Record crowd attends Autumn Harvest Festival / Roadkill Cook-off
An estimated 18,000 people attended the Autumn Harvest Festival and Roadkill Cook-off in Marlinton on Saturday. Mother Nature provided a beautiful day for the event, in addition to spectacular fall colors on the mountains surrounding the town.ﾠ
By 11 a.m., Main Street and Gazebo Park were packed with people - waiting in line for cooking contest samples; browsing vendor booths; listening to concerts at both ends of the street and wandering about the various festivities.
Vendors sold a variety of wares and food on Main Street. Babies and proud parents competed in a pageant at ARC, while dogs and proud owners strutted in a show behind The Pocahontas Times office. The Veterans Honor Guard and Marlinton Middle School Band led a parade through town and the unflappable Charlotte Biggs supervised a horseshoe tournament by the Greenbrier River.
Eight teams competed for the Roadkill Cook-off title this year. Two former county commissioners and the county commission clerk took home Roadkill gold.
Pocahontas County Roadkill Grill, with Jim Carpenter, Joel Callison and team captain Sue Helton, won first place overall with "Decomposed Delicacy," a venison tenderloin dish. The team doffed derby hats and Roadkill Cook-off t-shirts as costumes.
Roadkill Grill's outdoor cafe was decorated with an antique automobile grille, sporting deer antlers and old West Virginia license plates. Each team had a space of approximately 15 by 15 feet to set up their cooking and dining area.
Last year's winning team, Two Crooks and a Cook: Brad Dunz, Chris Hankins and team captain Nick Anderson - won theﾠ People's Choice Award and third place overall with "Kung Poo Panda" (pork shoulder) and "General Tso's Cat" (chicken thigh).
Team members wore Chinese makeup and costumes and their booth was gaudily decorated like an oriental restaurant.
Mary Geiger and theﾠ Frog Holler Family - wearing green wigs and comical green outfits -ﾠ won the Showmanship Award. After serving "Pavement Scrunched Croakin' Bullfrog Legs" to the judges, Geiger, Caroline Cassell and Margaret Gardner, on autoharp, serenaded the judges with "May The Circle Be Unbroken." The trio sing together at Alexander Church in Stony Bottom and their melody impressed the judges and the crowd.
The Frog Holler Family also sang with Governor Joe Manchin III, whoﾠbrieflyﾠvisited the cook-off, as part of a motorcycle ride with about 100 other cyclists. The governor sang "Froggy Went A-Courting" with the ladies from Alexander Church.
Manchin arrived about noon with a long motorcade of bikers and spoke to the crowd after sampling a variety of Roadkill Cook-off delicacies.
"First of all, let me say thank you for keeping this tradition alive," he said. "People from all over the country and all over the world are coming here. I've eaten everything from frog legs to frog eggs to bear meat. I had deer meat and I had some pork over here. If it was there, I got it."
After his remarks, Manchin presented Marlinton Mayor Dennis Driscoll with a state flag.
"I'm here today for a presentation to Mayor Driscoll," he said. "I'd like to thank this little town for all it does for our state. I brought an official state flag of the State of West Virginia, that has flown over the State Capitol."
Manchin signed the flag's border.
Betty Ireland, West Virginia Secretary of State from 2004-2008, was one of three judges for this year's contest. Ireland said she and husband Sam Haddad enjoyed a great time at the cook-off.
"We loved it," she said. "Absolute gorgeous weather - what could be more beautiful than the mountains of West Virginia in September and October? It's such a beautiful drive over here from Charleston. The people are so friendly. It is West Virginia at its best."
Ireland, who judged the competition in 2007, said the final decision was very difficult.
"I thought the food was outstanding," she said. "There wasn't anything I thought was a throw-away. There were three or four who were right at the top - we had a really hard time deciding between the top three or four - we really did. In fact, it turned out being just one point difference between one, two and three. So, we were amazed."
New York City gourmet chef and cook-off judge Lisa Witkowski said she enjoyed the food but was equally impressed with the effort by all of the teams to make the event fun.
"I think they put a tremendous effort into it," she said. "The food is very good. I enjoyed the food, but people put so much into the whole picture. They came out and made a setting for us to take things in and had a story for everything they did. If you asked any of them where their meat came from, they all had a funny story."
Witkowski said she preferred to see real, wild food on the menu.
"I don't actually want you to peel something off the road and feed it to me," she said. "I'll eat it - if I came down here - I said I would. I'm pretty fearless that way. But, I don't really get how you follow the spirit of the event - if you come up with a cute name for chicken, you're just not going to get as many points."
Judges awarded up to 10 points on the taste of food and five points each for originality, presentation and showmanship. Incredibly, with so many variables, three teams were deadlocked after the initial point totals were tallied.ﾠ
Cook-off coordinator David Cain confirmed the three-way tie and said the judge's conferred to break the tie. The fourth and fifth place teams were close behind the three winning teams and separated by just one point. The close voting indicates the quality of cook-off teams competing this year.
Congratulations to all of the competitors and the festival organizers, who worked tirelessly to bring Pocahontas County another excellent Autumn Harvest Festival and Roadkill Cook-off.