Delmarva Festivals You Need to See to Believe
Within 80 miles of my home, there are several annual festivals that locals love. But if I’m being honest, people who are visiting here probably think they’re weird. Delmarva festivals – those on the peninsula of Delaware and the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia – provide quirky and traditional fun for locals and visitors alike. Here are some of the more unusual ones.
The National Hard Crab Derby
Claim to Fame: Crab Races
How Many Years Held: 70
Location: Crisfield, Maryland
Date: Labor Day Weekend, September
Average Attendance: ?
Every Labor Day weekend, people from all over the Mid-Atlantic region visit Maryland’s southernmost town to see some 400 blue crabs compete in one of the most celebrated crustacean events in America, the National Hard Crab Derby. It all started decades ago, when local watermen brought their feistiest live crabs to race in the street in front of the post office. That strange small town event has grown into a full fledged weekend-long festival!
Other events over the course of the festival week include a beauty pageant (the winner is crowned Miss Crustacean), a carnival, crab cooking and picking contests, live music, a boat docking contest and a skiff race. The event concludes with fireworks on Sunday night.
Apple Scrapple Festival – Bridgeville, Delaware (Oct)
Claim to Fame: Scrapple
How Many Years Held: 26
Location: Bridgeville, Delaware
Date: Second Weekend of October
Average Attendance: over 25,000
If you’ve never had Scrapple, you might be wondering what it is. Well, put as delicately as possible, it contains everything left from the pig after bacon, ham, pork chops, etc. are taken. Which is to say that it’s made of scraps… hence the name.
The pig scraps are boiled until falling apart, then finely cut up. The meat is combined with cornmeal and flour along with spices including sage, black pepper, thyme, and savory, then formed into loaves. Once cooled, you can cut off half-inch slices and fry them in butter until golden brown.
Personally, I can’t get past the fact that Scrapple’s main ingredient is offal, but most folks around here don’t have a problem with that and swear that it’s delicious. You will see Scrapple typically served as a breakfast sandwich on plain white bread. This is definitely a regional delicacy – Scrapple’s popularity doesn’t extend much beyond the mid-Atlantic states. The two most popular brands of Scrapple in this area are Habersett and RAPA, and both are located in the tiny town of Bridgeville, Delaware.
In addition to Bridgeville’s Scrapple industry, the Apple Scrapple festival celebrates apples, particularly those grown by local farm TS Smith & Son.
Festivities begin at 4:00 pm on Friday evening with the carnival, food court and street dance. Things start up again on Saturday morning with an all you can eat Scrapple breakfast from 7:00 to 11:00 am. The rest of the day is filled with carnival rides, kids’ games, Scrapple sling, Scrapple carving, live entertainment, a ladies’ skillet tossing contest, and more.
Crawfish Boil & Muskrat Stew Fest
Claim to Fame: Muskrat Cuisine
How Many Years Held: 7
Location: Cambridge, Maryland
Average Attendance: 700-1000
The Crawfish Boil & Muskrat Stew Fest is an outdoor event combining two distinctive cuisines: Louisiana Crawfish and Dorchester County muskrat. Yes, muskrat. Many people in this part of the country consider it good eating.
As the name implies, this festival is all about the food. Festival goers will find such delicacies as muskrat stew, smoked muskrat, muskrat gravy fries, and muskrat chili dogs. A variety of crawfish dishes are also available, as are raw oysters, burgers, and hot dogs. The festival also features a Muskrat Leg Eating Contest.
Live entertainment from a blues band generates a party atmosphere and keeps the fun going long after you’ve had your fill.
National Outdoor Show
Claim to Fame: Fun for Hunters & Trappers
How Many Years Held: 73
Location: Church Creek, Maryland
Average Attendance: ?
Dorchester County, Maryland is Muskrat Country: the heartland of sportsmen, trappers, watermen and wildlife. The National Outdoor Show aims to “share the unique spirit and character of the area’s hard working people, who keep one foot in a technologically savvy world, and the other stuck deep in our traditional old school ways.”
The event opens on a Friday evening with a pageant to name Miss Outdoors, followed by the world championship muskrat skinning semi-finals. Festivties continue on Saturday with Little Miss and Little Mister Outdoors, a game cooking demo, police K-9 demo, duck and goose calling contests, championship muskrat skinning finals, and more. A PBS documentary, Muskrat Lovely, featured the National Outdoor Show because of its focus on muskrats.
Chestertown Tea Party
Claim to Fame: historical reenactment of tax rebellion
How Many Years Held: 42
Location: Chestertown, Maryland
Date: Memorial Day Weekend, May
Average Attendance: 15,000
This tea party is not about frilly dresses and big hats. It commemorates the other kind of tea party – you know, like the famous one in Boston. When the citizens of Chestertown learned that the British had closed the port of Boston in retaliation for Bostonians dumping tea into the harbor, they issued The Chestertown Resolves. The Resolves stated that it was illegal to import, sell or consume tea.
According to local lore, on May 23, 1774, the citizens of Chestertown gathered at the town center, marched down High Street to the brigantine Geddes, and tossed her cargo of tea into the Chester River. Every Memorial Day weekend, Chesterown residents not only celebrate the event, they reenact it.
The festival opens on the Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend with a street party. Food trucks, live music, and games provide a fun but laid back atmosphere before the festival shifts into high gear on Saturday. A large colonial parade down High Street, featuring numerous fife and drum bands as well as marching Colonial and British reenactors, serves as the highlight of Saturday’s activities.
Throughout Saturday, visitors can enjoy walking tours of the historic district, demonstrations of colonial crafts, more than 100 craft vendors, children’s activities, local foods, a wine village and a wide array of musical entertainers. The festival concludes Sunday afternoon in the park with local wine and craft beer tastings, more entertainment, crafts and food. Sunday’s main event is the popular Raft Race. Teams compete to keep their home-made raft afloat for as long as possible in hopes of winning the coveted Tea Cup.
Chincoteague Pony Swim
Claim to Fame: feral horses are herded up and sold at auction
How Many Years Held: 93
Location: Chincoteague, Virginia
Average Attendance: 40,000
The pony swim has taken place since 1925 to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, but its roots date back to the 17th century. The event grew in popularity after its mention in the classic children’s book, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.
The Saturday-Monday before the swim, volunteers (known as “Saltwater Cowboys”) round up the 150 or so feral horses and 60-70 spring foals that inhabit Assateague Island and take them to a central pen. Then, on Tuesday, veterinarians examine them to make sure they are healthy.
Wednesday is pony swim day. The Saltwater Cowboys guide the ponies to Chincoteague Island by having them swim across the Assateague Channel. This is done at “slack tide” – a period of about 30 minutes between tides, when there is no current. As a result, it is the easiest time for the ponies to make the swim.
After the swim, the ponies rest. Then the Saltwater Cowboys “parade” the ponies down Main Street to the carnival grounds in preparation for an auction the following morning.
The auction serves two purposes. First, it helps control the size of the herd, keeping it from growing too large. In order to keep the herd at a sustainable size, most of the foals are sold at the auction. A few select foals, however, are buybacks, auctioned with the stipulation that they will be donated back to the Fire Company, then returned to Assateague Island.
Secondly, the auction is a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, who uses proceeds to provide veterinary care for the ponies throughout the year.
I hope you have a better idea of what this part of the mid-Atlantic is like based on our traditional festivals. Better yet, I hope you’ll attend one or more of them! Please comment below if you’ve attended any of these, or tell me about the quirky festivals in your area!
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