Glorious garlic, hot chiles and precious puddings—these are just three of the hundreds of foods celebrated with much fanfare at food festivals across the country.
Each year thousands of people flock to these events to honor local farmers, the harvest and the specialty dishes that make their communities special—Buffalo wings in Buffalo, N.Y., soybeans in Martin, Tenn., watermelon in Kellogg, Minn., popcorn in Valparaiso, Ind. Here we pay tribute to three festivals: chile peppers in Hatch, N.M., garlic in Saugerties, N.Y., and puddings in Hawley, Mass.
Hatch Chile Festival
Chile pepper celebrations abound, but the big chile daddy of them all is the Hatch Chile Festival on Labor Day weekend in the tiny town of Hatch, N.M. Thousands of people gather in town to celebrate the horticultural heat of the pepper. During the festival, fresh peppers brighten the air with their green, aromatic tang. The silver smoke of peppers roasting in large metal drums and open hearths and the savory smells from an endless variety of foods cast an aromatic canopy over the festival grounds. You’ll find the requisite chile-cooking contests, pepper-roasting demonstrations and chile pepper-eating contest.—David Feder
Hudson Valley Garlic Festival
Food royalty at the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival lead festival-goers in a tribute to the “stinking rose.” Founder Pat Reppert, dubbed the “Goddess of Garlic,” started the event at her Shale Hill Farm and Herb Gardens in 1989 as a way to increase her herb business. It was an instant success and has been held annually since then on the last weekend of September in Saugerties, N.Y. The festival draws 36,000 garlic lovers from the Northeast and features more than 50 growers who sell different types of gourmet garlic. For those who find raw garlic tough to swallow, there’s plenty of cooked around too, in everything from sausage to samosas to desserts (garlic fudge, cannolis and ice cream). Best of all, no one minds the smell.—Diane Welland
Pudding Hollow Contest
During one of the more unusual food festivals, the Pudding Hollow Contest, residents of Hawley, Mass., gather to judge everything from Sicilian Eggplant Pudding and Individual Potato Puddings to Chocolate Hazelnut Souffle and Pakistani Kheer. The original competition, which got its start in the late 18th century, involved two local cooks duking it out over a hasty pudding (a stirred cornmeal pudding made with molasses and milk), big enough to feed a crowd. Taste, apparently, was not a big deal. Today, anything called “pudding” is eligible to enter. The results are announced at a grand finale after a rousing chorus of “Seeing Nelly Home” and a parade of puddings around the church.—Jean Kressy