Cowpea Festival cooks up area's Hiwassee heritage

Cowpea Festival cooks up area's Hiwassee heritage

September 12th, 2013 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

CHARLESTON, Tenn. - The Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society wants to increase interest in the area's agricultural heritage with the second annual International Cowpea Festival.

The festival, scheduled for Saturday at Charleston Park, serves as a tribute to Charleston's place as the 19th century cowpea capital of the world, according to event organizers.

The field pea -- or cowpea -- family includes more than 50 varieties of peas such as crowder, black-eyed, purple-hull and others.

"This unique festival is a great way to recognize an authentic agri-heritage as well as a truly Southern food that is a big part of our Southern diet," said Darlene Goins, treasurer of the historical society and festival co-chairwoman, in a news release. "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 agricultural event will feature cook-offs, pageants and free musical entertainment, headlined by Grammy-winning country artist Billy Dean and preceded by The Collins Brothers Band.

"We are thrilled to have Billy Dean headlining our festival," said Melissa Woody, vice president of the Convention & Visitors Bureau at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce and festival co-chairwoman. "A free concert from Billy will draw a big crowd for this year's harvest celebration."

Whirlpool will provide five ranges for the cook-off event and patrons may purchase $5 souvenir spoons with which to taste competing cowpea delicacies, festival organizers said.

Spoons may be bought in advance at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce during business hours through Friday or the Hiwassee River Heritage Center in Charleston, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Woody said the festival is a fundraiser for the heritage center, and organizers want the event to grow as an attraction for Charleston, as well.

"As we continue to develop the Hiwassee River Heritage Center, and the heritage development as a whole, we hope this harvest festival with the funny name will create awareness of Charleston and Calhoun and the nationally significant history there," she said, noting the festival serves as a balance to the area's intimate connections to the Trail of Tears and the Civil War.

The heritage center, located in a refurbished former bank office on Hiwassee Street, exists to serve as a welcome center to visitors and as a gateway to local sites of historical and cultural interest, Woody said.

The Hiwassee River Heritage Center recently received $40,000 in grants that will be split between operational needs, such as projectors and multi-media meeting spaces, and capital projects plans that include site expansion and connection to a proposed greenway, officials said.

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Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at