It is a legitimate “huh?” for area residents who are not native to the region or who are not historically aware.
It is also legitimate food for thought.
As previously announced on our news pages, as well as in Thursday’s editorial, the Hiwassee River Heritage Festival kicks off Friday night with a series of alumni basketball games at the Charleston School gym — the school is celebrating its 100th anniversary in conjunction with the festival — and then the activities swing into full gear Saturday at 10 a.m. with opening ceremonies hosted by the Charleston Alumni Committee at the city park.
And lest we forget, let us point to a hardworking team of Charleston and north Bradley County residents who are responsible for pulling together this weekend’s festival — the members of the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society and Charleston Alumni Committee.
Perhaps the most unique event in the festival is the inaugural Cowpea Cookoff.
That’s our source of some community “huh’s?”
This weekend’s lively event, which will test the creative juices of area cooks, is based on a piece of history. According to Melissa Woody, vice president of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Charleston community was once recognized as the “Cowpea Capital of the World.” This is because the north Bradley County town, and surrounding areas, once mass-produced the peas that were shipped to destinations far and wide.
Some recipients were only a matter of miles away. Others received their shipments from across multiple states.
For those unfamiliar with the “cowpea” term, we are told it is the general name applied to several varieties — crowder peas, black-eyed peas, silver hull peas and other members of the pea family whose scientific name is “vigna unguiculata.” Historically, it was important as both animal feed and for human consumption, both the pod and the seed being edible.
Charleston area natives are serious about their endearing crop, which the Chamber of Commerce representative reports was a major staple on household tables. This weekend’s cookoff is an appropriate tribute to the cowpea and to those who know how to cook it.
Says Melissa, “The Cowpea Cookoff is a great way to recognize a true Southern food and a part of our Southern culture. Charleston is just full of surprises and the fact that the small community was a major exporter of this staple on our tables is another amazing part of Charleston’s story.”
Spoken in the words of a true historian.
Highlighted in the excitement of one who loves her Charleston, Cleveland and Bradley County community.
Here’s a little more history about the cowpea. It came to America in the early 18th century from Africa. It thrives in hot climates and has good drought resistance. It quickly became a natural crop for Southern families. The original purpose for growing it was thought to be for use as animal feed; hence, its given name, “cowpea.”
Although the cowpea is commonly found on area tables, it remains good feed for livestock. Like most peas and beans, it is considered an excellent source of protein.
So now you know — a little history about the cowpea.
Registration for the great Cowpea Cookoff is Saturday at 10 a.m. following the opening ceremonies. Delectable entries will be turned in to the main stage at the city park at 10:30 a.m. and judging will begin. Winners will be announced at 12:30 p.m.
This weekend’s Hiwassee River Heritage Festival promises to be a fun time for all.
We urge area residents to attend — regardless of one’s familiarity with the legendary cowpea.