Food festivals: Celebrating the great and good of food

By Duncan Leatherdale
BBC News online

Image source, Lionel Heap

The annual Marmalade Festival held at the weekend is one of the UK's many festivals dedicated solely to a particular food. But what are the others?

Marmalade and jam

Image source, Hermione McCosh
Image caption, Janice Miners won top prize at the Marmalade Festival

Janice Miners will soon see her grapefruit and gin-flavoured marmalade on sale at Fortnum and Mason.

About 10,000 visitors turned up to see the 2,700 marmalades from 30 countries - and Japan has now been inspired to hold its own festival.

Ms Miners is not the only winner to see her creation on the shelves.

The store also sells Janet Cormack's four berries preserve after it won the Preserve Cup at the Port Eliot Flower and Fodder Festival in Cornwall.

Return of the oyster

Image source, S. Jolly Photography /Stranraer Development
Image caption, Stranraer's first oyster festival was held in September last year

The Oyster Festival in Stranraer was designed to reunite the townsfolk with the water.

The town in south-west Scotland suffered a major blow in 2011, when Irish Sea ferry services moved elsewhere, according to Romano Petrucci, organiser of the festival.

In a bid to get the community to "fall back in love" with Loch Ryan, on which Stranraer sits, Mr Petrucci decided to organise an event.

Image source, S. Jolly Photography/Stranraer Development Trust
Image caption, Several thousand oysters were consumed during the inaugural Stranraer oyster festival

And thanks to the rare oyster bed in the loch, the mollusc seemed to be the perfect thing to celebrate.

The first festival was held in September 2017 and Mr Petrucci confirmed it will be returning again in the coming September.

A report found the three-day event bought £500,000 into the local economy as more than 10,000 people visited.

Colchester in Essex also celebrates the oyster as part of the annual medieval festival being held in June, while other coastal communities such as Falmouth in Cornwall and Anglesey in Wales also have oyster fairs.

Fruit and Vegetables

Image source, Bramley Apple Festival
Image caption, The Bramley Apple Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2018

Dozens of communities celebrate fruits and vegetables, from small leek shows in County Durham pubs to the annual plum festival - which sees thousands descend on Pershore in Worcestershire.

The Bramley Apple Festival in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, might be the closest to its roots - as it celebrates the 200-year-old tree from which the fruit originated.

The tree is dying from a fungal infection, but the festival is still going strong and 2018 is its 25th anniversary.

The festival regularly attracts visitors from Japan, where there is a Bramley apple fan club.

"It is a real celebration of the Bramley apple," said Sarah Payne of the Southwell Tourism Partnership.

An onion fair in Newent, Gloucestershire, was revived in the 1990s.

It had started as a sheep fair but in the 1880s onions became big business. The fair became so important it set the prices for onions across large parts of south west England, south Wales and the Midlands.

Now it attracts more than 15,000 visitors.

Ginger, spice and all things nice

Image source, Ginger and Spice Festival
Image caption, The Ginger and Spice Festival celebrates Market Drayton's heritage

Dozens of communities hold shows dedicated to local delicacies.

Lincoln, for example, hosts a sausage festival inspired in large part by the Lincolnshire sausage. Cornwall spends a whole week celebrating its famous pasty which culminates in a world championship.

Market Drayton calls itself the home of gingerbread as it was the hometown of Robert Clive, also known as Clive of India, who brought ginger back with him.

Image source, Ginger and Spice Festival
Image caption, Billington's, one of those taking part in the festival, is the UK's oldest make of gingerbread to still be going

It is home to Billington's, the oldest manufacturer of gingerbread still in operation in the country, and as of last year it has a festival celebrating the spice.

For those liking the hotter dishes, chilli festivals can be found in Newcastle and Birmingham, while fans of garlic can find what they're after on the Isle of Wight.

Cheese, pies and chocolate

Image source, Lionel Heap
Image caption, The Artisan Cheese Fair features more than 300 cheeses from 70 producers

The Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray dubs itself "the rural capital of food" thanks in no small part to its four annual food festivals.

Its largest is the main food festival but it also has events dedicated entirely to cheese, pies and chocolate.

The Artisan Cheese Festival features more than 300 cheeses from 70 cheese makers from Britain and Ireland.

Image source, Lionel Heap
Image caption, The cheese fair in Melton Mowbray attracts more than 9,000 people each year

Now in its 10th year, it is attended by more than 9,000 people with only artisan makers - those who make less than 300 tonnes of cheese a year - invited to display.

In 2011 the show relaunched the Colwick cheese which originated in the 1600s but fell out of favour in the 1980s.

PieFest features hundreds of pies (including the famous and protected Melton Mowbray pork pie) and has been running for three years, attracting about 5,000 visitors.

Image source, Lionel Heap
Image caption, PieFest allows the public to taste the entries into the annual Pie Awards

ChocFest is a celebration of chocolates and includes the town's eponymous pie dipped in chocolate.

It too started three years ago and attracts 6,500 people.

Image source, Lionel Heap
Image caption, ChocFest is dedicated to all things chocolate

"These festivals have a significant impact on the town and area," said Matthew O'Callaghan, a councillor and founder of the festivals, who estimates food tourism brings in £78m a year.


Image source, Steven Turner/National Honey Show
Image caption, There are almost 200 categories of honey at the National Honey Show

The National Honey Show is thought to be the largest event of its kind in the world with almost 2,000 entrants in about 200 categories last year.

It started in 1921 as a joint show for bee keepers in Surrey and Kent at the Crystal Palace before becoming national two years later.

Now it attracts entrants from across the world, most notably the middle east and the Americas.

It started purely as a competition but is now a three-day convention with lectures and workshops.

Image source, Steven Turner/National Honey Show

"They are all enthusiastic amateurs," said show chairman Bob Maurer.

The majority of entrants will harvest their honey at the end of July and beginning of August ahead of the show at Sandown Park Racecourse in, Esher, Surrey, in October.

Although there are more than 80 trophies, pride is the biggest prize (cash rewards range only between £5 and £10).

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