From chicken livers to sorghum syrup, Georgia has a fall food festival for you

Explore the state this fall and savor its many flavors.
During the Sorghum Festival in Blairsville, sorghum syrup will be brewed on site as attendees sample delicacies made from the syrup. Courtesy of Enotah CASA

Credit: Courtesy of Enotah CASA

Credit: Courtesy of Enotah CASA

During the Sorghum Festival in Blairsville, sorghum syrup will be brewed on site as attendees sample delicacies made from the syrup. Courtesy of Enotah CASA

For a few weekends each year, when hot summer days fade into cool autumn mornings, small towns around Georgia attract visitors from far and wide to indulge in delicious food and experience a new community. It’s the season of fall festivals, when sweet potatoes, apples and pecans get their time to shine.

Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Tyler Harper knows a thing or two about fall festivals after growing up and living near Ocilla, where the Sweet Potato Festival attracts thousands to the rural town every October.

“It’s an opportunity for those that have no ties to rural Georgia or smaller communities, or even agriculture, for them to go see what it’s about and for them to get a first-hand experience,” Harper said. “Those festivals give you an opportunity to see what drives a lot of those communities.”

Syrup makers prepare sorghum cane at the Blairsville Sorghum Festival taking place during the second and third weekends of October. Courtesy of Enotah CASA

Credit: Courtesy of Enotah CASA

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Credit: Courtesy of Enotah CASA

Sorghum Festival

At the end of every Sorghum Festival, Lisa Kane swears it’s her last year participating. But when the next one inevitably rolls around, she’s “right back down there,” helping to grow, harvest and prepare the sorghum cane.

“It’s just in me, you know?” Kane said. “It’s just what I do.”

This year will be the Sorghum Festival’s 54th year in Blairsville. Over the festival’s two-weekend run, makers will gather in Meeks Park to brew 500 gallons of fresh sorghum syrup.

While Kane’s husband makes the syrup — something he’s done since he was a teenager — she’ll run the concession stand and make sorghum treats, including pound cake, fudge, candied apples, popcorn balls and the famous sorghum cookies her 94-year-old mother-in-law Cecilia Pruitt bakes.

“Just the smell of sorghum cooking...” Kane said. “You have to come to know what I mean.”

Other festivities include competitions in biscuit eating, pole climbing, rock throwing and log sawing. There will also be demonstrations by a moonshiner, a taxidermist and a chainsaw artist, and food vendors selling classic festival fare like hamburgers, hot dogs, corndogs and more.

The thick, syrupy sweetness has been an important part of Blairsville’s history for decades, and the festival is a way for them to share it with people from all around Georgia.

“You can’t have a fall in Blairsville without a Sorghum Festival,” Kane said.

9 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 14-15 and Oct. 21-22. $5, kids 12 and younger free. Meeks Park, 490 Meeks Road, Blairsville. 706-969-0300,

Apples by the bagful are sold during the Georgia Apple Festival, held each October in Ellijay. Live entertainment, crafts and foods featuring apples are part of the celebration. Contributed by Gilmer Chamber.

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Georgia Apple Festival

The Georgia Apple Festival in Ellijay is such a huge draw it takes place over two weekends and at two different locations. It’s a testament to just how popular the fruit is.

The Georgia Apple Festival is the big one with around 300 vendors, and it’s held at the Ellijay Lions Club Fairgrounds. The smaller Apple Arts Festival is held in downtown Ellijay on the square. Altogether, about 60,000 people are expected to attend.

“We wanted this event to really benefit the whole area,” said Gilmer County Chamber events coordinator Natalie Knight.

Vendors include local apple farmers selling fresh apples, hot apple cider, apple fritters and apple candles. One of Knight’s favorite dishes is the apple dumpling made fresh on-site. But not everything is made with apples. She also recommends trying Colonel Robert’s Homemade Rootbeer, which is made from a secret family recipe so well-kept the family almost couldn’t find it.

In addition to vendors, there are blacksmith demonstrations, candle making and an ax carver. There’s also an area for kids with a bounce house and gem mining. The festival offers plenty of food to go around, from deep-fried grilled cheese to Greek cuisine.

The merriment continues with a parade on the first Saturday of the festival that begins at 11 a.m. and runs through downtown. This year, the parade’s theme is Fall Harvest.

“This tiny town gets really full,” Knight said.

9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Oct. 14-15 and Oct. 21-22. $10 adults; kids 12 and younger free. Ellijay Lions Club Fairgrounds, 1729 S. Main St., Ellijay. 706-635-7400, Limited accessible parking at fairgrounds; parking available at local schools with shuttle service. Check website for details.

Apple Arts Festival: Free. Ellijay Square, 10 Broad St., Ellijay.

Georgia Apple Festival Parade: 11 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 14. Ellijay Square.

Barbecue teams compete against each other during the Atlanta Kosher BBQ Festival.

Credit: Courtesy of JMF Communications

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Credit: Courtesy of JMF Communications

Atlanta Kosher BBQ Festival

Nothing brings people together quite like a plate of barbecue. The tasty, smoky flavors and savory sauce can be adapted to fit a variety of cultures, tastebuds and dietary restrictions. The Atlanta Kosher BBQ Festival in Dunwoody is the perfect example of this delectable blend.

“By having it as kosher as possible, we’re welcoming the entire Jewish community, and because it’s barbecue, we bring in everybody else,” Executive Director Jody Pollack said.

Organized by the Hebrew Order of David, the festival hosts a cooking competition. Barbecue teams arrive long before the festival begins and cook through the night and morning. Once the competitors turn in their dishes to the judges, festival attendees have a chance to taste the chili, chicken, beef ribs and brisket. Last year 21 teams competed for judges from the Kansas City Barbecue Society.

