Charleston, Tn., will present the third annual International Cowpea Festival and Cook-off on September 13, 2014. The Cowpea Festival, sponsored by Bush Brothers & Company, is rooted in the area’s authentic agricultural heritage, as Charleston was once known as the cowpea capital of the United States because of the large amount of peas grown in the area and shipped to markets far and away. “Cowpea” is the general name for the crowder pea, black-eyed pea, cream pea, silver-hull and other field pea varieties known as vigna unguiculata.
“This unique festival is a great way to recognize an authentic agri-heritage, as well as a protein-rich food that is a big part of our Southern diet,” said Darlene Goins, treasurer for the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society and festival co-chair. “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 interesting chapter in Charleston’s story.”
The festival cook-off, which is sponsored by Whirpool Corporation, will feature professional chefs preparing recipes using a variety of Bush Brothers cowpeas. Bush Brothers & Company, a 106-year-old canning company that started in Chestnut Hill, Tenn., features several varieties of cowpeas in their product line, including black-eyed peas, crowder peas and purple-hulls. Whirlpool will have five gas ranges on-site for cooking demonstrations in the park. Festival-goers who purchase a $5 souvenir spoon can taste the culinary creations and vote for their favorite.
“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,” said Max Fultz, general manager for Bush’s Visitor Center, located in the general store founded in 1897 by company founder A.J. Bush. “You have to share your story or people will forget.”
This year’s event will feature champion banjo player and humorist Mike Snider. Snider has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1990 and frequently performs on the legendary show. He was also a regular cast member for seven years on the popular family variety show Hee Haw, a weekly staple in many southern homes.
The festival will feature a full range of entertainment throughout the day, including live music, storytelling, character greetings and a family fun field with games and air toys. A marketplace will offer handmade arts and crafts, fresh produce and booths featuring festival sponsors and heritage information telling Charleston’s nationally significant history. Food vendors will have popular festival food favorites available for purchase.
Leading up to the event, a photo competition will focus on agriculture and landscapes. The competition will spotlight amateur photographers, and work will be displayed at the festival. Competition details are also on the event website.
“We have a true history with the cowpea and want to celebrate its place in Southern culture,” said Melissa Woody, event co-chair and vice president for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We are so excited and thankful to have Bush Brothers & Company Whirlpool Corporation sticking with us.”
Proceeds from the event will go toward the development of the Hiwassee River Heritage Center, which opened in May 2013 and is located on Highway 11 in Charleston. Sponsorships are still available at all levels. Anyone interested in supporting this community effort should contact Melissa Woody at 423-472-6587 or Darlene Goins at 423-413-8284.
Visit the festival website www.cowpeafestival.com for more information about performances and activities.