Going Locally Lowcountry – It’s Festival Time In Hilton Head!

“Bluffton the beautiful” shines during the week-long Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival, October 16-23.

To me fall is the perfect time to take stock of Hilton Head Island’s bounty and make some eating, drinking and general having fun plans around the boom of upcoming events in the area. When I was younger the SC State Fair was always an event us kids looked forward to as much as college football games and Halloween. While the carnival rides were amusing, my favorite part of our annual pilgrimage to the land of corn dogs, cotton candy and elephant ears were the farm animal barns, believe it or not. According to my cousins my immediate family was considered “city folk” (even though we had a huge backyard garden, our address was a rural route and my mother raised quail at one time) whereas they lived and worked an actual farm with hogs (really big pigs) and cattle and horses and chickens – the real deal.

Food & Wine’s Gail Simmons (Top Chef: Just Desserts and judge on Bravo’s Top Chef) and Charleston’s own “Top” Chef Sean Brock, are just two of the culinary experts to be found at Music To Your Mouth, November 15-20.

I loved the smell of the fresh cut hay (still do too), and could not wait to slap on those ugly Wellies and feel the squishy damp earth beneath my feet. Even getting up at the crack (yes, of dawn) to gather fresh hen’s eggs was something to look forward to when I visited their farm. So being at the State Fair with the bright midway lights and the sweet smells wafting through the night air, everything was made even better as I slowly marched up and down all the aisles of the poultry house, admiring the winners. It was fun to hear all the “bird talk” like, “Buff Orpingtons #44 was robbed!” and laugh under my breath at “that Black Jersey Giant over there has better hair than me!

Get your slurp’in on at the annual Hilton Head Island Oyster Festival, November 12-13.

It was even acceptable to get really close to the huge milk cows too, lounging like divas in their fluffy straw beds, that I could easily “pet” them if I dared. Those big cow eyes so sleepily sweet staring back at me. Even the still farm displays were works of art to me – who knew field corn could look like Leutze’s George Washington Crossing the Delaware! Amazing to the 10 year old… and the 45 year old, actually. Thinking back on why I love the farm to table (or slow food or sustainable or whatever is your favorite moniker) movement, it surely was my upbringing, I suppose. Not only seeing the food grown and/or raised but participating in the process at many levels from an early age. I respect and appreciate the process, the people and the animals that are part of my dinner or supper or breakfast. And being Southern it’s so natural that these ‘processes’, like the harvest, include a good time – usually a really good time. In Hilton Head Island and adjacent Bluffton, autumn is the time to leave the air conditioning behind, open the windows and take in the bright blue skies and abundant special foodie events happening all over the Lowcountry. There’s no time like the present so start your planning (some help offered below to get you started). See you at the beverage tent! Itching for some friendly competition AND putting your pie and cake tasting chops to the test? Then check out the Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island’s Third Annual Pie & Cake Baking Contest! Gather under the broad oaks trees and sample the best pies and cakes lovingly created by local bakers. This community event is free, open to all ages and there will be an activity/art table for children 14 years and younger. If you would like to enter a pie or cake please visit their website and get all the details. But hurry the event is this Wednesday, Oct 19th starting at 5 pm. Big time festival fun starts this Sunday (Oct. 16th) in Old Town Bluffton during the Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival. There is a treasure trove of events taking place in various location throughout the week including Blessing of the Fleet on the 16th, a 5K Oyster run on the 22nd as well as the Art & Seafood Street Fest on Oct. 22 and Oct. 23. Foodies: Don’t miss The “Art of Cuisine” Iron Chef Challenge in Neptune’s Galley from 11:00am – 12:30pm on Sat. Oct. 22. Here you’ll see top area chefs compete to create the best seafood dishes. The Festival website is chocked full of information so check it out to get details on all the events. Locovores and food lovers of all kinds should not miss the annual Music To Your Mouth Festival, Nov. 14-20, at Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton. This year the pig takes center-stage with activities ranging from North & South wine dinner (with dueling sommeliers), a bourbon-themed boat cruise, Golf Outing and PIGnic, and the Potlikker Block Party. Big time celebrity chefs participating include South Carolina-based luminaries Sean Brock of HUSK restaurant, Frank Lee of Slightly North of Broad restaurant, Mike Latta of FIG restaurant, Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill and Nathan Thurston of The Ocean Room at Kiawah, Jeremiah Bacon of Oak Steakhouse as well as our own Hilton Head Island chefs, Matt Jording of the Sage Room and David Young of Roastfish & Cornbread. And not to be missed are our own masters of the “ Q”: Frankie Denmark of Hawg Wild, Ted Huffman of Bluffton BBQ and Rodney Scott of Scott’s Bar-B-Q. The festival culminates with the Culinary Festival on Nov. 19th. Here you can rub elbows with and taste the culinary creations of the chefs mentioned above plus many others ranging from winemakers to growers to artisans to Bravo TV’s Top Chef judge, Gail Simmons who will be hosting the festivities. Hilton Head Islanders and Blufftonites would not even contemplate the start of the holiday season without first attending a long standing (22 years!) locals-favorite, Taste of the Season. This year’s event takes place at the Hilton Head Marriott Resort and Spa on Friday, November 11 starting at 6 pm. You can taste special holiday fare from 35 of the areas best chefs and restaurants and get your holiday shopping off to a quick start with the ever popular silent auction. Usually the auction includes great getaways and out of the box type gifts. If there is a café or two you’ve been yearning to try but haven’t yet this is your opportunity! If you read my blog regularly you know that I love my oysters! There no better place to go “full out” on those luscious bi-valves than at the upcoming, 2-day Hilton Head Oyster Festival on November 12-13. This is a community event to support the Island Rec Center. Besides the shuck’in and slurp’in there will be live music, a silent auction and lots of kid’s activities outside at the wonderful Shelter Cove Community Park. If you have kids or a family group visiting, I can’t think of a more perfect way to spend an Autumn afternoon on the Island! Lastly, but not leastly – both the Hilton Head Island Farmers Market and the Bluffton Farmers Market – are open throughout the Fall and offer a myriad of friendly vendors selling fresh, locally grown produce as well as artisan items, crafts and the like. The festival atmosphere at both markets is a great way to start a totally local Lowcountry weekend!