On this day, the Charleston Park will again play host to the International Cowpea Festival and Cook-off, presented by Bush Brothers & Company. This second annual all-day event will bring a whirlwind of activities to area residents, as well as to visitors from around the region and beyond.
One of the featured attractions will be the Cowpea Cook-off, again sponsored by Whirlpool Corp., a mega-company with Bradley County operations that employ more than 2,000 workers in its premium cooking products factory and call center in Cleveland.
The Cowpea Cook-off will feature professional and amateur chef divisions. Thanks to the delivery of five gas ranges by Whirlpool, five professional chefs will go head-to-head in a contest featuring cowpea culinary masterpieces. The winner will be determined by attendees who spend $5 for a wooden spoon. Spoon holders not only will get the chance to sample the tasty dishes, but they’ll also get a vote on which is the best.
In the amateur division, kitchen enthusiasts who aren’t paid to cook may enter their own cowpea delights in three categories — appetizer, entree and international flair. First- and second-place prizes will be awarded in each category.
Spoon buyers can still purchase theirs through 5 p.m. today at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, through 5 p.m. Saturday at the Hiwassee River Heritage Center or at the Cowpea Festival.
But that’s just the cooking fun behind this day of the cowpea. There’s plenty more!
Entertainment headliners include Grammy Award-winning artist Billy Dean who takes the stage at 6:30 p.m., compliments of the Chamber’s Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Collins Brothers Band who will open for Dean courtesy of Companion Funeral and Cremation Services.
Other talent throughout the day includes The Funny Dummy Show, Cool Mule, Bad Tattoo, Kennedy, Sydney & Friends, The Lattimores and Men of Praise.
The popular “Princess and the Cowpea” pageant will kick off at 10:30 a.m., sponsored by Meagher & Meagher Furniture featuring Jamison Bedding.
And there’s still more!
Haney Meat Company is sponsoring the Heritage Way booths displaying agricultural and heritage information about Charleston’s history. The Family Fun Field will include games, art projects and air toys, as well as the Piggly Wiggly Petting Zoo and a special appearance by the famous Cashdales of Check Into Cash.
Food vendors will be on-site everywhere so if folks don’t get their fill of taste-testing delicious cowpea recipes, they’ll have plenty of additional options to stave off hunger pangs.
Winning photos from the photography contest will be on display at the festival, and later will be shown at the Hiwassee River Heritage Center. CPQ Professional Imaging and Homestead Lawn & Tractor teamed to sponsor the photo competition.
A slew of additional community-minded and cowpea-savoring businesses are sponsoring this year’s Charleston festival including Kodiak Manufacturing, Wampler’s Farm Sausage, Bradley County Farm Bureau and Farm Bureau Insurance, Ace Hardware, Farm Credit, Hampton Inn & Suites, Vision Hospitality, River Maze on the Ocoee, Beaty Fertilizer, Blossman Gas, Cleveland Insurance and John Thompson Produce.
Festivalgoers are reminded to bring a lawn chair and an appetite for fun, food and cowpeas.
So what’s so special about the cowpea that would warrant giving it a whole festival? Let’s put it this way. Charleston was once known as the Cowpea Capital of the United States. The little legume fed families, livestock and a way of life. In short, the cowpea — a general name for crowder pea, cream pea, purple-hull, silver-hull and other field varieties — kept a community alive.
So when arriving in Charleston for Saturday’s doin’s, go with a “vigna unguiculata” state of mind.
Visit the International Cowpea Festival and Cook-off. You will.