The Cowpea Festival: It’s a walk in the park
Aug 27, 2014 | 596 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With our apologies to NASA for borrowing the space agency’s jargon, regional agrarians and historians alike by now are whispering, “Pea-minus 17 days and counting.”

It’s a corny use of cliches, we know; but in this case, we’re not talking corn at all. We refer to peas. And specifically, we allude to the cowpea.

Yes, it’s the vigna unguiculata, the scientific name for those protein-packed legumes that include the crowder pea, the black-eyed pea, the cream pea, the silver-hull and all those other varieties known to most as field peas; or, for those who like the term, “... cowpeas.”

Its time is coming.

On Saturday, Sept. 13, the good people of Charleston will invite the world — Cleveland, McDonald and Bradley County included — to their hamlet to partake of the simple pleasures that will comprise the third annual International Cowpea Festival.

In their own marketing approach, Cowpea planners are even referring to their extravaganza as that “... harvest festival with the funny name.”

By any other title, the humble little cowpea remains as rich in taste — in any number of recipes — as it is in history.

Although the International Cowpea Festival is entering only its third year, the secret’s been out about the legume’s goodness for decades. For any who have not yet emerged from their cowpea closet, it is common knowledge — at least, among our Charleston brethren — that Bradley County’s second largest city was once known as the Cowpea Capital of the United States.

Pretty big words for such a tiny little town. But it’s true.

In days gone by, Charleston area farmers and their families grew acres and acres of cowpeas — to feed not only their own appetites, but to serve as fodder for the livestock. Before long, Americans nationwide who didn’t have cowpeas of their own were ordering them by the bushels, and maybe even by the boxcars, and having them shipped to their communities.

Thanks to the cowpea, Charleston had made itself a name — and without even trying.

These folks were planting, growing, harvesting and eating cowpeas for survival. They never considered that one day history would tell the tale of this beloved legume, and it would one day be branded by its own festival.

But equally as unique food groups have staked claim to similar tributes. Biscuits, cornbread, banana pudding, strawberries, green beans and a few dozen forms of soup quickly come to mind.

In 2012, when the Cowpea Festival was born, some might have chuckled, “An International Cowpea Festival ... in Charleston?”

Perhaps it’s a stretch to believe many citizens of southern China, eastern Australia, Kazakhastan or the jungles of Peru will make the trek overseas to the north Bradley County doins; at least, in only the third year of the event. Marketing must be allowed to spread its magic.

But we know this.

Two globally respected enterprises have thrown their hats into the cowpea arena. Bush Brothers & Company is again the presenting sponsor of the festival and the Whirlpool Corporation has signed on to support the Cowpea Cook-off. Both are a mouthful when it comes to good food and its preparation.

Both corporations are big on history. One has a decided presence locally as Bradley County’s largest employer and Bush Brothers & Company is a 106-year-old packager whose roots were planted in Chestnut Hill, near Dandridge.

No beans about it, each is happy to again be affiliated with this unique harvest festival.

Heck, don’t take our word for it. Max Fultz, general manager for Bush’s Visitor Center, told our newspaper, “This event is a great fit for us.”

Charleston’s wants epitomize Bush’s needs.

“We are a company strong on heritage,” Fultz stressed. “We value our story and the Bush family legacy. Charleston’s efforts to honor their heritage are admirable, and we are proud to be associated with an event that celebrates history as well as agriculture.”

And Whirlpool, well, these folks will be providing a handful of the world’s finest gas stoves for the Cook-off.

But it’s not all about Whirlpool and Bush Brothers & Company. A melting pot of local businesses are stirring up a mix of local flavor. We’ll try to give them all a shout-out a little closer to the big day.

And the entertainment? Look no further than Nashville. Mike Snider of the Grand Ole Opry and “Hee Haw” fame is the headliner. And don’t forget the photo contest, the vendors, the taste-testing, the children’s games and the day of music. It’s all there.

For those interested, it’s not too late to get involved. Call Melissa Woody at 423-472-6587 or Darlene Goins at 423-413-8284.

The gates open at 10 a.m. at the Charleston Park.

And like we said, Pea-minus 17 days and counting.

Cowpeas today. Cowpeas tomorrow. And with solid agrarian practices, cowpeas forever.