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Tennessee Serves Up Food Fests

Festivals celebrating cornbread, biscuits and MoonPies are taking place throughout the Volunteer State this summer.

By Kate Spears

May is here and, in the South, we all know what that means … the start of festival season! I guess I’m what you could call a festival junkie. Early each year, I scour the web and other media outlets for local festivals and slowly, but surely, each weekend of the upcoming months gets filled with events. I don’t always make it to every festival I pencil in, but some take more priority. This year, I kicked off festival season with the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

South Pittsburg is just off Interstate 24, close to where the borders of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama meet. This tiny town comes alive for the festival, held the last weekend of April for the past 15 years. South Pittsburg is also home to Lodge Cast Iron, and since every true Southerner knows cast iron bakes the best cornbread, this is a perfect tie-in for the festival.

After making the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Knoxville, the Southern beau and I met up with some Nashville friends who were joining us, and prepared to experience all the Cornbread Festival had to offer. We began our day at Cornbread Alley, an area off the main street of the festival where, for $2, we could sample nine different types of homemade cornbread. The samples were provided by different local organizations, such as churches and civic clubs. My heart skipped a beat over something called a pork puppy (a hushpuppy-like creation with chunks of bacon inside; see the recipe below), and it definitely received my vote for best offering.

After Cornbread Alley, we walked around and enjoyed the sights, including arts and crafts vendors, homemade goodies like jellies and fudge and other typical festival fare. In addition to the main street activities, festival attendees are invited to tour the Lodge Cast Iron factory. It is pretty amazing to think all the Lodge Cast Iron in the world is made right in tiny South Pittsburg, Tennessee. (Factory stores are also located in Sevierville, Commerce, Georgia, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.)

If all this talk of cornbread has your mouth watering, but you just can’t wait until next year’s festival, how about enjoying a few other upcoming events celebrating Southern delicacies? In its second year in Knoxville, the International Biscuit Festival packs everything we love about homemade Southern biscuits into two and a half days of self-rising goodness May 27-28. And June 18, the annual RC Cola MoonPie Festival cuts the world’s largest MoonPie in Bell Buckle.

Pork Puppies

1 cup yellow Martha White self-rising cornmeal
1/2 cup Martha White plain flour
1 cup real bacon pieces
3/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
3/4 cup Mayfield buttermilk
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 T sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup minced jalapeños
Canola oil for deep-frying plus 1 T butter

Work together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, pepper and sugar in a bowl. Whisk egg and milk in a small bowl, then add to cornmeal mixture and stir until combined. Stir in bacon, onions and jalapeños just until combined. Carefully add 1 T of butter to the hot oil and fry, turning until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Transfer pork puppies to a shallow baking pan and keep warm in oven while frying remaining batter.

Recipe courtesy of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.

Kate Spears lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, and is the author of Southern Belle Simple blog. She’s currently giving away a copy of “Gone With the Wind” on her blog, and readers have until May 22 to complete the phrase “Frankly my dear …” for a chance to win.

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