12 Appalachian foods so amazing they have their own festival— and what to taste there
Savor the flavors of Appalachia, from farm-fresh ingredients prepared with an international twist to down-home cooking like grandma used to make. West Virginia’s signature foods are so amazing they have their own festivals built around them.
1. Pepperoni Rolls
The West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival in Clarksburg is rated one of the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association. This fall festival celebrates not only the area’s rich Italian heritage, but West Virginia’s official state food, the pepperoni roll. The pepperoni roll was developed by an Italian baker circa 1930 as an easy meal for coal miners to carry in their lunch pails, and it remains a popular snack today. The Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival in Wheeling in July also celebrates foods like the pepperoni roll.
2. Maple Syrup
Late winter in the mountains near Pickens means maple sugaring time for area residents. Sap is collected and transported to a sugar house where it’s boiled down to a thick, golden syrup. Pickens residents celebrate the fruits of their labor with the annual Maple Syrup Festival on the 3rd Saturday in March. The maple syrup making tradition in West Virginia dates back to Native Americans and early settlers, who used it as their main source of sugar.
3. Golden Delicious Apples
West Virginia is the native home of the Golden Delicious Apple, the official state fruit. In September, the Clay County Golden Delicious Festival celebrates the fall harvest of this crisp, yellow-skinned fruit, which was discovered in 1912 by Anderson Mullins on a hill near Porter Creek in Clay County.
4. Black Walnuts
The city of Spencer’s annual Black Walnut Festival is a celebration of the nut known by the scientific name of Juglans negra, or eastern black walnut. The festival, which usually takes place in October, features themed activities like a black walnut cake baking contest and a 5K Nut Run.
The West Virginia Strawberry Festival began in 1936 as a place for the Buckhannon area’s strawberry growers to sell their berries. Today, it celebrates the fruit and its farmers in many ways, with family fun to last the full 3rd week of May each year.
Richwood’s Feast of the Ramson celebrates the wild leek– also called ramson or ramp– that grows in the mountains of West Virginia. Every April, lovers of this pungent vegetable dig bushels of ramps, then cook them in bacon grease and serve them with a traditional meal of scrambled eggs, ham, pinto beans and sassafras tea.
The West Virginia State Honey Festival in Parkersburg was founded to educate the community on the importance of honey and the honey bee. This festival, traditionally the 4th weekend in August, features entertainment, crafts and a variety of honey products.
Since the 1920s, farm families in Calhoun County have been gathering to make molasses from the sugarcane they harvested for baking and cooking. The West Virginia Molasses Festival in Arnoldsburg, which takes place on the last full weekend of September, honors that tradition. Guests can watch molasses making demonstrations and purchase bottles of the sticky sweetener.
9. Buckwheat Pancakes
The Preston County Buckwheat Festival, which begins on the last Thursday of September, is one of West Virginia’s oldest festivals. The event began in Kingwood in 1938 and celebrates what was once one of the county’s most important crops. Historic Hazelton Mill is re-started around festival time to grind and bag the flour, which can be purchased year-round in the region.
10. Apple Butter
In Berkeley Springs, the Apple Butter Festival celebrates the orchards of the Eastern Panhandle. The festival takes place every Columbus Day weekend and features apple butter and baking contests. If you can’t get enough of the delicious fall fruit, head toward Clarksburg, where the Salem Apple Butter Festival has been a tradition for more than 30 years.
11. “Roadkill” & Wild Game
Not to worry, the West Virginia Roadkill Cook-Off and Autumn Harvest in Marlinton isn’t real roadkill, it’s just a celebration of wild game prepared with creative recipes. This quirky festival has attracted the attention of the Food Network, the Travel Channel and the Discovery Channel, and visitors can sample exotic dishes like squirrel gravy over biscuits, teriyaki-marinated bear and deer sausage.
12. West Virginia Slaw Dogs
The West Virginia Hot Dog Festival during the summer in Huntington celebrates the area’s diverse selection of family-owned hot dog joints. Sample a traditional West Virginia “slaw dog,” prepared with mustard, onions, sauce (known to Northerners as chili) and cole slaw. Stay for the wiener dog races.
How many of these amazing Appalachian foods have you tried, and where?
This post was last updated on July 20, 2020