by Deborah Miller
It’s not like we don’t have anything good to eat around here. We arise food. We talk about food. We read about food. We drive miles out of the way for a “food” experience. What choice did North Carolina have but to honor and designate some long-existing events as“Official State Food Festivals?”
April was mighty busy with festivals honoring food and wine in North Carolina. Just consider the NC Pickle Festival (Mount Olive), NC Persian Festival (Raleigh), and the Blue Ridge Wine & Food Festival (Blowing Rock).
NC Strawberry Festival
April 29-May 2, 2015/Chadbourn, NC
At one time, strawberries were the only annual crop in Chadbourn. There’s a parade, a pageant, a Strawberry Spitting Contest, a Strawberry Luncheon, an auction, a strawberry day of prayer, something called Strawberry Encounters, and the list goes on and on – all celebrating that juicy red berry. It now draws about 10,000 participants and attendees from all over the country. It claims to be the “Oldest Agricultural Festival in North Carolina.”
Just the name of the Ham & Yam Festival hooks me in. I love ham. I love yams. Equally. So both together is just a poetic marriage made in taste bud heaven. That Johnston County is a big producer of ham was not a surprise, but discovering that it’s also the #1 producer of sweet potatoes in the United States was, and there’s something just plain righteous about a festival honoring both at the same time.
Ham & Yam Festival
May 2, 2015/Smithfield, NC
It began as a challenge with our ham producing neighbors just north of us in Virginia and now 30 years later stands on its own as a salute to the agricultural heritage of the area.
Sweet potatoes, already a traditional Native American staple, were not only delicious, filling, and versatile, they were easy to grow in the south, so the early settlers to the new world quickly added them to their tables.
Wait a minute? So which is it? Yam or sweet potato? I can already hear you asking. What’s the difference? Aren’t they the same thing? Yams, native to Africa and Asia, actually are a variety of the sweet potato family. Translated from an African word, “nyami” meaning “to eat,” it’s easy to see how it became “yam.” And it wasn’t made any clearer when the U.S. government labeled them as yams. It’s a question asked over and over. Huffington Post even did a piece on it.
There are many opportunities to sample both ham and yam. Sign up for the Sweet Potato Pie eating festival and don’t miss the “What’s that Yam Thing?” contest where kids are encouraged to play with their food to create a work of art for prize money and ribbons.
By the way, and entirely unrelated to Ham & Yam, the NC Sweet Potato Commission sponsors a band Sweet Potato Pie Band, who they have dubbed the Sweethearts of Bluegrass (or Sweetgrass), at least in North Carolina. Click below and listen. Just don’t call them yams.
North Carolina Potato Festival
May 15-17, 2015/Elizabeth City, NC
While we’re still on spuds, what about a weekend that lays claim to the largest family festival in northeastern North Carolina? With average attendance at over 25,000, they might be right. Who will be crowned Little Miss Tater Tot? Who will win the National Potato Peeling Contest.
OTHER OFFICIAL FOOD FESTIVALS, MAY 2015
East Meets West Food Festival
May 16, 2015/Morrisville, NC
Deborah Miller, Program Administrator at the North Carolina Folklife Institute and keeper of Simmer2Sizzle, is a native Tar Heel and lifelong foodie with a deep passion for music.