Fall is the perfect time for a small-town festival: the summer heat has cooled and harvests are abundant, creating ideal conditions to get outside, mingle with your neighbors, and snack on local treats. Although many small-town festivals center around food, our favorites approached their culinary selections in a unique, unexpected way. And there were a few non-food-related standouts that we couldn’t resist including as well. Herewith are 12 offbeat, small-town fall festivals worth checking out.
1. GIANT OMELETTE CELEBRATION // NOVEMBER 5—6, 2016
ADAM MELANCON VIA FLICKR // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
According to legend, Napoleon and his traveling army once stopped for the night near the town of Bessières in the South of France. A local innkeeper fed Napoleon an omelet that was so good, the French leader ordered the village to round up all its eggs to serve the same dish, on an extremely large scale, to his men the following morning. From this story has grown the French tradition of cooking a massive omelet to feed the poor at Easter—a tradition the Louisiana town of Abbeville has taken for its own omelet celebration, in a move to reconnect the town with its French heritage. For this annual festival, started in 1984, 5000 eggs are paraded through the town to a 12-foot skillet, where chefs whip them up into a Giant Cajun Omelette. The festival also features an egg toss, an egg-cracking contest, and a charity walk, among other family-friendly activities.
2. HARRY POTTER FESTIVAL // OCTOBER 21—23, 2016
As its name attests, this Edgerton, Wisconsin, festival celebrates the wizards brought to life by J.K. Rowling and the magical world in which they live. The festival goes to great lengths to recreate Potter World, offering its own Diagon Alley, Tri Wizard Maze, fully animated patronuses, and mugs of butterbeer. Visiting muggles can ride a broomstick, go on a horcrux hunt, try on a sorting hat, or any number of other activities clearly laid out on the fest’s own Marauder’s Map.
3. CIRCLEVILLE PUMPKIN SHOW // OCTOBER 19—22, 2016
COURTESY THE CIRCLEVILLE PUMPKIN SHOW
Held annually since 1903, this four-day homage to the pumpkin has grown into the country’s sixth-largest festival, attracting more than 400,000 attendees every year. Highlights include the Giant Pumpkin Contest (last year’s winner weighed 1666 pounds) and the equally gigantic pumpkin pie (six feet in diameter), baked every year by local pie-makers from Lindsey’s Bakery. Other attractions include a pumpkin pie-eating contest, seven parades (including one for pets), and pageants to crown Little Miss Pumpkin and Miss Pumpkin Queen. And as promised by the festival’s slogan—"The Greatest Free Show on Earth"—you can enjoy all the festivities sans entry fee.
4. ENNIS HUNTERS FEED // OCTOBER 21, 2016
What started, 30 years ago, as a way for the townspeople of Ennis, Montana, to clear out their freezers, has turned into an annual competition to create the most interesting dishes out of last season’s wild game. Held each year right before the start of rifle season, the cook-off sees home chefs competing in the categories of Best Chili, Best Non-Chili, Most Unusual, and Judge’s Choice. Past entries have included moose chili, elk fajitas, and—in the category of Most Unusual—deer fudge and bear pizza.
5. THE GREAT PUMPKIN CHUCKIN FEST // OCTOBER 22, 2016
Just like Circleville, Wisconsin’s Union Grove hosts a pumpkin festival at this time every year. Its fest, however, has a much different draw: a pumpkin chucking contest. Teams compete in the categories of Trebuchet, Slingshot, and Catapult, in which they attempt to chuck an 8- to 10-pound pumpkin using one of these contraptions that they built themselves. While they're waiting to find out who won—trophies are given out for Machine Design, Team Presentation, Distance and Accuracy, and Good Sportsmanship—they can sample fare from the festival’s Best of the Midwest BBQ Cook-off, which awards prizes in the categories of best chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket.
6. THE INTERNATIONAL RICE FESTIVAL // OCTOBER 20—23, 2016
Also held in honor of one of its state's largest crops, this fest has been hosted by the town of Crowley, Louisiana, since 1937 (not including a four-year hiatus during World War II) and now ranks as one of the state's largest agricultural festivals. The three-day festivities include the Rice Creole and Cookery Contest, a 5K Rice Festival run/walk, and the crowning of the Rice Festival Queen, as well as live music and arts and crafts.
