Fabulous food festivals

Where to get your Maine fill this fall
By LEISCHEN STELTER  |  September 14, 2011

ENJOY THE GOURD At Damariscotta’s Pumpkinfest and Regatta, October 1-10.

Fall is festival season. It's when Mainers celebrate the height of the harvest season while hanging on to the remaining warm days left over from summer. Maine towns have found many different (and bizarre) ways to recognize this season. Whether you love fried fair foods, prefer locally grown produce, or feel extremely passionate about a particular crop — there's a fall festival for you.

Let's start with the quintessential agricultural fairs, like the FRYEBURG FAIR (October 2-9). Here you can eat deliciously bad fried food (deep-fried whoopie pies anyone?), make yourself sick on carnival rides, and cheer on massive horses pulling heavy cement slabs. (For more, see "Finding the Fairest Food," October 15, 2010, by Leischen Stelter.) In the same vein, there's the 140th Annual CUMBERLAND COUNTY FAIR (September 25-October 1), which also features a plethora of barnyard animals, farm equipment, decades-old carnival rides, and greasy fair food.

For those of you with hippie tendencies, the COMMON GROUND COUNTRY FAIR (September 23-25) is where you can learn about Maine organic-produced foods and attend educational demonstrations that showcase everything from gardening and farming techniques to processing acorns into flour and cooking cinnamon rolls over an open fire. You won't find any carnival rides here, but there's a sheep-herding demonstration that I promise will impress you.

Such fairs are all well and good and certainly worth attending, but there are several Maine towns who have taken festival season to the extreme — starting with some "extreme gardening."

Have you ever thought about the fact that 1000-pound pumpkins float? The folks from Damariscotta have and they use this as the climax of their ten-day PUMPKINFEST AND REGATTA (October 1-10). This festival features competitors paddling giant, hollowed-out pumpkins along a water course. And it doesn't stop there. Next they attach a boat engine to race these monsters, Maine style. There are also pumpkin catapult and hurling events as well as a pumpkin drop where half-ton pumpkins are hoisted 200 feet in the air and dropped onto old cars. What more could you want from a festival?

Oh right, food. As you might imagine, the food is also pumpkin-centric. There's a dessert contest that includes pumpkin pies, cakes, cookies, cobblers, ice cream — basically any dessert that could include pumpkin. If you still can't get enough, there's also a pumpkin pie-eating contest and a pumpkin pancake breakfast.

If you're looking for a more "refined" festival, check out the SWINE AND STEIN OKTOBERFEST in Gardiner on October 1. As you may have guessed, this festival features Maine craft beers and dishes made by local restaurants using Maine-raised pigs. But this isn't just for beer and food snobs. For good measure, festival organizers included a chicken fling (I'm not positive what that involves either, but it sounds fun), a dunk tank, and stick-pony races to "encourage mingling and general merriment," says the website. I believe that's another way of saying there will be organized drunken shenanigans.

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