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Funny Food Festivals

Article by Kathleen Walls

Agri-tourism is an important new trend in travel. Taken in its broadest form it is a means promoting any agricultural, aqui-cultural or ranching enterprise in an area.   One form of agri-tourism has been going on for a long time. Local food festivals are a way a town or area promotes and brags about its favorite local agricultural product.  I have gathered a few of the most unusual festivals of this kind.

Boll WeevilLots of towns have festivals celebrating the local food favorite but only one that I could find has a festival celebrating a pest. The Enterprise  Boll Weevil Festival in Enterprise Alabama recognized the boll weevil that decimated Alabama and other southern states cotton crops in the early 20th century. But all clouds have a silver lining and this pesky insect caused farmers to diversify and grow more food crops such as, peanuts,  corn and livestock. The town of Enterprise recognized this as a positive step in the state's agricultural growth and in 1919 they erected the world's only monument to an agricultural pest, the boll weevil, recognizing it as a  "herald of prosperity."  

Grits Roll Credit World Grits FestivalOne of the primary crops that benefited from the switch from cotton to food products was corn. In the South, one of the best uses of corn is grits. The World Grits Festival  held annually in St. George, South Carolina honors this beloved side dish. For you Northerners who have never tasted it, this is a wonderful way to sample the many faces of grits. It's not just a breakfast side dish. No, it can be fried, baked, mixed with cheese and my all time favorite cooked with cheese, tomato pieces and topped with crumbled bacon. The imagination is the only limit when it comes to great ways to cook grits.

Sorghum FestUnion County, Georgia in the early days was famous for two suburb products that came in a mason jar. Only one was legal, the rich sorghum syrup that served as a sweetener for the isolated mountain folks. Blairsville, Georgia is the site of the sweetest festival in the country, The Sorghum Festival.  Sorghum making is almost a lost art today but in pioneer times, sorghum was the upland South's answer to sugar cane. In the mountains of Georgia, every village and many of the farms had a mill for producing the thick sweet syrup similar to molasses. Today, there are less than thirty.

 Blairsville and Union County celebrate the unique sweetener with a no holds barred festival on the last three weekends of October. A highlight of the festival is the production of sorghum. The stripped cane is run through a grinder turned by mule power. The syrup is then cooked in a huge open trough, filtered and bottled before your eyes.

One of the favorite contest is the Biscuit Eating Contest. Each contest must swipe the biscuit through sorghum then devour it. The winner usually shovels down forty to fifty in fifteen minutes. Other contests include pole climbing, log sawing, rock throwing and horseshoe throwing. Arts and crafts common to the Appalachian folks are produced before your eyes.  Entertainment is provided by bluegrass bands, cloggers and gospel bands.

The festival parade is held downtown on the first Saturday of the festival. The revelers and floats are decorated in “old time’ motif. Bands, horseback riders and costumed marchers add to the flavor. Everyone of them are throwing candy to you as fast as they can.




" src="AT_Pawpaw_Cd_fest.jpg" style="float: right" width="319">Another Appalachian product is honored with the Ohio Pawpaw Festival held each September in Albany, Ohio. The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is North America's largest native tree fruit. Its range extends somewhat beyond the Appalachian area but  Albany in Southern Ohio claims to be home to some of the biggest and best wild pawpaw patches anywhere. The fruit has a wonderful creamy texture and a tropical flavor.  It's high in nutrients and was reputed to be George Washington's favorite dessert

The annual Pawpaw Cook-off at the festival proves it is not just a dessert. Some of the past winners have used it in chili, wings, barbeque sauce and even a Pawpaw pizza.

On Saturday the festival admits your best friend and even has activities for the four legged guests. Of course us humans are invited to take part in all sort of activities ranging from pawpaw eating contests to the Double Nickel Bicycle Ride, a 55-mile road ride that starts and ends at the festival and wends through Zaleski State Forest. It's fun and food and who can ask for a better combination.Chitlin Strut Credit Festival

Moving further South in both location and food choice you can visit the Chitlin' Strut honoring chitterlings that is held in Salley, South Carolina. For those of you who have never met a chitterling, they are.. well, there is no delicate way to put it. They are pig intestines. Now before you run for the nearest toilet bowl yelling "yuck!" give them a try. After all, thousands of people attend this festival on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and consume tones of these fried delicacies.

It's a great family affair. Pets are welcome but I might think twice about taking my pet pig to this event.

Besides eating chitterlings, you can enjoy a parade, beauty pageant, carnival rides, and a Chitlin Strut Idol Contest as well as a --you guessed it-- a hawg-calling contest.

RMOF Credit VCCVBYou may think chitterlings are strange things to eat but it gets even stranger. How about testicals. Yup. there are several festivals commemorating those little balls of flavor. The Rocky Mountain Oyster Festival and St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Virginia City, Nevada, held on the Saturday after S. Patrick's Day, typically draws an average of 3,000 people with about 12,000 tastes of the delicacy de jure also known as "cowboy caviar", "Montana tendergroins", "dusted nuts", "bull fries" or "swinging beef." The tasting is held in the parking lot next to the appropriately named "Bucket of Blood."

