Saturday’s steady rain did little to deter the thousands of folks who flooded downtown Marlinton to enjoy the 28th annual Autumn Harvest Festival and 23rd annual RoadKill Cook-off.
Vendors and visitors lined Marlinton’s Main Street from the Greenbrier River bridge to the Greenbrier River Trail and side streets, as runners took to the Trail for the annual Possum Trot 5K Run/Walk.
Kountry Kreations vendor Angie Wilfong, of Cass, enjoyed chatting with the festival-goers at her booth.
“I met some wonderful people,” she said, “and I got to see long-time friends. I had people who purchased items from my Etsy shop and saw a Facebook post that said I would be here. There was a couple from Oklahoma, a couple of ladies from North Carolina and a family from Indiana. Their two little ones were wearing the hats they purchased from me.”
The 23rd annual RoadKill Cook-off took place above the mini park on First Avenue and hosted nine competitors – four more than last year’s competition. Despite the rain, the competition drew a large crowd and many a festival-goer had to wait their turn for a taste.
Festival newcomers Ryan and Jess Longenette, of Quinwood, were in town visiting friends and decided to chance the rain for a chance to be part of the event.
“The RoadKill Cook-off was a great experience,” said Ryan. “The rain didn’t slow us down, and we got to taste a variety of food that we had never experienced before. It was fun to see Marlinton’s culture, too. My wife and I loved it!”
Ryan’s wife had an equally enjoyable time.
“I loved the festival!” Jess said. “There was such a variety of booths to check out, and I loved that you could go and watch people actually making crafts at their tables. I also loved the food, especially the Lions Club barbecue.”
The Longenettes hope to attend the festival again next year.
The Ridge Runners won their third Roadkill championship and earned a $1,200 cash prize. In addition to their first place win, the Runners, headed by Rachel Dickenson, of Marlinton, won the competition’s Showmanship Award and an additional $150 prize. The winning recipe consisted of Catch Yer-Self a Husband stew, a dish made of bear, chicken, rabbit and venison, and was served alongside a pulled loose bear meat barbecue with a home-brewed blackberry wine.
Cheers, Deers and Mountaineers, led by Chef Kari Cooper, of Marlinton, won second place and a $600 cash prize. The Mountaineers served the judges “Busted Tailgate BBQ Macaroni and Cheese,” made with pork and venison.
Last year’s People’s Choice, The Three Amigos, placed third in the competition and took home a $300 cash prize. Trading their sombreros and ponchos for a 1950 diner style, Chef Bill Jordan, of Marlinton, treated the judges to his team’s Rockabilly Bear Butt Stew.
Pocahontas County High School’s Pro Start class, headed by Teresa Mullens, won over the crowd with their Kountry Kookin’ Hillbilly Chili, prepared with venison, and won this year’s People’s Choice Award. In addition to the award, the class won a $150 cash prize.
This year’s panel of judges consisted of world traveler and cuisine enthusiast Christopher Walker-Akers, of Teays Valley; television personality and Appalachian Outlaws star Tony Coffman, of Birch River; and professional freelance writer Reed Hellman, of Alberton, Maryland.
Each entry was judged based on showmanship, originality, presentation and taste, and while each judge had their personal favorites, they all agreed on who put on the best show and tried the hardest.
“Showmanship helped,” Walker-Akers explained. “I mean, when you go to a restaurant, you expect the service and the environment [to be pleasant]. It all helps.”
“The presentation always counts when you’re given food to eat,” Hellman added.
For Hellman, this was his first time attending the annual festival.
“This was my first time at the RoadKill Cook-Off ,” Hellman remarked. “I was here in the spring working on a story about ramps, and I was invited to come back. I said, ‘Sure, why not!’”
When asked if they had experienced anything new, the judges had mixed reactions.
“I’ve eaten everything here before,” Walker-Akers said. “Well, except for the chukars. I’ve never had that. I’ve also never had bear barbecue before. That was fantastic.”
“Honestly, it’s a lot of things I’ve never had – except for the venison,” Coffman added. “I mean, I don’t think I ate anything in the same context as it was prepared today. I’d like to see it all again next year.”
“I was expecting possum at some point,” said Hellman, “and I’m so disappointed I didn’t get any. A number of people had pickled ramps, though, and that was excellent.”
However, the RoadKill Cook-off was not the only competition festival-goers could partake in.
The third annual West Virginia Biscuit Bake-off was held at the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In the Traditional Biscuit division, Jean McClure, of Marlinton, won the coveted blue ribbon. Last year, McClure earned top prize in both the savory and sweet categories.
Cookie Turner, of Huntersville, took second place, and Goldie O’Quinn, of Summersville, came in third.
In the Sweet division, O’Quinn took top prize. Tina Barkley, of Marlinton, came in second place, while Turner came in third.
In the Savory division, Homer Cobb, of South Charleston, won first place and earned the bake-off’s first People’s Choice Award for his Cheese Garlic biscuits. McClure took second, and Barkley came in third.
First place winners took home a $50 Richardson Hardware gift certificates and a collection of bakeware. Second place went home with a $25 local gift certificate and a collection of bakeware, and third place winners were given a collection of bakeware.
This year’s panel of judges consisted of West Virginia Tourism Commissioner Amy Goodwin; Snowshoe Mountain Resort Executive Chef Ashley Smoak; Charleston Daily Mail Food Guy Steven Keith; Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce president Mike Holstine; and The Pocahontas Times What’s Cookin’? columnist Louise Barnisky, along with several local representatives.
The Autumn Harvest Festival and Roadkill Cook-off – which began in 1987 as a celebration of fall and the harvests that follow – are organized by the Pocahontas Chamber of Commerce, with support from the Town of Marlinton, Dominion, the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Citizens Bank of West Virginia, Mon Power, Shentel, Pendleton Community Bank, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, Mitchell Chevrolet, C.J. Richardson, Mosesso Agen-cy, LLC, Create Greenbrier, Community Foundation, Joe Smith, Snowshoe Mountain Resort and numerous dedicated volunteers. Cub Scout Pack 33 provided litter clean-up during the event.
Cailey Moore may be contacted at email@example.com