Long before tricorn hats and the farm-to-table movement, before water parks and outlet shopping, before it was even historic, the Historic Triangle had oysters.
The region’s bounty played a role in the first Thanksgiving and now, more than 400 years later, it’s the pivot for the second annual tribute to Virginia chefs, foragers, artisans and others, fittingly known as the Williamsburg Harvest Celebration.
Supersized to a 10-day event, a doubling from last year’s five, it’s a multi-venued commemoration that runs from Nov. 4-13, heralding local agriculture, breweries, distilleries and, of course, oysters, and their boosters in the local restaurant and tourism industry.
“This region just has so much,” said Cindy McGann, executive director of Williamsburg Harvest Celebration. “They just didn’t have all the bounty together.”
That’s where the harvest celebration comes in, with participants ranging from Border Springs Farm and Copper Fox Distillery to the Edwards Virginia Smokehouse and the Williamsburg Winery. Events range from a free “blessing of the bounty” at Bruton Parish Episcopal Church, 331 W. Duke of Gloucester St., on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12:30 p.m., to an oyster roast at the Yorktown Freight Shed on Sunday, Nov. 13 from 1-4 p.m.
Tickets for the oyster roast, which features Virginia craft beer, wine and cider, are $63.
This year, the harvest celebration has lined up 35 events, an increase from last year’s 24. Tickets are available online, and the cost of getting in on the action runs from zero, for free cooking demonstrations at the Williamsburg and Yorktown farmers markets, to $172.50 for a five-course sommelier challenge dinner at the Williamsburg Winery on Nov. 12.
So far, interest is roughly on pace with 2015, with 12,000 visits to the web site, though ticket sales are lagging a bit behind last year; in part, that’s because the celebration starts sooner and overlaps this weekend with the Urbanna Oyster Festival, McGann said.
About 65 percent of attendees are local, and the rest are from out of town and out of state, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Raleigh, Wilmington, N.C., Richmond, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.
New offerings this year include a bus and tasting tour to three craft breweries on Thursday, Nov. 10 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and a cask celebration at AleWerks Brewing Co., 197 B Ewell Rd., on Nov. 12 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Tickets cost $54 for the bus tour, which includes lunch at Second Street Bistro, and $34.50 for the cask celebration, which will have a-la-carte food trucks.
“We’re really just trying to highlight everything Virginia,” said McGann. “Virginia is for food lovers. That’s our new motto.”
Still, there’s an educational component to the gathering as well, especially where oysters are concerned.
November is Oyster Month, and the Yorktown oyster roast will incorporate a lesson gleaned from last year, when attendees were asked to recycle oyster shells without really explaining why: Saving oyster shells and placing them back into the waterways boosts restoration and the local industry.
“Everybody has to get on board with it for it to work,” McGann said. “We really want people to learn.”