published Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Cornbread festival draws crowds to South Pittsburg, Tenn.

Leslie Barry, right, takes a cornbread fritter sample from Karen Fox.
Leslie Barry, right, takes a cornbread fritter sample from Karen Fox.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

IF YOU GO

What: National Cornbread Festival

Where: 221 S. Cedar Ave., South Pittsburg, Tenn.

When: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. CDT

Cost: $5

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Mix together one cup each of flour, cornmeal and chopped apples; add two teaspoons of cinnamon, some butter, buttermilk and an egg and, voila! You have a tasty, if unconventional, apple-cinnamon take on a Southern staple: cornbread.

"It's delightful," said Sabrina Brock, who was visiting South Pittsburg's annual National Cornbread Festival for the first time Saturday.

Brock was huddled around a plate of cornbread goodies with her friends, all from Dalton, Ga., sampling the spoils from the festival's "Cornbread Alley."

Other notable menu items included cranberry cornbread bars, pepper-jack cornbread and broccoli cornbread.

"It's really, really different," said Casey McArthur, looking quizzically at a spinach hushpuppy on the plate.

At a booth farther down, June Moss was offering a Tuscan-style cornbread to help support her organization, the Marion County Democratic Women. She said she's been to the festival in each of its 17 years.

"I love seeing all the people," she said, handing out the bacon- and sun-dried tomato-filled bread. "It's the spirit. It's the atmosphere. Everyone's happy. It takes a village to put this on."

Each year, South Cedar Street in South Pittsburg sees about 40,000 people come out for the fun and more than 1,000 contestants enter their recipes in the National Cornbread Cook-Off. Finalists use cast iron cookware by Lodge Manufacturing, the festival's sponsor, whose products are made right in the heart of downtown South Pittsburg.

But not all entrants were as close to home as the cookware. Some traveled from as far away as Wisconsin and Texas.

"It's impressive," said Henry Hoover, of Allardt, Tenn. "I've never seen a city put so much effort into something like this."

While this year's turnout was certainly respectable, Saturday's rainy weather kept many cornbread enthusiasts at home.

"Normally, the streets are packed," said Cindy Young, who was volunteering at the festival for First Volunteer Bank. "It's elbow-to-elbow all the way down the street."

Festivalgoers of all ages, shapes and sizes whizzed around on carnival rides while gospel singers crooned well-loved hymns in the square.

Terry and Mary Ann O'Neill, of Trenton, Ga., followed the gospel group Heirline to the festival after hearing them play in Chattanooga.

"They really know how to praise the Lord," Mary Ann O'Neill said.

Though it was their first time visiting the festival, both said they'd come back next year.

"It's a pretty neat thing," Terry O'Neill said.

Contact staff writer Lindsay Burkholder at lburkholder@times freepress.com or 423-757-6592.

about Lindsay Burkholder...

Lindsay Burkholder is originally from Winston-Salem, N.C. She graduated from Covenant College in May 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Covenant she spent time writing for and editing the news section of the school newspaper, The Bagpipe. Burkholder also attended the World Journalism Institute in New York City in 2011.

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