The change from summer to fall is a beautiful time in Pocahontas County. Like the seasons change the color of the trees, the annual fall festival transforms Marlinton from a sleepy little town to a bustling carousal of music, fun and frivolity. Thousands of visitors arrived here on Saturday to enjoy the 27th Autumn Harvest Festival. The event was started in 1987 to celebrate the beginning of fall and the bountiful harvest that comes with it.
Good weather graced the event and the hillsides surrounding the town had begun bursting with color, but had not yet reached their peak. Vendor tents lined Main Street from the Greenbrier River Bridge to the C&O Railroad Depot and side streets, as well. A large crowd converged earlier than usual, possibly due to the good weather. Early birds enjoyed a jog along the Greenbrier River Trail in the Possum Trot starting at 9:30 a.m. By 10 a.m., hundreds of people were browsing vendor displays along the Main Street midway and enjoying a musical performance at Gazebo Park. The crowd surged into the thousands by noon.
The 22nd Annual Roadkill Cook-off was held at Gazebo Park. Five cooking teams participated on Saturday, less than previous years. But the competition was just as comical, entertaining, and intense as ever. Under greater scrutiny from a panel of distinguished judges, the teams did their best to wine and dine their way to Roadkill fame and fortune.
The legendary Coal Hollow Brothers won their fourth Roadkill championship, along with a $1,200 cash prize. The Brothers, captained by Chef Ed Blackford, of Christiansburg, Virginia, also snagged the Showmanship Award and an additional $50 prize. The team won the Cook-off in 2004, 2005 and 2007, and finished in the top-three several other times. This year’s winning Coal Hollow recipe was Jaeger Wild mit Pilzen, a venison and mushroom dish.
The Hot Potty Cooks, led by Chef Shawn Smith, of Buckeye, won Second Place and a $600 cash prize. The Cooks prepared a dish called “Chunks and More” for the judges, consisting of venison and turtle.
Mama Mia, led by Chef Ed Fisher, of Cabins, took home Third Place honors and a $325 cash prize with their preparation of braised venison with portobello mushrooms.
The Three Amigos, led by Chef Bill Jordan, of Marlinton, won the coveted People’s Choice Award with their concoction of Three Amigo Stew, prepared with wild turkey meat.
The panel of Roadkill judges consisted of West Virginia tourism executive Tina Simpson, of Pinch; Charleston Daily Mail food writer Steven Keith; and television personality and Cabela’s Ambassador Mark Millis, of Lansing, Michigan.
Simpson was visiting Pocahontas County for the first time.
“It was a very exciting experience,” she said. “We had a lot of venison
today. We had a little bit of rabbit today. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It was my first time to the Roadkill Cook-off, also my first time to Marlinton and Pocahontas County. So, lots of firsts today. I think this is a great community event, lots of folks here today. I encourage all of the folks who have never been here to come out. It was very fun.”
Keith said wild game is in no way inferior to more traditional foods.
“Whether you’re talking about filet mignon on a plate or venison that you’ve gotten on your annual hunting trip, good food is good food,” he said. “I like real, good food. I eat as much wild food as I can get my hands on. It’s kind of hard to find, in some places. I grew up in a very traditional house. My mother cooked meatloaf every Monday, fried chicken every Tuesday, pork chops every Wednesday. So, when I moved out of the house, I wanted to try all these other foods that I’d never had before. That started my exploration of finding and tasting and making as interesting of food as I could find.”
The critic greatly enjoyed the showmanship demonstrated by the Roadkill teams.
“What I really enjoyed most was how well some of the teams gave you an experience,” he said. “Obviously, the taste of the food is most important, but they told you a story about how the recipe came to be and where the ingredients came from and their approach to cooking the dish. That created a whole experience around the meal. Eating a good meal is not just about the food, it’s about the experience you have while doing it.”
Keith judged his first the Roadkill Cook-off last year.
“I love Pocahontas County – it’s one of my favorite places to visit in the state,” he said. “I had always heard about this event, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. You hear ‘roadkill’ and you think, ‘I don’t know’ but I came last year and really enjoyed it. It’s a great community event and brings lots of people out, who live here and want to spend time with friends and family, and it also brings people in from other parts of the state, to experience a little bit of small town life. I really enjoy it. Things like this are important for the community and the state.”
Millis, appropriately attired in denim overalls, said his family is familiar with roadkill.
“If you ever met my father, you’ve probably never ever met another man who’s killed as many deer with a Chevy pickup,” he said.
As a Cabela’s Pro-Staff Ambassador, Millis travels extensively on hunting and fishing expeditions. The TV celebrity gave his impressions of the local area.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” he said. “You’ve got the mountains here. The people, the camaraderie at this event – the people that come to this event are looking for an experience and I tell you what – today, if they were here, they definitely found it.”
“People eat with their eyes first,” he said. “If you look at something that doesn’t look appealing, most people don’t want to have anything to do with it.”
A gourmet wild game chef in his own right, “Uncle Millie” set high standards as a Roadkill judge.
“I dress in bib overalls, but I’m a foodie,” he said. “If you’re going to pay some money for an entry fee, you better be on your A-game, because I am looking close. There was one team that stood out from the others and that was noticeable. Second and third were close, and then the others – they need to brush up on some things.”
The Autumn Harvest Festival and Roadkill Cook-off are organized by the Pocahontas Chamber of Commerce, with support from the Town of Marlinton, the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Citizens Bank of West Virginia, Mon Power, Pendleton Community Bank, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, Snowshoe Mountain Resort and numerous dedicated volunteers. Cub Scout Pack 33 provided litter clean-up during the event.