The National Cornbread Festival: Get a Taste of a Tennessee Specialty
Before your calendar fills with springtime activities, mark the dates April 19-21 for the 17th annual National Cornbread Festival. You will be glad you did, because the best cornbread ever will slide from cast iron skillets to your plate.
South Pittsburg welcomes the world to its celebration of this staple of Southern cooking. Lest you think cornbread is only a side dish to pinto beans, then you need to stroll down Cornbread Alley. Samples go way beyond Pepper Jack cornbread and enter the realm of cranberry cornmeal bars, apple cinnamon cornbread and Popeye hushpuppies.
Kim Mantooth with the festival tells me they’ll have 35,000 in South Pittsburg if the weather is nice, which is pretty good for a town with a population of around 3,300. South Pittsburg is located 30 miles west of Chattanooga right off Interstate 24.
A cornbread cook-off dominates the festival where chefs from everywhere compete for big prizes. Kim says thousands enter the competition but only the best 10 come here for the finals. The first duty of the newly crowned Miss National Cornbread is to announce the winners. The beauty pageant takes place on Friday, April 19, at the Princess Theatre. The cook-off awards will be presented on Saturday afternoon.
For those better at eating than cooking, there are contests to test skills: dry cornbread eating, ice cream eating, and buttermilk chugging.
To learn more about making cornbread, visitors have the once-a-year opportunity to tour Lodge Manufacturing Company. Employees will show guests through the foundry and explain how Lodge cast iron cookware is made. The company sponsors the festival and tours are offered at no charge.
Festival attendees can also tour the South Pittsburg historic district, an area listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The tours via double-decker bus will require timed tickets to be purchased in advance. The final stop will be at Lodge Manufacturing Company for those who want to learn more about the cookware essential to cornbread baking.
Live entertainment will take place on three stages, though the best music may be heard at the Jam Tent, where fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin and harmonica players will let loose. Carnival rides, street performers and children’s activities will create a lively festival atmosphere.
A variety of pottery, leather works, woodcarvings, glass art and jewelry will be available from 65 artisan vendors, all selected through a juried process. Craft demonstrations will include caning and wood carving. Homemade jellies, peanut brittle and many other tasty treats will be sold at the General Store area. An antique tractor will be in a class by itself among the classic cars on display.
Featured activities in addition to the pageant include a street dance and fireworks spectacle on Friday night, 5K run on Saturday morning, and pancake breakfast on Sunday. General admission tickets are $5 a day, with preschool children free.
Got a great cornbread recipe? Let us know in the comments!