Shucked, on the shell, on ice, by the bag, barbecued and wrapped with bacon.
If it’s oysters you want, it’s oysters you’ll get – pretty much anyway you want ’em – at this weekend’s 28th annual OysterFest in Shelton.
Each year, 15,000 to 20,000 visitors descend upon the Mason County Fairgrounds to sample shellfish and other local delicacies the first full weekend in October.
Officially dubbed the West Coast Shucking Championship and Washington State Food Festival, it’s among dozens of festivals in the state focusing on fall’s bountiful harvest of foods, whether from the sea, the orchard or good earth.
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What makes Shelton’s festival unique, says festival publicity chairwoman Jill Himlie, is that all the vendors, from school band boosters to Boy Scouts, are nonprofit groups.
OysterFest, the celebration’s informal name, is the major fundraiser for all of the participating groups, including the main organizer, the Skookum Rotary Club.
Though oysters harvested from the Shelton area are the mainstay, the festival features a variety of seafood. Groups will hawk barbecued salmon, clam fritters, steamed clams, and crab-stuffed mushrooms.
There are other treats aplenty, including corn on the cob, Olympic Mountain ice cream, strawberry shortcake, and fresh-squeezed apple cider. Adults can sample and buy wine by the bottle, or indulge in microbrew specialties. Festival-goers can browse more than 60 booths.
After stuffing their bellies, visitors can watch professionals shuck oysters – that is, prying oysters open with an oyster knife and dislodging them – or even give it a try themselves.
Competition promises to be stiff as restaurateurs, shellfish harvesters and other experienced shuckers battle to see who’s the quickest shucker of all and whose presentation of shucked oysters is the prettiest. Winners go on to compete in the national championships in Maryland, Himlie said.
When visitors tire of everything oyster, they can enjoy five stages-worth of entertainment, offering music ranging from ska bands to swing groups to fiddlers. Kids can hold sea anemones and other sealife at water quality displays.
In another festival favorite, cooks will prepare main dishes, soups, stews or appetizers before an audience during the Seafood Cook-off.
While cook-off contestants bring ingredients for their special recipes, competitors in the festival’s Iron Chef Competition won’t know what ingredients they’ll be given to prepare a meal for judges.
With festival admission costing just $5 a person and free parking, OysterFest is a good deal in these tough times, Himlie said.
“The prices of food are not expensive. You can just come and wander and not spend a lot of money,” she said. “There are few souvenirs. It’s not like the Puyallup Fair with a lot of commercial things to buy.”
The bash is such dependable fun that it’s become the site of annual family reunions and draws festival regulars who fly in from California or sail into downtown Shelton and take a bus to the fairgrounds, Himlie said.
“We’ve had rain the last three years. It doesn’t keep people away,” she said. “Bring rain boots, just in case.”
Here’s a sampling of fall food festivals in Washington state. Check out the Web sites or phone numbers for specific hours and locations.
28TH ANNUAL WEST COAST OYSTER SHUCKING CHAMPIONSHIP AND WASHINGTON STATE SEAFOOD FESTIVAL (ALSO CALLED OYSTERFEST)
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Mason County Fairgrounds, Shelton
Admission: $5, free parking
Oyster-shucking competitions, seafood cook-off. Food, wine, microbrews for sale, including variety of oyster dishes, clams, mussels and crab.
NORTHWEST TEA FESTIVAL
9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Seattle Center, Northwest Rooms, Seattle
Admission: Free with suggested $5 donation; donors receive a tea cup to use in tasting sessions.
Lectures exploring production, traditions and stories of tea around the world. Participants can sign up for free tasting sessions.
LATTIN’S COUNTRY CIDER MILL AND FARM APPLE FESTIVAL
9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 31
9402 Rich Road S.E., Olympia
Admission: Free, but charges for individual features. Parking $2.
360-491-7328 or www.lattinscider.com
Sample and buy fresh-picked apples, cider, apple butter, apple fritters and other treats; enjoy live bluegrass; play the apple slingshot; ride a tractor-drawn wagon to the pumpkin patch; navigate a maze; bob for apples; and visit farm animals. Haunted barn for young children noon to 4 p.m., $4. Scarier haunted barn for older kids, 7 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays Oct. 17-31, $5.
STEILACOOM APPLE SQUEEZE
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Lafayette and Wilkes streets in downtown Steilacoom
Steilacoom Historical Museum Association at 253-584-4133 or www.steilacoomhistorical.org
Cider pressing, street fair, music, food booths.
OKTOBERFEST NORTHWEST 2009
11 a.m. to midnight Oct. 9 and 10
11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 11
Puyallup Fairgrounds, Puyallup
Admission: Regular admission $8, children 12 and younger free. Tickets half-price on Sunday. Everyone free from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday.
Maypole dancing, root beer garden, games and face painting for kids. Weiner dog racing. German beers and foods, including bratwurst.
WILD MUSHROOM CELEBRATION
Oct. 9 through Nov. 15
Long Beach Peninsula
Dinner prices start at $40 per person, depending on establishment.
Selected restaurants, inns and bed-and-breakfast establishments in Seaview, Ilwaco and Long Beach prepare gourmet dinners featuring edible wild mushrooms and fresh local ingredients.
CRANBERRY HARVEST FESTIVAL
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (with Lighted Firefly Parade at 8 p.m.) Oct. 10
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 11
Grayland Community Hall and other sites in Grayland, south of Aberdeen
www.cranberrycoastcoc.com or 800-473-6018
Tours of cranberry bogs, cranberry products, cranberry cook-off, cranberry eating contest, biggest cranberry contest, parade, entertainment and more.
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 10 and 11
Long Beach Peninsula
Festival admission: Purchase $5 admission buttons at Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum.
www.funbeach.com/events/cranberrian or the museum at 360-642-3446
Fall harvest celebration of the Long Beach Peninsula’s family-owned cranberry bogs. Watch growers flood fields, beat berries from vines, and gather the floating berries. Sample cranberry and other local food products, shop for artisan pottery, fine art and more at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum. Visit the Cranberry Museum and go on a self-guided farm tour.
8TH ANNUAL DUNGENESS CRAB & SEAFOOD FESTIVAL
Oct. 10 and 11
Port Angeles City Pier, Port Angeles Gateway Center and the Red Lion Hotel, Port Angeles.
www.crabfestival.org or 360-452-6300
Celebration of seafood, maritime traditions and coastal environment of the Olympic Peninsula. Chow down at crab feeds, browse through craft and vendor booths, learn about salmon restoration and the Elwha River dam removal project.