7. THE NATIONAL PEANUT FESTIVAL // NOVEMBER 4—13, 2016
MARSHA VIA FLICKR // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Seeing as a quarter of the nation’s peanuts are grown within a 100-mile radius of this Alabama town, it’s no wonder Dothan, which calls itself the Peanut Capital of the World, hosts this peanut festival every year. The inaugural festival, held in 1938, was a three-day event that featured a pageant, parade, and Dr. George Washington Carver as guest speaker. In the years since, the fest has grown into a 10-day extravaganza that includes live music, livestock shows, amusement rides, a parade, and a cheerleading contest. The pageant remains part of the festivities, as young women from peanut-producing counties in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia compete for the title of Miss National Peanut Festival.
8. TEXAS MUSHROOM FESTIVAL // OCTOBER 22, 2016
Nicknamed the Mushroom Capital of Texas, Madisonville has been hosting this mushroom-centric festival for the past 15 years. Highlights of this year's fest include a gala dinner—whose menu, of course, features mushrooms in each of its four courses—and cooking demos of mushroom-centric recipes. The festival also offers tastings of Texas wines and craft beers in its biergarten, as well as an annual competitive grape stomp.
9. OZARKS BACON FEST // OCTOBER 29, 2016
Bacon lovers, this one’s just the thing for you. This Springfield, Missouri, fest, now in its fourth year, devotes an entire day to celebrating the increasingly gourmet meat, with the region’s artisan bacon makers and chefs offering attendees tastes of bacon-infused treats. The festival also features a bacon-eating contest, crowning whoever can pack away the most meat in two minutes. Since the fest is billed as "a salute to bacon, bourbon and beer," it’s no surprise that craft beer and spirits will be on hand to sample as well—or that festivalgoers must be at least 21 years old to attend.
10. BOGGY BAYOU MULLET FESTIVAL // OCTOBER 21—23, 2016
Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, this Niceville, Florida, festival—called Boggy Bayou after the town’s original name—honors the mullet fish that gave the town’s first inhabitants their main source of sustenance and trade. The weekend-long fest offers attendees plenty of opportunities to sample its namesake food as well as other regional culinary treats like crawfish, shrimp, and, for the truly adventurous, alligator on a stick. The festival is also known for the country music stars who grace its stage; this year’s big names include Confederate Railroad and Chase Bryant.
11. WORLD’S CHAMPIONSHIP DUCK CALLING CONTEST & WINGS OVER THE PRAIRIE FESTIVAL // NOVEMBER 19—26, 2016
COURTESY STUTTGART CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The longest-running duck calling competition, this Stuttgart, Arkansas, contest—the highlight of the city’s Wings Over the Prairie Festival—is now in its 81st year. (Flossy facts: The first-ever champion, Thomas E. Walsh of Greenville, Mississippi, won with calls he produced not with a duck call but in his own throat; only one woman has ever been champion—Stuttgart’s own Pat Peacock, who won in 1955 and 1956.) The contest attracts callers from all over the country and is so competitive that contestants must have won preliminary contests sanctioned by the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce to even enter. The rest of the Wings Over the Prairie festival includes a children’s duck-calling contest, a duck gumbo cook-off, and the Queen Mallard Pageant.
12. CAROLINA BALLOONFEST // OCTOBER 21—23, 2016
North Carolina’s Iredell County has a long history with hot air balloons, having manufactured them since the early 1970s. This annual festival, held in the town of Statesville, has been celebrating that relationship for more than 40 years, making it the second-longest running ballooning event in the country. Twice a day, attendees are treated to the sight of more than 50 hot air balloons rising into the sky; as darkness falls on Saturday night, they can also enjoy the Balloon Glow, as the balloons, lit up from within, shine like lanterns in the sky. As if the festival isn’t lovely enough, a percentage of its proceeds are donated to local nonprofits.