Virginia City is not alone in its unique cuisine. Throckmorton, Texas has its Rocky Mountain Oyster Festival  in May. Clinton, Montana has its Testical Festival the end of July and first of August.
Frogleg Fest poster

Of course, mammals aren't the only weird culinary delicacy. Fellsmere Frogleg Festival is Florida's entry for the weird and wonderful category. The festival began in 1990 as an effort to raise money for children's recreational facilities. That first festival sold around 400 frog leg dinners and was thrilled. Today the festival draws around 80,000 people as sells about 7,000 dinners.

Besides the frog legs, visitors enjoy over 100 arts and crafts booths, a rodeo, live entertainment, mechanical bull riding instructions and a host of other fun activities. It is held annually in January.

Mudbug FestMy birth state of Louisiana is known for its swamps so it's only natural they enjoy some strange delicacies from the water. Shreveport Mudbug Madness began in 1984 as a two-day street festival in downtown Shreveport as an answer to all the critics who accused Shreveport of "being more like Texas than Louisiana." This festival honoring Louisiana's favorite shellfish proves the critics wrong.  Mudbug Madness is now one of Louisiana’s largest and most popular Cajun festivals. Besides the crawfish (natives call them "crawfish" not "crayfish") you will be overwhelmed with choices of  mouth-watering Cajun cuisine and bouncing along to the sound of Cajun, Zydeco, Blues and Jazz artists. The festival has become  a four-day extravaganza each Memorial Day weekend. It has achieved  national recognition as one of the Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 Events, drawing as many as 56,000 people in one day.

Three stages of top-notch entertainment will be performing. There are crawfish eating contests for all ages. This year in honor of the festival's 30th anniversary, they are having a special fireworks show. It's more fun than a barrel of well... crawfish.

Alligator FestivalWhen you think of Louisiana, there is one other animal that comes to mind, the toothy, scaly alligator. Naturally, there is the Alligator Festival honoring this Louisiana critter and the succulent meat found in its tail. If you haven't tried it, don't knock it. It really taste better than chicken.

The Rotary Club of St. Charles Parish, Louisiana began the event in Lulling 33 years ago as their first fundraiser.

The Club wanted a long term project that would reflect the ideals and goals of Rotary International.   In 1980, one of the members of the Club, Archie Mollere, was on the St. Charles Parish School Board.  He donated his salary from the School Board, $ 250.00, to the Club to use it to award a Scholarship to a Graduating High School Senior from one of the two Public High Schools.  Also, another member, Bob Becker, was VP of Rathborne Land Co. and managed their properties.  Some of the properties he managed was swamp land and filled with all kinds of nature’s creatures.  At that time, the alligator was being taken off the endangered species list.  Together, Archie and Bob came up with the idea to have an Alligator Festival and hold it during alligator hunting season in September. 

The first Alligator Festival was held on part of the Irons driving range at the Willowdale Country Club.  It soon out grew the driving range and the Festival was moved to the grounds at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Hahnville.  In 1985, the Alligator Festival moved again to a site on Hwy 90 in Boutte and then next moved across the street. When Walmart was built, the Alligator Festival moved in 2000 to its present site; St. Charles Parish’s Dept. of Recreation’s Westbank Bridge Park under the Mississippi River’s I-310 Hale Boggs Bridge.

Now, on the last full weekend in September, thousands of visitors from all over converge on the little town of Lulling to enjoy the festival. The main project which the festival funds, and the one the members are most proud of, is awarding scholarships to the local graduating high school seniors. The club has awarded scholarships up to this time in excess of $ 600,000.00.  It is the largest private scholarship provider to local high school seniors in St. Charles parish.

Each  section is run by one of the members aided by volunteers who are members,  wives, husbands, children and friends. Aside from many different recipes of alligator, you will feast on lots of other Cajun food and be entertained by live music. For the athletically inclined, there is an Alligator Stomp Fun Run or you can go two weeks before the festival and catch the Alligator Festival Golf Tournament.  

boudinOf course, you can't go to Louisiana and not sample boudin. It's a sausage made from pork and rice and other ingredients stuffed into a casing. The original boudin contained pig blood but today, it is mostly the boudin blanc which doesn't contain the blood. Scott, Louisiana bills itself as "The Boudin Capital of the World." They have started  a annual Boudin Festival to honor this Cajun food. However, Lafayette, who holds an annual Boudin Cookoff disputes the title as does  Broussard, 12 miles to the southeast of Scott. Broussard formerly held the Boudin Capital of the World title they say lawmakers gave them in the late 1970s. They used to host a boudin Festival and crown a Boudin King but no longer do so. Well, my money's on the town that holds the festival.

That's just a sampling of unusual food festivals celebrating their local culinary favorite. Check around and I bet you will find a lot more. What a fun way to try some new dishes and meet some great local people.

 

Thanks to Lulling Alligator Festival, Shreveport Mudbug Madness, Ohio Pawpaw Festival, World Grits Festival, Fellsmer Frogleg Festival, South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism and Virginia City CVB for use of their images.

 

 



 




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