Gravy wrestling to pea shooting – what’s the best food festival in 2021?

From ‘knob throwing’ to downing oysters and beer in 10 seconds flat, these Olympian food events are down but not out.

At the start of the year, you probably imagined you’d be enjoying the news of gold medal achievements and personal bests from your favourite sports stars at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics this summer. You may well be missing the archery and freestyle BMX competitions, but they aren’t the only showstopping events that have had to be cancelled.

From gravy wrestling to pea shooting, these fringe food events are, like the Olympics, on hold for another year. But which one do you want to attend in 2021?

Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling on Cooper’s Hill

Despite being cancelled since 2010 for health and safety reasons, participants and spectators still turn up on the late May Bank Holiday to race against cheese.

Competitors dash from the top of a very steep hill after a large wheel of cheese, and the winner is the person who catches it.

Given the cheese is said to travel at speeds of up to 70mph, catching it on the descent is near-on impossible – which is why so many people tumble down, taking other competitors out as they go.

This year’s event was cancelled and organisers urged no-one to turn up. But on the day of competition, the master of ceremonies, Jem Wakeman, took to the hill just after sunrise and rolled down a lone 9lb double Gloucester wheel.

Report

Whitstable Oyster Festival

Report

The Kent coastal town is famous for its molluscs and the festival receives visitors from all over. However, this year’s July festival was cancelled – which means no Whitstable Oyster Eating Competition, in which competitors vie to down six oysters and half a pint of beer as quickly as possible. Last year’s winner, Nev Hatton, managed the feat in 10 seconds. Astounding.

It wasn’t his first attempt either. He told local news site Kent Online he’s won the competition “six-ish times”. His tried and tested technique involves drinking alcohol before the competition and, when faced with the plate, quickly turning the shells upside-down, making the oysters fall out of them easily. We’ll have to wait for 2021 to see if he’s crowned a seventh-ish time.

Marshwood World Stinging Nettle Eating Championship, Dorset

We have nothing against eating nettles. Risotto of nettles and wild herbs anyone? But we do not recommend eating uncooked stingers. As well as sore and itchy hands, there’s the impact on your mouth. There’s definitely going to be some ‘tingling’ going on and the dreaded ‘black tongue’.

Still, every year dozens of participants munch through as many nettles as possible in an hour. The winner is measured by the length of bare nettle stalks on their table. Last year’s winner managed to get through 58 foot of the weeds!

Annual World Gravy Wrestling Championships

Report

Gravy is fantastic, isn’t it? On a roast or on your chips, it’s hard to beat. But we’re not convinced it’s an essential element of combat sport. Proving otherwise is the World Gravy Wrestling Championships, held in Rossendale, Lancashire on the August bank holiday weekend. Each year you can expect 16 men and eight women to take on two-minute battles in browning.

Those who carry the trophy will have wrestled in up to four bouts of gravy over the course of a day. In previous years the fire brigade has been on hand to wash everyone down between bouts. Competitors are encouraged to come in fancy dress – perhaps as a giant chip?

As for the gravy, it looks a bit thin for our liking – but given they have to produce 20 tonnes of the stuff that seems understandable.

The organisers confirmed that it has been cancelled, but will return next year.

World Pea Shooting Championships, Witcham Village, Cambridgeshire

Just like Glastonbury, 2020 was going to see the 50th anniversary of the World Pea Shooting Championships in Witcham, Cambridgeshire. But it has been put on hold until July 2021.

Locals and those from further afield compete in this pea-culiar event. One participant came all the way from New Zealand, said John Wells, who organises the competition with other members of the Witcham Village Hall Committee.

So what happens at the competition? “The pea shoot targets are a bit like a very simple dart board covered in putty, so the peas stick or mark the target”, says John. (We suggested mashed potato...)

The distance to the target depends on your age, it’s “12ft (3.65m) for adults, 10ft (3m) for children aged eight and over and 8ft (2.4m) for children seven and under. So accuracy at a fixed distance is key...” says John.

In terms of the technology, there have been some developments with the pea shooters over the years. “Some innovations, such as laser pointers and telescopic sights have been used, but often the traditionalists have held sway”, says John.

While the event was put on hold this year, it was marked with a food bank collection around the village on pea shoot Saturday.

The British Asparagus Festival

Whether it’s char-grilled and dipped in hollandaise sauce or blitzed into soup, there’s nothing quite like asparagus. And to celebrate the spears each year, people descend upon the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire.

We’ll be missing the competition, in which you have to eat as many asparagus (asparaguses?) as possible in one minute, with the winner crowned AsparaKing or AsparaQueen. You can meet Gus the giant asparagus spear, the festival’s mascot, or consult Jemima Packington, aka the ‘Asparamancer’, who predicts the future by tossing a bunch of asparagus in the air and interpreting their landing pattern.

So what does the rest of 2020 have in store according to the Asparamancer? In terms of entertainment: “The youngest person ever to win an Oscar will be heralded as an acting talent of the future”. And as for politics? “A real shake up of the major political parties will take place sooner than expected”, apparently. And good news for shoppers: “There will be a resurgence of independent retailers and smaller shops. ‘Shop local’ will start to mean something again.”

While many elements of the spring festival had to be cancelled this year, some virtual events took place, including an auction of 100 asparagus as well as an ‘aspararide’ – a bike route for people to follow as part of their daily exercise.

Garlic festival, Isle of Wight

The festival motto: “Since 1983. Eat, drink, STINK.” Well that pretty much sums up what you’d expect from a garlic festival.

While there’s plenty of traditional food festival entertainment – cooking demonstrations, music and kids’ entertainment – there are a lot of garlic-themed games and events too.

For both children and adults alike, there are garlic-and-spoon and bouncing garlic races, with garlic bulb medals awarded to those who cross the finishing line first.

There is of course an eating competition, and if you’re thinking of entering you’ll want to warn loved ones about the after-effects.You start eating a mild variety of garlic and then have to work your way through stronger and stronger varieties. Manage to reach the heady heights of the ‘Vampire Slayer’ and you’ll have a bell rung in your honour.

It would be churlish not to try some, erm, unusual garlicky morsels such as garlic ice cream, garlic beer, garlic Bloody Mary and garlic fudge. Chilli and salt have become common ingredients in sweet treats over the last decade, so why not garlic?

People who attend are encouraged to come in fancy dress, and there’s a garlic queen too, pictured above with Nadiya Hussain back in 2016.

The festival has promised to return in August 2021.

The Dorset Knob Throwing and Frome Valley Food Fest

Winning the award for the best named food event, this Dorset festival was actually taking a break this year anyway (as they find a new venue), but is due to return next May.

In case you’re wondering why knob throwing has anything to do with food, they aren’t the type of knobs you find on doors (what were you thinking?), but are actually a hard biscuit traditionally made with leftover and unused bread dough, butter and sugar. And, because they’re hard, they are perfect for throwing competitively.

There are of course rules competitors have to stick to: you only get three attempts with certified festival knobs, keep one foot on the ground and, most importantly, use an underarm throw.

However, the competition isn’t the only event at the festival. There’s “knob eating, knob painting, a knob-and-spoon race, guess the weight of the big knob, knob darts and a knob pyramid”. (Ed. collapses in fits of giggles.)