Food doesn’t get much more down home than a good ol’ salty slice of country ham, scrambled eggs, fried apples and a fat, fluffy biscuit to sop up the red-eye gravy. Hoo-wee!
If you’re salivating, head over to Lebanon on Sept. 26-28 for the 39th annual Marion County Country Ham Days.
We’re talkin’ hooved happenings here. Runners vie in a 5K Pokey Pig Race for prize pig mugs handcrafted by Myers Pottery in Bardstown, owned by Lebanon native son and potter Walter Myers. Myers also creates a PIGasus each year for the wildly-popular PIGasus Parade that wends its way through downtown Lebanon for upwards of two hours.
The week prior, local restaurants promote Ham Days with Swine and Dine, when each creates a signature appetizer and drink to build excitement for the weekend. A Country Ham Jam packs folks in for toe-tapping music and spontaneous Saturday night dancing. Hog raisers vie for the top country ham in a judged contest. Afterwards, the winning ham is auctioned off, and all proceeds benefit the charity of the top bidder’s choice.
You’d think you might be at an Arkansas football game during the hog-calling contest – “Whoo-pig…sooey!” For years, a husband-calling contest had men shaking in their boots, but the competition was discontinued after a woman blew out the sound system. Really.
But it’s at the Country Ham Breakfast Tent that the fork meets the pork. Come Saturday morning, some 6,000 hungry souls jam the breakfast tent from 7 until 11 a.m. to devour home-cooked vittles till their tummies bulge. Sunday’s servings are from 8 a.m. until 1. Since 1986, the Joymakers, a Kentucky-based gospel group, have been delighting breakfast eaters for several hours with their uplifting music. Other groups perform afterwards on the Main Street Stage, just a block from the Ham Days’ groaning board.
Because Marion County is home to Makers Mark Distillery and two cooperages that make whiskey barrels, the theme of this year’s festival is “Barrels of Fun.” The 2008 PIGasus Parade grand marshal will be Patrick Henry Hughes, an amazing 19-year-old Louisvillian who, despite physical disabilities from birth, is an accomplished pianist, vocalist and trumpet player. Thanks to ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition TV program, his family, who have relatives in the Lebanon area, recently received a new home.
If you can’t make an appearance until after breakfast, never fear, for the Super Food Booth is crammed with such delicacies as beans and cornbread, ham and biscuits, grilled chicken, baked ham sandwiches and Polish sausage awash with onions and peppers. Demanding equal time, the local Cattlemen’s Association serves a ribeye sandwich that will flat melt in your mouth. And you can wash it all down with a frosty glass of the Lebanon Lions Club’s hand-squeezed fresh lemonade.
Prior to Saturday’s PIGasus parade at 1 p.m., a slew of events take place, including Little Miss Ham Days and Junior Farmer for two- to four-year-olds (take your camera), a bubble gum-blowing contest, ham and biscuit eating contest, hay bale toss, spelling bee, pig relay and a kids’ parade. Other weekend activities include a car, truck and motorcycle show and an antique gas, steam engine and tractor exhibit.
With some 30,000 to 40,000 attendees annually, Ham Days makes an enormous economic impact on the community. In fact, the community’s civic clubs use the event as their major fundraiser and retailers claim it to be the best weekend all year.
“Nearly every year, the Kentucky Tourism Council names Ham Days as one of its Top 10 Events for fall,” said Kathy Browning, executive director of the Lebanon-Marion County Chamber of Commerce. For two years, the porcine fete also has garnered a spot on Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 Events for September.
Though the festival officially begins on Saturday, throngs show up for Friday night’s Battle of the Bands, held just a block from downtown at the football field of the old Lebanon High School, now renovated into offices. A Lebanon radio station sponsors the musical event, which features a variety of musical genres.
Like any good festival, Ham Days has arts and crafts and marketplace booths – 200 strong – and a kids’ carnival area.
You too can pork out in Lebanon. Find out how at www.hamdays.com or [email protected], or phone (270) 692-9594.