Food Talk: Lowcountry food festivals all summer long
By Kathleen Parramore
Food festivals go back to early times as a means of getting communities together during and after the harvest. These festivals strengthened local cultural heritage while highlighting the fruits of the local labor. Modern food festivals are a large part of the food tourism industry that supports the broader tourism industry — and therefore, they are of great importance to Charleston and the surrounding areas, which enjoy a long tourist season.
Interestingly enough, food festivals in this country got their start during the Great Depression. In his book A Social History of Eating in Modern America, Harvey Levenstein cited the surge in concern for regional culinary practices during the 1930s. A decade of instability found Americans reinforcing family and community bonds by holding dear all their rich traditions — and what better way than communal eating festivals!
To no one’s surprise, Charleston is listed as the third most important food festival location in “The 24 Food Festivals Around the World You Need to Experience Before You Die.” Charleston’s most famous food-related festivals — the Blessing of the Fleet and Seafood Festival in Mount Pleasant and the big daddy of festivals, Charleston Food and Wine — have passed, but there are plenty of spring and summer offerings to explore right out your back door.
First up, the 13th Annual South Carolina Strawberry Festival in Fort Mill will take place May 6 and 7. There will be rides, music, eating contests, a car show and all you can eat strawberries. Get there early, as this is a widely attended festival — and there are a week of events preceding that you can read more about at scstrawberryfestival.com.
Become Greek for the weekend! The 51st annual Charleston Greek Festival is being held at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church on Race Street, beginning May 6 from 5 to 10 p.m. If you enjoy Greek food as much as I do this is THE festival, with lots of Greek food, wine, live music and dancing. You will find Greek pastries, gyros (real ones) and delicious Greek coffee. The church, inspired by Byzantine art, brings life and culture to the community. Holy Trinity was built in 1911. Step inside and see the beautiful icons and the central dome constructed by the Guastavino Company. By ten o’clock you will have seen a beautiful church, eaten some terrific food and danced till your feet hurt. Go back for more Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday 12-6 p.m. Buy tickets online at charlestongreekfestival.com.
A bit up the road in McClellanville, one can witness the Lowcountry Shrimp Festival and Blessing of the Fleet on May 7. The event focuses on the shrimp boat captains and crews who are preparing for the upcoming season. The trawlers will be decorated with colorful flags and pennants as they slowly parade down Jeremy Creek for the blessing. All proceeds go to benefit Cape Romain Environmental Education School; see lowcountryshrimpfestival.com for more details.
Next at hand, Hampton County Watermelon Festival in Varnville has all the watermelon you can eat June 20-25 at the Courthouse Square Fountain. Tuesday the 21st is Children’s Day in the Park with family-themed activities including face painting and a bounce house. There are also a carnival, street dancing, a parade and a 5K run: hcmelonfest.org.
On July 4 the Lexington County Peach Festival celebrates Independence Day with all kinds of peach pies, peach ice cream and other peach products. There are a barbecue lunch, live entertainment and fireworks — oh, and a peach parade, all being held at Gilbert Community Park. Lexingtoncountypeachfestival.com has more details.
A lively and fun festival is the May River Shrimp Festival in Bluffton; head to https://www.blufftonsc.com/events/2022-may-river-shrimp-festival/. Tons of shrimp to feast on, food trucks, live music, craft beer garden, shrimp boat tours and a shrimp-heading contest will take place July 14, 5:30-9:30 p.m. For the best-ever shrimp burger on your way back to Charleston, head to Helena Island and the Shrimp Shack 36 miles north. You will not regret this one!
The Charleston Caribbean Jerk Festival will celebrate Caribbean food, culture and music, at Riverfront Park in North Charleston on July 16; chsjerkfest.com has details. There is a competition for the title of Top Jerk Chef in this gorgeous location. Riverfront Park is a beautiful and expansive green space along the Cooper River with a large meadow and performance pavilion, and if you haven’t seen what’s going on at the Old Naval Base and the redo of the Admiral’s House, it’s definitely worth a trip.
Continue the celebration of our beloved peach with the South Carolina Peach Festival in Gaffney, an event in the Upstate for more than 40 years and a fun-packed weekend only a 3.5-hour drive from Charleston. The weekend of July 15 and 17, there are a road race, carnival, arts and crafts, food vendors, a car show and concert. The highlight is the parade on Saturday; more details are at southcarolinapeachfestival.weebly.com.
Summerville Sweet Tea Festival takes place September 17, 2-8 p.m., and includes antique and craft vendors as well as local musicians and sweet tea vendors. Here is the festival to celebrate the birthplace of sweet tea! Be there for the best sweet tea contest. Visit https://summervilledream.org/sweet-tea-festival/ for more.
Finishing up with one of my favorite summer foods, boiled peanuts, we have the Bluffton Boiled Peanut Festival, with details on Facebook. This event has live music, a boiled peanut cook-off and all-you-can-eat boiled peanuts (heaven). This year’s event is September 24 at the historic Heyward House, so mark your calendars now and save the date. If you have your fill of peanuts, head to The Pearl Kitchen and Bar, wonderful seafood dishes and great fried green tomatoes.
It’s a beautiful time to get outdoors and enjoy some of these venues, sample good food and have some fun!
After 25 years in the technology field, Kathleen Parramore earned an MSc in nutrition from University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and then a degree in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of Charleston at Trident Tech. She is a writer, consultant and dinner party caterer in the Charleston area.