Ahh Fall. It’s one of our most enjoyable times of year. The trees are ablaze with incredible colors, there’s a cool crisp bite to the air, and everything is suddenly available in the seemingly unescapable flavor of Pumpkin Spice. Perhaps our favorite part of the season though, is that communities nationwide come together with festivals celebrating the bountiful harvest. Of course here in West Virginia they celebrate the fall just a little bit differently: with a Road Kill Cook- Off. Yes you read that correctly, I said Road Kill Cook-Off. Join us as as we explore the local culture at this year’s West Virginia Roadkill Cook-off & Autumn Harvest Festival and see what makes Pocahontas County so special.
The Annual Autumn Harvest Festival and Roadkill Cook-Off is held in the small town of Marlinton,WV located in the heart of Pocahontas county and just 20 miles south of the Snowshoe Ski Resort. The festival draws well over 10,000 visitors to the town in a single day which is impressive when you consider the whole county has about 7500 residents. While the headline event of the festival is definitely the Roadkill Cook-Off, which has drawn the likes of the Food Network and the Travel Channel, there’s a lot more to this annual celebration of local music and culture. For us it was a window into the local life and customs of rural West Virginia, and we came away from the event with a deeper knowledge and appreciation of this amazing local community.
Our morning at the festival began with an oh-so Southern tradition of a Biscuit Bake-Off. If you’ve never had a truly southern biscuit, it might be worth it to drive yourself all the way to the Autumn Harvest Festival just to give one of these bad boys a try. The contest included entries from all over Pocahontas county and included some of the best homemade biscuits I’ve ever tasted. The sweet, savory and combination swavory biscuits were fantastic.
Right after the Biscuit Bake-Off we made our way over to the Roadkill Cook-Off area. We were immediately pummeled by a wide variety of exotic smells that piqued our interest and our appetites. Because the food wasn’t ready yet, we had the opportunity to walk around and just take in the sights and sounds of the festival. It also gave us the opportunity to poke around and find out what delights awaited us at each tent.
This year it looked like venison was the prime ingredient in most of the entrants culinary concoctions. While we were a touch disappointed by the lack of more exotic ingredients as compared to previous festivals, the succulent scents wafting from each tent told us we’d still be in for quite a treat.
Of course there is more to the Roadkill Cook-Off than the food, many of the entrants also took the time to dress up in costumes native to the area.
Of course, the people weren’t the only one’s playing dress up and sampling goodies, there were plenty of four-legged friends around too.
After walking around and working up an appetite with all the sights and smells it was finally time to line up and collect some of the goodies served up for sampling. We collected everything from rabbit stew, to venison chili, to a kettle cooked peach cobbler. Needless to say we were excited…
Then of course it was finally time to be brave and taste some of these exotic concoctions.
Of course I wasn’t the only brave one in town, I was impressed to see this little gal enjoying venison and rabbit.
If you’ve never tried wild game the more pungent flavors take a bit of getting used to. Overall though, we found most of the entree’s to be pretty tasty and accessible to most people. The entrants did a solid job of putting together their dishes, and considering it’s only $5 for unlimited tasting, it’s definitely worth giving them all a shot.
Autumn Harvest Festival
Once we had our fill of exotic foods, it was time to explore the Autumn Harvest Festival and see what other more benign, yet equally delicious food finds we could wrap our lips around. One of the coolest parts though, was that all the food stalls were selling their foods to support one of their local charities. This way you could justify every gluttonous bite as a charitable contribution!
The harvest fest featured a mix of pre-packed foods as well as lots of hot and fresh delights to be consumed on the spot. Our favorite was a GIANT baked potato that could be loaded with all your favorites including chili, cheese, broccoli, and of course bacon. We also made sure to grab an enormous bag of pork cracklins to keep our fair food binge going on for the rest of the week. Oh there were also lots of fresh veggies for sale if that’s your kind of thing… :-)
There was a lot more than food at the Autumn Harvest Festival though. There were also plenty of locally made crafts. I was really impressed by the quality and variety of crafts on display. It was like walking through an outdoor art gallery.
You can’t have a festival without local music and in this category there were absolutely no disappointments. West Virginia is home to it’s own brand of Mountain Folk Music, that features a blend of banjo, fiddle, and guitar songs that baffle you in their complexity of arrangements, while also tempting you to grab a partner and dosey-doe. Throughout the day we were treated to songs from various local bands and quartets on stage as well as impromptu performances by solo fiddlers and guitarists that lined the streets like wandering minstrels.
Perhaps the most impressive display of the day occurred at the end of the day at the Pocahontas County Opera House where they held the Hammons Musical Heritage Celebration.
The Hammons Family is largely considered to be one of the most impactful and significant forces in Appalachian Mountain Music. Their musical heritage consists of nearly 200 years of songs and oral histories that have been passed down from generation to generation. The celebration at the close of the Autumn Harvest Festival brought together members of the community that had all learned and played with the Hammons family over time to tell tales of their interactions with the family as well as play some of their favorite songs.
Free from the polish of a formal stage production, the celebration allowed members of the community to connect together with one binding force, their music. With each performance and tale told, I got to know the community a little bit better while also gaining a deeper understanding of rural West Virginia life. Perhaps most impressive though, was the fact that the musical traditions of the Hammons family are still alive and well as featured performers included the great-great grandson of Sherman Hammons went up on stage.
It’s not often that you are given the opportunity to connect with a community on such a multi-faceted and deep level in a single day. Much to our pleasant surprise though, that’s exactly what happened while visiting the Road Kill Cook-off and Autumn Harvest Festival. What could have easily been just another day tasting food and people watching turned into a vastly enriching experience by really allowing us to get to know the local community. Because every thing at the festival was focused on sharing something local and giving back to the community, it gave us the opportunity to live life like a local and really understand what life as a West Virginian is really like.
Details for the Autumn Harvest Festival and Road Kill Cookoff
200 Eighth Street
Marlinton, WV 24954