American as Apple Pie: Food Festivals Around the U.S.

by Molly Mann

American as Apple Pie: Food Festivals Around the U.S.

I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I could out-eat you any day of the week. I’m determined to taste everything before I die, and I live in a nation that supports me in this mission. Maybe one day, I’ll drive cross-country and hit all these scrumptious food festivals along the way. Look out, barbecued pork and chocolate—here I come!


Great Grains at the Buckwheat Festival
From September 30 to October 3, 2010, folks at the Buckwheat Festival in Preston County, West Virginia, will smother buckwheat cakes in butter and syrup or applesauce and eat them along with pork sausage patties that are ground, seasoned, and formed on-site, according to the festival website. The cakes are deliciously dense and slightly sour, a flavor and texture that contrasts well with the gooey, sweet mixtures you pour on top of them. Dig into a tall stack while you watch Queen Ceres and King Buckwheat accept their braided crowns.


Why buckwheat? The first Buckwheat Festival was held in 1938, late in the Great Depression, when rural West Virginia farmers, frustrated by the slow pace of economic recovery in the region, began to place buckwheat at the center of their harvest. Though it was mainly for animal feed at the time, the farmers believed that they could spur agricultural economic growth by sowing it, because it has a short growing season and is nutritionally potent. Buckwheat became the symbol of this end-of-harvest festival, when farmers can relax and have fun with their families. Oh, and stuff their faces, too.


Nuts About Peanuts
George Washington Carver and Jimmy Carter exalted the peanut to national agricultural-symbol status. Today, there’s even a National Peanut Festival (NPF), held each fall since 1938, to give thanks to the goober. This year’s event will take place from October 1 to November 7, 2010.


The festival takes place in the “Peanut Capital of the World”: Dothan, Alabama, where more than 65 percent of the peanuts farmed in the United States are grown within a one-hundred-mile radius, according to the NPF website. Activities include amusement rides, a petting zoo, live music, beauty pageants, arts-and-crafts displays, contests of all kinds, a parade, and, of course, all the peanuts you can eat. The highlight of the festival is the peanut recipe contest—all entries must feature peanuts, peanut butter, peanut oil, or other peanut products.


Eating You Out of House and Home
A gingerbread house, that is. Provo, Utah, is the site of the Gingerbread House Festival each year. The 2010 event takes place November 11–15.



One winter, folk artist Eric Dowdle went skiing in Provo and was carried off the mountain with two broken legs. According to the festival website, while recovering, Eric decorated cookies with his children. He accidentally dropped a gingerbread man one day, and both of its legs broke off. Eric fixed the edible man with some icing until no one could tell it had been broken. At that point, in November 1999, he decided to use his confectionary skills to help human children whose lives might need a little mending.


The festival proceeds go to worthy organizations like Learning-for-Life and the Utah PTA Mission. So decorate a house (or watch one being decorated) and collect karma points. Then dig in and taste how sweet charity is.


Hot Hot Hot!
January 28–30, 2011, is the time to get fired up for Zestfest in Irving, Texas. Hosted by Chile Pepper magazine, Zestfest brings together lovers of bold and spicy food from all over the country for cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs, live music, and lots of food samples that will make your eyes water and your ears steam.


Zestfest begins with the Fiery Food Challenge, the longest-running, most prestigious competition of spicy foods in the industry, according to the festival website. The categories for foods entered include hot, really hot, spicy, zesty, and fiery. Contestants who enter the best tongue-burners receive coveted Golden Chile Awards, plus additional prizes. Can you take the heat?


Did You Say “Chocolate”?
A festival. Of chocolate. What more do I have to say? From January 15 to 17, 2011, taste the wares of more than thirty vendors offering all kinds of chocolate confections and creations. Make your own chocolate candy and chocolate mousse. Watch pastry chefs compete, salute gluttony with an ice-cream-eating competition, learn about chocolate and wine pairings, or just do what I plan to do: stick your head under one of those amazing chocolate fountains and pronounce yourself the happiest you’ve ever been.


And that’s just the list of activities for adults; kids can create and decorate their own confections, learn all about chocolate, and drive their parents crazy with some serious sugar highs. It’s fun for the whole family, really.


Eating Our Way Across the USA
Americans love to eat. Instead of worrying about the national obesity epidemic, let’s embrace our nation’s foodie foundations and chow down on some truly great festival food.