Spring food festivals around the South include stops in Bradley, Polk counties

Staff photo by Andre James / Hot slaw covers a chili dog from The Chef in Cleveland, Tenn.
Staff photo by Andre James / Hot slaw covers a chili dog from The Chef in Cleveland, Tenn.

Growing up in Cleveland, Tennessee, Melissa Woody assumed everyone knew what hot slaw was. Several grocery stores sold it and local restaurants offered the dish. It wasn't until 2017 that she realized hot slaw was a specialty that few outside the city's borders had tasted.

Traditionally, hot slaw is made with chopped cabbage, yellow mustard, mayonnaise, and jalapeño and pickled peppers. It's essentially coleslaw with "mustard and a little heat," explained Woody, vice president of tourism development in Cleveland. Every year, the town's residents celebrate the dish during the Hot Slaw and Art Y'all Festival.

It's an example of how festivals around the South often are a result of residents wanting to showcase local culinary traditions.

Here are seven food festivals around the South to explore this spring.

Charleston Wine and Food Festival

This festival in Charleston, South Carolina, offers 109 foodie events happening over five days, Executive Director Alyssa Smith said. While there are a slew of intimate dinners and excursions to enjoy, she said, the Culinary Village offers a "true taste of the Low Country." The village is separated into several themed neighborhoods, including a seafood neighborhood called Shucktown. You'll also find an artisan market, culinary demonstrations and live music.

March 6-10. $129-$1,450. Riverfront Park, Charleston, South Carolina. charleston wineandfood.com

Georgia Food and Wine Festival

Presented by Georgia Grown, this Marietta festival will begin with a Fired-Up event on Friday featuring barbecue from pitmasters around the state. There will be wine, beer and spirit tastings, live music and a "meat and greet" experience with chef Nick Leahy, of Johns Creek, Georgia, retailer Vice Kitchen, and Beam Suntory whiskey ambassador Beth Burrows. On Saturday, tickets will include unlimited wine and beer tastings and 10 culinary credits that go toward purchasing food from vendors at the festival. There also will be live music, cooking demonstrations and an artisan market. Sunday will be family-friendly, with a kids zone.

March 22-24. $75-$165. Jim R. Miller Park, Marietta. georgiafoodandwinefestival.com

Hot Slaw and Art Y'all

Join mascot Sammy the Slaw Dog for a day of hot slaw and art in Cleveland. Each food vendor will have hot slaw on the menu, and several local businesses will be handing out samples. Amateur and professional contestants will compete to see who has the best hot slaw recipe. There also will be three stages for entertainment, a slaw dog-eating contest and more.

April 6. Free. Downtown Cleveland, Tennessee. hotslawfestival.com

(READ MORE: Restaurant Scene: A bill is underway to make Cleveland favorite hot slaw a Tennessee state food)

State Banana Pudding Festival of Georgia

This festival will kick off with the Puddin' Pedal, a 20- to 40-mile bike ride with banana pudding available at every rest stop. Also, there will be the Puddin' Path, where attendees can pay $5 to taste seven local nonprofits' banana pudding recipes. There will be a pudding contest, with the overall winner going on to enter the fall National Banana Pudding Festival in Centerville, Tennessee. And vendors will offer such specialty items as banana pudding funnel cake, ice cream, coffee and cupcakes.

April 6. $2-$5. Downtown Irwinton. bananapuddingfestival.com

Pimento Cheese Festival

This festival in Cary, North Carolina, will include more than 50 food vendors incorporating pimento cheese into their menus. Past festivals have seen such items as pimento cheese sushi, pimento cheese teriyaki dumplings and pimento cheese ice cream, said Joy Ennis, general manager of Downtown Cary Park. At the pimento cheese marketplace, local restaurants will serve samples of their pimento cheese, and professional cheese sculptor Sarah Kaufmann will create one of her "cheesescapes," Ennis said.

April 13. Free. Downtown Cary Park, Cary, North Carolina. downtowncarypark.com/cheese

The National Grits Festival

This festival is in Warwick, which former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue recognized as the Grits Capital of the World. There will be a cook-off, in which contestants can enter any dish, as long as it contains grits, as well as a grits-eating contest, food vendors and arts and crafts. And there will be the grits pit — a shallow pool filled with instant grits into which contestants take a dive and then are weighed to see who absorbed the most.

April 13. Free. Downtown Warwick. gritsfest.com

Ramp Tramp Festival

Wild ramp dinners and festivals are held throughout the spring to celebrate the odorous plants that look like spring onions and taste like garlic. The Ramp Tramp Festival in Polk County, Tennessee, began in 1958, when young farmers would hike a nearby mountain to forage for wild ramps, county extension agent Greg Paxton said. While few people forage in the mountains anymore, there will be vendors serving hot dogs topped with ramps, ramp hamburgers and ramp nachos, plus a traditional ramp meal on Friday and Saturday that consists of scrambled eggs and ramps, bacon, fried potatoes, cornbread and white beans. There also will be live bluegrass music and a craft show.

April 26-27. Free admission. Only cash is accepted on the festival grounds. 4-H Camp McCroy, Reliance, Tennessee. ramptrampfestival.com

(READ MORE: Little stinkers: It's time to hunt — and celebrate — the ramps of Appalachia)

  photo  File Photo / The Polk County Ramp Tramp Festival features a traditional meal of scrambled eggs and ramps, bacon, fried potatoes, cornbread and white beans.

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