This year the festival plans to honor David McBrayer, captain of the DeKalb County Fire and Rescue, by naming him the festival’s special Grand Marshall. McBrayer, who has participated in the Atlanta Kosher BBQ Festival for the past four years, was in a car wreck on his way home from work in June that left him with a severe spinal injury. A GoFundMe has been set up to help with expenses.

In addition to barbecue, there’s music, vendors, a kids section and a variety of other kosher festival foods to choose from.

“It’s the true mingling of cultures everybody says they want but they’re too busy talking about it, and we’re actually doing it,” Pollack said. “It’s our little village for a day.”

11 a.m.-3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 22. Free, 1 oz. tasting tickets $1.25. Brook Run Park, 4770 N. Peachtree Road, Dunwoody. 770-580-3897,

The Sweet Potato Festival in Ocilla, Georgia, will take place on Saturday, Oct. 28. A highlight is the parade in which all the floats must be decorated with real sweet potatoes. Courtesy of Ocilla-Irwin Chamber of Commerce

Credit: Courtesy of the Ocilla-Irwin Chamber of Commerce

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Credit: Courtesy of the Ocilla-Irwin Chamber of Commerce

Sweet Potato Festival

Sweet potato casserole, sweet potato souffle, sweet potato fries — the possibilities are endless. This root vegetable has a large enough following to warrant its own celebration in the town of Ocilla, one that’s entering its 63rd year and attracts around 20,000 people, according to Tammy Vickers, executive secretary at the Chamber of Commerce.

Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Tyler Harper, who calls the Ocilla area home, said the festival is “part of the fabric of our hometown.” Growing up, he remembers the parade as an exciting part of the day.

“You knew it was startin’ when you saw the motorcycles; you knew it was ending when you saw the horses,” he said.

The parade lasts a little over an hour and runs down Irwin Avenue and 4th Street, and every float must have real sweet potatoes on it. In addition to the parade, there are arts and crafts vendors, kiddie rides, a motorcycle show and a sweet potato decorating contest.

8 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28. Parade 11 a.m. at Irwin Avenue and Fourth Street. Free. 303 W. Fourth St., Ocilla. 229-468-9114,

The Pecan Festival on Saturday, Nov. 4, in Blackshear, will feature local entertainment and pecan pie. Courtesy of the Exchange Club of Blackshear

Credit: Courtesy of the Exchange Club of Blackshear

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Credit: Courtesy of the Exchange Club of Blackshear

Pecan Festival of Georgia

Georgia may be called the Peach State, but it only ranks third in the country for production. Pecan State might be a more appropriate name. The state has been the No. 1 pecan producer in the country for the last 17 years, according to the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

The South Georgia town of Blackshear started hosting the Pecan Festival as a way to celebrate the pecan-growing community in Pierce County, said Renee Choate, festival director. Then eight years ago, she petitioned the Georgia Pecan Growers Association to designate it Georgia’s official pecan festival.

“I wanted to ... give the community more visibility and notoriety and let us have its own little place in the sun to shine,” she said.

The festival has grown in size over the years, attracting between 10,000 and 12,000 attendees last year.

A highlight of the day is the Georgia State Pecan Pie Contest, which actually has two categories — one for pecan pie and one for other desserts made with pecans. After the entries are judged, the treats are donated to the Exchange Club of Blackshear to sell at their booth.

Other festival attractions include a classic car show, entertainment by local bands and dance organizations, arts and crafts, rides and games for kids and plenty of other kinds of food from Tex-Mex to seafood to barbecue.

“I think all the pecan growers in the area appreciate it,” Choate said. “It’s just a neat way to honor the agricultural farmers.”

8 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 4. Free. Blackshear City Park, 200 SW Central Ave., Blackshear. 478-484-2149, To enter the Georgia State Pecan Pie Contest, call the Pierce County Chamber of Commerce at 912-449-7044.

Chicken Livers & Gizzards Festival

About three hours south of Atlanta, the small town of Broxton in Coffee County is home to one of Georgia’s more unusual festivals: the Chicken Livers and Gizzards Festival.

The 10th annual festival began as a way to attract more business to Broxton, said former chairperson Gary Evans.

He said they wanted a festival that would pay homage to the city’s local poultry industry, but there were already plenty of chicken festivals — this one had to be special. Chicken livers and gizzards is just unusual enough to garner attention and, according to Evans, it has helped them raise Broxton’s visibility. They’ve even seen a few businesses move back into the community.

“It’s small progress, but it’s a small town so all progress is good,” he said.

Broxton Mayor Jimmy Littleton estimated the town’s population almost triples in size during the festival. It’s like a homecoming, he said, a time for friends and family members to make the trip home to Broxton.

“It gives us a chance to come together and have a good time,” he said.

A highlight of the day is the parade, which showcases antique tractors, motorcycles, firetrucks and more. After the parade, attendees can shop for arts and crafts while kids enjoy inflatables, pony rides and face painting.

But the main attraction is the food. Vendors sell flavored lemonade, freeze-dried candies, gator tail, Caribbean food and, of course, fried chicken livers and gizzards.

“It’s not your average everyday thing,” said Dawn Tarrant, this year’s festival chairperson. “If the spices and seasonings are right, you can pretty much turn anyone into a liver and gizzards fan.”

8 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 4. Parade 10 a.m. along Little Avenue West. Free. Broxton Park, behind the Broxton Public Library at 105 Church St., Broxton. 912-359-2060. Check Facebook page for details.