For 22 years, crowds have been growing and crowing at the World Chicken Festival in London, strutting and clucking for a $100 prize for the best chicken imitator, gobbling chicken fried in the world’s largest known skillet, and enjoying such events as the Chick Olympics—egg hunt, spoon race, egg toss, and chicken scratch. Talk about a “laugh till you lay an egg” spirit-lifter.
“It’s fun—period,” festival founder and coordinator Ken Harvey cackles. “You mention ‘Chicken Festival’ and people always laugh. We don’t take our contests too seriously.”
There’s also a cooking contest, hot wings eating contest, beauty pageant, car show to benefit Shriner children’s hospitals, live music, and a gospel extravaganza.
Throughout September, festivals hold sway in dozens of towns that go all out to embrace Kentucky’s agricultural heritage by honoring—and indulging in—regional food specialties, from the ridiculous (above) to the sublime (spoonbread warm from the oven).
Berea celebrates the 102-year-old Boone Tavern’s famous comfort food at its 15th annual Spoonbread Festival. You can pig out at a spoonbread eating contest, then waddle over to peruse handmade arts and crafts.
In a tongue-in-jowl salute to pork, Lebanon offers yet another opportunity to overindulge at the Marion County Country Ham Days, complete with a hog-calling contest, 5K race, car show, food vendors, and a PIGasus Parade with more than 100 entries.
“The festival began 42 years ago when several gentlemen began bragging about who cured the best ham,” says Stacy Mattingly of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce. “They had a contest and ham breakfast, and the festival’s been growing ever since.”
Competition is hot for the top country ham producer, and folks fork down ham, beans and corn bread, and rib-eye sandwiches. New this year is an outdoor concert on Saturday night, featuring Jason Michael Carroll.
Grills will be smokin’ at the sixth annual Grillin’ & Chillin’ BBQ Cookoff held at Diamond Lake Resort near Owensboro, the self-proclaimed “barbecue capital of the world.” Some 48 teams will operate smokers in this competition, sanctioned by the governor as the state barbecue championship.
An innards-warming stew that’s totally Kentucky, burgoo began as a bring-whatever-meat-you-have-
for-the-pot dish for get-togethers, or as old-timers declared, “whatever didn’t make it across the road.” At the Anderson County Burgoo Festival, only USDA-inspected meat is cooked for at least eight hours in a pot. Activities include a kids’ pedal tractor pull and a military service.
A six-day salute to the state beverage draws crowds from all over the world to Bardstown, where distilleries produce the major ingredient in Derby mint juleps. The Kentucky Bourbon Festival is crammed with activities, from a Jim Beam Cooking School and a black-tie gala, to a bourbon-and-food pairing, and the World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay Contest.
Contests highlight the Monroe County Watermelon Festival, which grew from a 4-H project 32 years ago. Head to Tompkinsville to compete in melon eating, seed spitting, and melon decorating. The big draw, says Susan Turner of the Monroe County Extension office, is the weigh-in for the largest melon. “The record so far is 176 pounds. It took three men to lift it onto the scales.”
The festival, she adds, is a homecoming for many locals. As is the Morgan County Sorghum Festival in West Liberty, now 41 years old, where you can watch a mule-drawn cane mill in action and salivate over steaming vats of sweet sorghum.
Even older, the Kentucky Apple Festival in Paintsville started 49 years ago, when a local bank began giving away area-grown apples to its customers. Now weekend fare includes pies, turnovers, and apple butter, along with arts and crafts, a flea market, and free concerts.
At the 21st annual Trimble County Apple Festival in Bedford, besides eating lots of food, you can enter the apple pie contest or cornhole tournament. There are also arts and crafts, a quilt exhibit, pagents, and live music.
At Hinton’s Orchard Apple Festival in Hodgenville, families can take a hay-ride through the apple orchard and enjoy many fresh apple treats. Wander though a 3-acre corn maze shaped like the Kentucky Proud logo and enjoy other fun activities. Farm owner Jeremy Hinton speaks for all of Kentucky’s food festivals when he says, “We hope to entertain your family and showcase our locally grown foods.”
Ferret out a food festival
Anderson County Burgoo Festival
Lawrenceburg, Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Grillin’ & Chillin’ BBQ Cookoff
Owensboro, Sept. 23 -24
HarvestFest at Shaker Village
Harrodsburg, September 23-25
(800) 734-5611, ext. 1545
Hinton’s Orchard Apple Festival
Hodgenville, Sept. 10
Kentucky Apple Festival
Paintsville, Sept. 30-Oct. 1
Kentucky Bourbon Festival
Bardstown, Sept. 13-18
(800) 638-4877, ext. 109
Marion County Country Ham Days
Lebanon, Sept. 24-25
Monroe County Watermelon Festival
Tompkinsville, Sept. 3
Morgan County Sorghum Festival
West Liberty, Sept. 23-25
Berea, Sept. 16-18
Trimble County Apple Festival
Bedford, Sept. 10-11
World Chicken Festival
London, Sept. 22-25