The Roadkill Cookoff

The citizens of West Virginia can be described by two words: Independent and practical. When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861 the independent mountaineers from the western third of the state broke away and created their own pro-Union state of West Virginia.

The practical side shows in their road kill law. If a speeding car killed a deer, for example, the carcass was left by the roadside to putrefy. Why waste tasty venison to feed the buzzards when it could be consumed by humans? The state government rectified this by passing our nation's first road kill law. This law says that any animal accidentally killed by a car can be taken home and used.

The folks in Marlinton, county seat of Pocahontas County, took the concept to the next level. Twenty years ago they instituted an annual Harvest Festival. Centerpiece of this celebration is the Roadkill Cookoff. The contest has been featured on TV and in several regional magazines.

The Visitor's Bureau provided a wealth of material. When I called with questions, I was informed that Pocahontas County is also the birthplace of Nobel Prize winning author Pearl S. Buck. Where was she born? In Hillsboro. Where's that? "'bout ten tater throws down the road from Marlinton." Translation: ten miles south of the county seat. Down is south, up is north.

Contest rules are relatively simple. Contestants must bring their own road kill. The rules are flexible. If it is true road kill, chefs are reminded they should scrape any "gravel, tar or rubber" off their entry before cooking. . Otherwise, anything goes as long as the main ingredients is an animal commonly found dead along the highway. Some contestants are avid hunters who bring their own deer, rabbit, squirrel, coons, possums and a plethora of wild fowl. A recent winner was Duck Gumbo. One day he was a hunter in a duck blind, the next he was a prize winning chef. Other contestants simply shop at a specialty market.

This has lead to some very creative dishes. Thumper Meets Bumper (rabbit); Asleep At The Wheel Squeal (wild pig); Rigormortis Bear Stew (bear); Tire Tread Tortillas (soft shelled turtle) and Deer On A Stick (venison). It was impossible to classify One Ton Wonton. What's in it ?

Contestant must bring their own table, cook stove and cooking utensils. To preserve the frontier character of the Cook-off, no electricity is provided.

Thousands of tourists show up for the Harvest festival. The early hours are spent watching square dancing or listening to banjo picking, but everyone is waiting for the big event. At 11 a.m. the country cuisine chefs leap into action. Working within a roped off section, they have three hours to create their culinary masterpieces Judging begins at 2 p.m. Offerings are rated on taste, originality and showmanship. Prizes are $600 for first place, $300 for second and $150 for third. A Showmanship Award is given to the contestant with the best overall setup.

When the judging is finish and the awards presented, the public is allowed in. The faint of heart will just look but sturdier folks can taste the cooked road kill, such as Sweet 'Taters And Possum. (I have not kitchen tested this dish.)


1 dressed roadkill opossum

4 cups sweet potato chunks, about lemon sized

Melted butter

1 cup light brown sugar mixed with l tablespoon cinnamon

PREPARATION: Bath possum in salty water to remove gamey taste. Smear carcass with butter. Dip potato in melted butter, roll in sugar mixture. Stuff the carcass with potatoes, bake at 350 degrees until meat is done and potatoes tender.

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