Saturday, April 26, 2008

The National Cornbread Festival and Crazy Person Convention

So! The National Cornbread Festival and Cookoff. MY GOODNESS! If you open up Google Maps and type in "Crazy Town U.S.A.," I can state with a fair amount of certainty that you will be given the following answer: South Pittsburg, Tennessee. Just a quick trip down I-24 and over the Monteagle mountain from Nashville, this little old-fashioned town is definitely the epicenter of full-blown crazy ... especially if you are in the mood for some Jesus-inspired pottery, some Jesus-inspired stained glass windows or some Jesus-inspired chicken on a stick. Or, you know, cornbread.

Chicago Meg (who is watching her Chicago-style-life recede faster than ethics in the White House) and I drove down to South Pittsburg at the crack of dawn - we had planned a brief stop for a 2-mile hike in Grundy Forest, and it was a lovely little loop, all waterfalls and cascades and giant hemlocks and mountain laurel (not blooming yet) and it had that smell that I can't quite identify, but it smells like the Sierras. Are there hemlocks in the Sierras? I'm trying to figure out the lowest common smell denominator ... what is it?

BUT ANYWAY we were very focused on the Cornbread Festival. So we rushed the hike a bit and got back in the car and headed down the mountain toward Crazy Town.


The National Cornbread Festival and Cookoff is almost impossible to describe. Combine the supporting cast of Deliverance, a possible Food Network program called Coronary Challenge and TLC's What Not to Wear and you pretty much have it. Never before have I seen so many precariously-situated tube-tops in such close proximity to fried chicken and cross-eyed banjo players! Well, outside of my Baptism, of course. But! We paid the outrageous admission price ($3) and got our hands stamped with the image of a little red cast iron frying pan and entered. The first thing we saw when we entered was the souvenir hut (I bought the t-shirt with the image of a license plate that reads I82 MCH). We immediately headed to Cornbread Alley, which was this thing where you paid $2 and got samples of eight different kinds of cornbread on one plate. Okra Cornbread. Cornbread Donuts. Upside Down Cheesy Chicken Cornbread. Etc. Etc. Lots of shit that didn't go together. But still, it was funny. Chicago Meg didn't eat more than one bite of any of it! She hated the Okra Cornbread; it was my favorite. She liked the Cornbread Donut; I thought it was icky. The National Cornbread Festival is divisive, just like Barack Obama says race is. Who knew? Anyway, Obama Oeight!

From there, we walked the length of the Festival, past the craft tents and food court and carnival down to the Lodge Factory Outlet. South Pittsburg is the home of Lodge, the company that makes all that cast iron stuff. It was packed, so we had anxiety and left. We strolled back the way we came and happened upon a cornbread eating contest ("Don't choke" was the emcee advice) and an ice-cream eating contest. We missed the Buttermilk Chug, which actually I think I could have done well in - I do like buttemilk (don't clog the comments with your buttermilk-hate; I'll just delete them!). Then I bought a sculpture made up of a syrup can, two spools and two dominoes. I was cornbread-drunk! Then we sat and watched the first round of the Cook-Off. I was rooting for a lady from Arkansas who was making a cornbread hot brown, because I do like a hot brown. Food of the gods! Turkey, cheese sauce, bacon, tomato. And she was piling it up on top of cornbread! I don't know if she won or not; we didn't stay for the crowning. The emcee lady was some small-market news lady who reminded us that Memphis was in the state of Tennessee, then courted controversy by saying it might be okay to put sugar in cornbread (which it is absolutely not) and the crowd grumbled a bit and planned a lynching for later that night. Poor future dead news lady! Then we strolled over to this weird twilight zone where there was a roomful of restored Coca-Cola machines and beautiful vintage coolers which was freaky because I am a tiny bit obsessed with coolers, especially ones that say "Pleasure Chest" on the outside of them, of which there were two. Thank god they were $150 each; I could not have explained that to Sister Meg, especially since there are already four coolers in the basement. We also stopped into an antique store that had really pretty things where Chicago Meg almost bought this pretty piece of abstract metal that turned out to be a template for making parts for a prison door and since she has a crazy fear of prisons she didn't buy it and I discovered that I might need yet another set of dishes, these Noritake Silverdale things, which are just white with silver rims, but the shapes of the sugar bowl and creamer are a little space age and Japanese at the same time. So that was trouble and my new eBay search term is born.

Okay! So then we went all the way back down the length of the festival and back to the Lodge Outlet, where I bought some really pretty green speckled enamelware (25% off!) to ensure that I win the Best Campsite award during any possible future camping trip and Chicago Meg bought some magic crazy red suede gloves. We were just about cornbreaded out by this point, so we headed out and went to Dixie Freeze and got a brown derby and a peanut butter milkshake. That was pretty much the end of Crazy Cornbread Day, and I haven't even gotten to the part about seeing Jesus - though a picture follows - or the Hillbilly Restaurant that amusingly requires shirts and shoes or the giant ice cream-promoting cow but really: some things are just impossible to expain. You'll all just have to come and see it for yourselves next year, if you're in the mood for crazy....


Meg said...

Lesson from the National Cornbread Festival: Just because you *can* make something with cornbread, doesn't mean you *should.*

And, STOP TALKING about the template to make prison cell doors. It is scary. (Unless you are going to use it to keep the contractors in your house until they finish your bathrooms.)

Niki said...

It absolutely is perfectly okay to put sugar in cornbread.

Niki the Transplanted Yankee

KamaLee said...

Don't tell me you went to the Nat'l Cornbread Festival and missed the fabulous Crescent Dragonwagon and her book The Cornbread Gospels! (Gospels yes, Jesus-inspired no).

DG Strong said...

It's cornbread! Not cake! NO SUGAR.

We saw the Dragonwagon woman a couple of times but she was just sitting at a table signing books; it's not like she was making voodoo cornbread or anything, so were weren't compelled to chat with her.

Katharine Weber said...

So did you learn definitively if it's true that beans and cornbread had a fight, and if so, who really won?

PatD said...

Very pretty pic of the little waterfall. That made me homesick for CT.

I love cornbread.

One of my favorite dishes of all time:

get out your corningware dishes, those little, round fluted ones are perfect

cut a nice big, round slab of your favorite homemade cornbread and place in dish

cover with a heaping portion of your favorite homemade chili

cover that with any combo of shredded cheeses (I like that Mexican Four Cheese combo)


DG Strong said...

Mom says it's bad luck to cut cornbread. You're supposed to tear it. There are a lot of rules about cornbread.

I do like to hide a piece of cornbread under the chili; it's a nice surprise.