After months of planning by a dedicated committee whose members have assembled an assortment of corporate sponsors, locally favored chefs and professional musicians atop the growing bandwagon, the inaugural International Cowpea Festival and Cook-off presented by Bush Brothers & Company has arrived.
To be held in the Charleston Park, the festivities will get under way at 10 a.m. and will continue well into the night.
No estimates of anticipated crowd size have been given to our knowledge, but chances of Charleston’s population multiplying by leaps and bounds are considered a shoe-in. This little town’s populace — at least, for a day — is bound to take a giant leap.
For the few who have missed our headlines over the past few months, the “cowpea” is the general name for the crowder pea, purple-hull, silver-hull and other field pea varieties known as vigna unguiculata. The cowpea is especially historic to the region because Charleston once was recognized as the Cowpea Capital of the United States.
Because cowpeas were grown by the acre and shipped to markets near and far. Some were very near, such as homes in Bradley County, and others were ... well, very far; hence, the word “International.”
A variety of highlights are in store for the day.
One is the Cowpea Cook-off which will include amateur and professional divisions. Five professional chefs, and their delectable works of cuisinary art, will compete head to head ... err ... spoon to spoon to decide who can create the finest crowd-pleasing recipe. And, the first 500 attendees to buy souvenir wooden spoons for $5 each will be given sample cups of the chefs’ tasty creations. The winner will be chosen by the crowd.
In the amateur division, anyone who doesn’t cook for pay is eligible to enter recipes in any or all three categories — appetizers, entrees and international flair. A panel of cowpea cowboys, or cowgirls and perhaps others, will judge the winners.
The good folks at Whirlpool Cleveland Division are providing five gas ranges for use in the professionals’ onsite cooking division. In the amateur division, contestants will stroll in with their completed goodies where the judges will await their palate-pleasing delicacies.
Another highlight of the day will be the “Princess and the Cowpea” beauty pageant sponsored by Meagher & Meagher Furniture featuring Jamison Bedding. The pageant gets cranked up at 11 a.m.
Haney Meat Company is sponsoring the Heritage Way which is a series of booths displaying agricultural information telling of Charleston’s agricultural history. Olin is making available the Family Fun area with games, art projects and air toys. The Farm Credit of Mid-America Marketplace will offer arts and crafts booths, fresh produce and other goods. Food vendors and concessions also will be available.
CPQ Professional Imaging Inc. and Homestead Lawn & Tractor Co. are sponsoring a photo competition whose winning entries will be displayed at the park and later in the new Hiwassee River Heritage Center in Charleston.
And of course, Grammy Award sensation Suzy Bogguss will headline the entertainment at 7 p.m., courtesy of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. The Collins Brothers Band will open for Bogguss and the group’s appearance is being sponsored by Grissom Funeral Home and Crematory, and Ralph Buckner Funeral Home and Crematory. Other talent in the diverse musical lineup will include Perry Suits and the Third Degree, Heartstrings, The Roaring 50’s and a slew of others will add a festive touch to the atmosphere at this lively first-time festival.
A bunch of other community-minded folks have had a hand in the cowpea pot as well. Just a few are Bradley County Farm Bureau and Farm Bureau Insurance, ACE Hardware, River Valley Ag Credit and Cracker Barrel. Most likely, others have stirred the peas as well — and that doesn’t include the legion of individual volunteers who are bringing the heritage of the Charleston cowpea back to a global stage.
Ironic it is that “Charleston” and “globe” can be mentioned in the same sentence. Yet, if the International Cowpea Festival and Cowpea Cook-off takes off as it could — albeit over a period of several years — then some of Bradley County’s finest residents can be thanked.
For those wanting more information about the International Cowpea Festival, visit the popular website at www.cowpeafestival.com. Or, make a phone call to either of the festival’s co-chairs — Melissa Woody at 423-472-6587 or Darlene Goins at 423-413-8284.
Or, just load up the kids Saturday morning and go.
It promises to be a family kind of day.