Harvest Festival at Silver Dollar City. (Photo: Bob Linder)

There’s a lot to take in at Silver Dollar City’s Harvest Festival, which features 15,000 real and artificial pumpkins.

The festival runs from Sept. 21 to Oct. 29 and celebrates all things fall. The Garden of Giants showcases enormous real pumpkins weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds. There are several thousand hand-carved pumpkins around the park, tunnels of lights, scarecrows — nothing scary, all designed to be child friendly.

But then there’s the food curated just for this event. 

Lots and lots of food. 

Months of planning devoted to fall menu at Harvest Festival

In fact, pumpkin lovers will find more than 20 pumpkin-themed dishes to enjoy.

Sam Hedrick (Photo: Bob Linder)

The man in charge of the culinary aspect is Sam Hedrick, director of Food and Beverage. 

Hedrick has worked at Silver Dollar City for more than 30 years. Every festival, he introduces a dozen or more new foods and brings back favorites. When considering a recipe, he looks at a variety of factors from trends, costs, regional flavors, how consistent the product will be, wow factor, presentation and walkability. 

Can a customer comfortably walk around and eat the food? If so, that’s a plus. Food is a huge part of a festival and guests have favorites they look forward to, said Hedrick.

Hedrick and his team of six to eight culinary professionals spend nine months developing new fare for each festival. 

If you plan to attend the Harvest Festival, here are a few returning and several new foods to consider this year:

Smoked Sausage Mac & Cheese


Smoked Sausage Mac & Cheese. (Photo: Bob Linder)

The first thing you will notice when you take a bite is how the mac and cheese tastes gourmet, as you’d expect at a nice restaurant. The perfectly al dente cavatappi noodles are bathed in a rich and creamy white cheddar sauce. Then smoked sausage seasoned with cumin and coriander is peppered throughout the dish, making this a full meal. The goal was to add protein and transform it from a side dish to a main course, said Hedrick. This is available at Taste of the City, which is a new eatery at the park this season.

Pumpkin Chili

Pumpkin Chili. (Photo: Bob Linder)

You cannot taste the pumpkin in this robust chili seasoned with cumin and a hint of pumpkin pie spice, but you can feel it as it gives the chili a velvety texture. There are all the traditional elements of chili, from the beans to peppers and deep flavors. It’s garnished with cheese and sour cream.

“Cumin plays really well with pumpkin pie spice. It tones it down and makes it more approachable,” Hedrick said.

Salted Caramel Apple Funnel Cake


Salted Caramel Apple Funnel Cake. (Photo: Bob Linder)

Tender apple compote, with rich cinnamon flavor, tops this extraordinary funnel cake. It’s crowned with whipped cream and drizzled in salted caramel sauce. This takes funnel cake to another level.

Pumpkin Squash Bisque


Pumpkin Squash Bisque. (Photo: Bob Linder)

There are so many sweet pumpkin dishes at the park that Hedrick said he wanted to balance them with more savory items this year. So they crafted this pumpkin bisque. The base is roasted pumpkin and chicken broth with vegetables and savory seasonings. The delectable soup is topped with pepitas and a dollop of sour cream. It’s warm and comforting, but light enough that you’ll still have room for dessert.

Pumpkin Spiced Rubbed Smoked Ribs

Ethan Hicks from Silver Dollar City shows a variety of special foods at this year’s Harvest Festival. (Photo: Bob Linder)

These were introduced last year and were a huge hit, so they’re making a comeback. The ribs are caked in a dry rub made in-house with pumpkin pie spice, cumin, salt and pepper. These Memphis-style pork ribs are then slowly smoked, and the smokiness is a nice contrast to the fall flavors in the pumpkin spice. This is a standout dish on the festival lineup. 

Pumpkin Pie Punch

Punch. (Photo: Bob Linder)

Since autumn has cool and hot days, Hedrick wanted to introduce another cold beverage for those warmer days. This new punch features apple cider, fresh lemon juice and pumpkin syrup garnished with fresh apple. The lemon adds a little tartness, so it’s not overly sweet.

Pumpkin Butter and Marshmallow Fluff Grilled Sandwich


Pumpkin Butter & Marshmallow Fluff Grilled Sandwich. (Photo: Bob Linder)

Consider this a dessert sandwich. Two slices of brioche are stuffed with house-made pumpkin butter and marshmallow fluff, buttered and then grilled. It’s something kiddos may enjoy.

Cashew Chicken in a Waffle Cone

Cashew Chicken in a Waffle Cone. (Photo: Bob Linder)

This has become one of the best-selling items at the fall festival. Hedrick says it’s an example of honoring regional food—Springfield-style cashew chicken— but adding a new twist on it to make it unique to the park. The cashew chicken is sprinkled with chives and served in a waffle cone.

Tasting Passport

If you can’t decide what to try, buy a Tasting Passport, which was introduced last year and became an instant hit.

Here’s how it works: Buy a Tasting Passport, and there are 32 foods listed on it available around the park. You choose five items to try and get smaller portions, which allows you to sample the different fare. With each food item you sample, they punch the card. The Tasting Passport is available online or at the park.

Juliana Goodwin

Juliana Goodwin is a freelance journalist with experience covering business, travel and tourism, health, food and history. She is a former Food and Travel Columnist for the Springfield News-Leader, a former business reporter for The Joplin Globe, and has written for USA Today and Arkansas Living Magazine, among others. More by Juliana Goodwin