Busting the Nut: A Day at the 2019 Okmulgee Pecan Festival

In honor of this state’s most reverential nut, this past Saturday was a blissfully warm afternoon for the annual tradition of the Okmulgee Pecan Festival to take place; among all the famous treats that were in store for pecan sycophants from all over Oklahoma, the most exciting had to be the legendary cooking down and serving up of the world’s largest pecan pie, something I’d been looking forward to for weeks.

Parking in the shade a few streets over, near the classic movie theater—man, would I love to see a movie there someday—my pal Jodie and I walked to the open-air celebration, which, shockingly, had an eerie quiet to it; instead of the hundreds of inflamed nut-goers I had imagined, there were seemingly only a handful of locals, milling around, conversing with outdoor shop owners and other vendors looking to make a buck…

Walking into the Okmulgee Chamber of Commerce tent to look for any information on some of the day’s events and, more specifically, where this giant pie is hiding, that’s when the crushing news was fatally delivered: they haven’t had a giant pecan pie for a few years now, but, you know, next year they’re going to try to get a replacement oven to bake one in, not that it really helped us then.

As it slowly hit me why the numbers of this festival have perhaps dwindled over the past few years, still, there were plenty of somewhat pecan-based peccadilloes to proudly be a part of here, from buying Confederate flags, rebel knives and other Trump-approved ephemera to visiting a food-truck with a sign reading they are out of funnel cakes, fried Snickers, fried Oreos and fried Twinkies.

With a lack of atrocious snacks available as we sauntered down the main street, I contemplated a Free Health Test, especially since there was no line; I wondered how many residents took advantage of this screening, especially after the town ate the fried-sweets man out of business.

But, instead, I followed John Parr’s blaring hit “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” to a street corner where a politician was in a dunk tank, gently ribbing a young man with a horrible throwing arm for trying his best.

Walking past the empty grandstand where the hired bands were supposed to be playing later that evening, we made our way back to where we started, to the Chamber of Commerce tent; it was the only place around to score a slice of homemade pecan pie—for five bucks—but I figured what the Hell, I’m at a pecan festival, I might as well live a little, right?

With a brutally sweet filling that was a gooey mess of flavor, the pecan pie truly was a nutty treat. The buttery crust was a firm containment unit, with the pecan-fronted topping a crunchy delight, each forkful a tearful memory to what the pecan festival—and seemingly Okmulgee—has not only lost, but what could so steadily be gained back, especially if they get that damn oven next year.

As I sat there, another bit of pie about to enter my waiting mouth, Jodie, who has family that are native to these parts, told me about Okmulgee’s historically documented roach problems; as she petted a free kitten an elderly couple were giving away, she told me how, at one time, city hall had to be closed down due to an infestation. Whether this is true or just one of the town’s tall tales to scare city folk, I have to admit the city looked pretty bug-free. To me, at least.

The feminine voice on the loudspeaker gave one final announcement for desperately needed contestants in the pecan pie eating contest, which was about to start at any minute. After a quick photo opportunity with the official mascot of the Okmulgee Pecan Festival, Squiggy, we made it to the street where the contestants were seated, ready for all the hot confectionary commotion; a rotund police officer was in the lead most of the time, downing the reasonably easy-to-digest individually wrapped mini-pies with alarming alacrity.

Having had a slice of pecan pie myself—not a slice from the world’s largest pecan pie, but it’ll do for now—I felt reasonably satisfied with this day of absolute worship to the native nut of Oklahoma, even leaving with my own hallowed bag of unsalted halves, a wonderfully bitter treat for the long ride back to Oklahoma City.

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