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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Got a great cornbread recipe? Let us know in the comments! 

Hi! I’m Linda Lange. As a travel writer living in Knoxville, I fully appreciate barbecue, bluegrass and Dollywood. My story...Read on

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    rena griffith

    The Lodge is where cornbread skillets were made. Then we got Martha White in South Pittsburg to make this good cornbread with. Cornbread Festival is Tennessee’s place to be when you want good cornbread. And Kids this where you want mom and dad to take you for the rides. Some of them are better than Lake Winnie’s.

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    rena griffith

    My story is that I am a Whitwell hometown girl that now lives in Middle Tennessee. Throughout my life I have been able to meet some great famous people from Tennessee and Alabama.
    I have been partied down with Randy Owens, Teddy Gentry, and the other two great musicians of Alabama. I have hung out with many wrestlers when National Wrestling League. I have also hung World Wrestling Federation in Chattanooga, TN. I have hung out with Bon Jovi as well. I have been able to meet with some great musicians like Daruis Rucker. Confederate Railroad will always hold a place in my heart because Danny Shirley belongs to Whitwell and Hixson, TN and the rest of Tennessee.
    One of my best memories is that I was once on the television show, Miss Marcia. Another is that I am the great neice of a cave man who could do anything like put in plumbing into a cave. I have been blessed with two grandparents who are still living in Whitwell, TN and one will be 90 if she lives until May 22, 2013 and the other who will be June 20, 2013. A daughter who was an extra in Paper Clips movie and Papa who was both in bloopers for the movie and on national television stations when the tapings of the Paper Clip movie was done.
    So I can honestly say Southeast Tennessee has been used to make movies like Starman and Paper Clips. The music of Southeast Tennessee shines clear through Usher, Confederate Railroad, and other big name artists. Big name artists when starting out try to get in the Riverbend Circuit. WWF and NWL both want to come to Chattanooga, TN to wrestle. Disney likes to put their skating shows on in Chattanooga. In South Pittsburg, the Cornbread Festival can be found. So from every direction, era, and everything that you would want to do or live through is right in this great part of the Southeast.
    So I would have to say if I wanted to show a friend a part of the Southeast Tennessee or Southeast Alabama I would have to look at their interests. There is so much to do and see from every season.

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    Lynn Barr

    Looking forward to some of the southern hospitality Tenn is so famous for!

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