.
National Buffalo Wing Festival, Buffalo, New York
In 2001 Bill Murray appeared in the live-action animated film “Osmosis Jones.” Murray played the part of Frank Detorre, zoo keeper, slob, and compulsive eater whose bucket list including participation in the Super Bowl of junk food, The National Buffalo Wing Festival. There’s only one problem with the storyline--in 2001 there was no “National Buffalo Wing Festival.” That’s where Drew Cerza (aka Wing King) steps in. He decided that, in celebration of the food that bears his city’s name, a festival needed to happen (talk about life imitating art).
Among the many activities one can look forward to are bobbing for wings, the naming of Miss Buffalo Wing, and (of course) the U.S. Chicken Wing Eating Championship.
National Cornbread Festival South Pittsburg, Tennessee
The National Cornbread Festival of South Pittsburg, Tennessee was born of one part civic pride and one part economic necessity. A new mega-shopping center and corresponding highway bypass had resulted in a drastic erosion of the little town’s tax base. As a result town leaders and concerned citizens banded together with a “God helps those who help themselves” attitude. They proposed a “Grand Annual Festival” to promote the sights, sounds, and people of South Pittsburg.
Today people come from everywhere to enjoy music, learn the history, and taste the cornbread. The new infusion of revenues has revitalized the community. “Closed” buildings are being reopened as stores and restaurants, streets can now be landscaped, the library has been able to add to their collection and make significant upgrades, and ball fields have been restored. Sounds like a winner to me.
Schmeckfest, Freeman, South Dakota
If you uttered the word “schmeckfest,” would your mother wash your mouth out with soap? Well, my dear mother is of German-Russian heritage, so I can introduce this fair to you without fear of an Ivory Soap punishment.
According to Wikipedia:
Schmeckfest (festival of tasting) is an annual four-day festival in Freeman, South Dakota, that celebrates the heritage and culture of Germans from Russia Mennonites who emigrated to North America. Established in 1959, Schmeckfest showcases the traditional foods, crafts and talents of the Freeman community with an ethnic meal, demonstrations and displays and a musical theater production. Schmeckfest has been held every spring since and has grown to accommodate more than 5,000 guests every year. The event is held at Freeman Academy, a grade 1 to 12 private school, and raises about $90,000 annually for the school.
The celebration wasn’t always this BIG! When it first began it was a one-day festival. In 1960 it was lengthened to two days to satisfy the request of meal tickets. And then it expanded to three. The celebration continued until in 2005 the decision was made to extend Schmeckfest over two consecutive weekends in March.
What happens at Schmeckfest? First, there is a meal which showcases the cultural foods of this ethnic group. Please don’t come to this event expecting hamburgers and cotton candy—you can find those at any country fair. Instead, enjoy beautifully home-cooked fare such as noodle soup, fried potatoes, bratwurst, beef stew, and homemade breads. There are demonstrations—sausage making, rope making, spinning, and how to make noodles, breads and cookies.
These wonderful people also present a musical each year. The productions that have entertained thousands of visitors since 2000 are:
- Hello, Dolly! - 2000
- The Secret Garden - 2001
- Carousel - 2002
- Oliver! - 2003
- Lucky Stiff - 2004
- Guys & Dolls - 2005
- Cinderella - 2006
- The Pajama Game - 2007
- The Sound of Music - 2008
- Into the Woods - 2009
- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat- 2010
- Kiss Me, Kate - 2011
- The Wizard of Oz - 2012
- Fiddler on the Roof - 2013
- Children of Eden - 2014
- Big River – 2015
In 2016 the musical production will be “The Music Man."
The Okra Strut, Irmo, South Carolina
Once upon a time there was a little town named Irmo. A very tiny town, without a public library. The Lake Murray-Irmo Woman's Club wanted to rectify that situation, but the vast amount of money that would be needed for a library were beyond their humble fund-raising abilities. Until one day they heard local radio host Gene McKay opine:
“What were these Ancient Irmese like? Probably short people—a farming tribe who lived off okra!”
Later that year, the Woman’s Club held an arts and crafts fair at the Seven Oaks Park to benefit the library fund. Arts, and crafts…and fried okra; this was the advent of the Okra Strut. Seven years and countless servings of okra later, the coffers of the fund were full, and the library was built.
The tradition of the Okra Strut continues today, now sponsored by the Town of Irmo, the Town Council and the Okra Strut Commission. This two-day celebration features a street dance with a live band, a parade (the largest in South Carolina), amusement park rides, a petting zoo, and of course lots and lots of food—including okra. The funds raised are put back into the community and are used for scholarships and improvement of public areas.
- Humongous Fungus Fest| Atlas Obscura
Covering 37 subterranean acres, this Armillaria gallic is a famous fungus with its own festival
The Slightly Quirky
BugFest, Raleigh, NC
Every year, in September, things get a bit buggy at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. BugFest entertains at least 35,000 visitors each year with over 100 exhibits, crafts, games and (for the brave of heart) the Café Insecta where bug dishes are prepared by local chiefs.
Best part of all—it’s free!
- 5,000 small eggs
- 75 green bell peppers, chopped
- 50 pounds onions, chopped
- 1 ½ gallons vegetable oil
- 52 pounds butter
- 6 ¼ gallons milk
- 4 gallons chopped green onion tops
- 2 gallons finely chopped parsley
- Tabasco sauce
Giant Omelette Celebration, Abbeville, Louisiana
Our story begins in the south of France, in the town of Bessieres where, according to legend, a local innkeeper prepared an omelette for Napoleon. This humble meal was so well received that Napoleon ordered the townspeople to collect all the eggs in the village. With these a huge omelette was prepared to feed his army. Thus preparing eggs for the poor at Easter time became an annual celebration.
Fast forward to 1984 and the city of Abbeville, Louisiana, a city with a centuries old French heritage. Three members of the Abbeville chamber of commerce visited France and attended the annual omelette festival. Thus, filled with a strong desire to bring Abbeville closer to its French heritage and with bold enthusiasm for the celebration, they held the first Giant Omelette Celebration in 1985.
Every year, in the first weekend of November, thousands of people gather in the heart of Abbeville, in Magdalen Square. There they enjoy an antique car show, an art exhibit, live music entertainment, and the cooking of a 5,000-egg omelette.
And the One That Defies Description
West Virginia Road Kill Cook-Off, Marlinton, West Virginia
The Annual Autumn Harvest Festival and Road Kill Cook-Off are held in the small town of Marlinton, West Virginia, Pocahontas County, just 20 miles south of the Snowshoe Ski Resort. This gathering draws more than 10,000 visitors in a single day, which is impressive when you consider that the population of the entire county is only 7,500. But, the celebration has been featured by the Food Network and the Travel Channel, so its fame is no longer confined to the local populace.
Actual road kill is not used, but participants are encouraged to use the meat of animals that would normally be found at the edge of the road. It’s all done in jest and is not to be taken too seriously. There are cash prizes for best-of-show, and also a parade, 5K run, and a large array of displays by artists and crafters.