Tag Archives: Lodge Cast Iron

National Cornbread Festival, South Pittsburg, TN

Cornbread is king in this Tennessee town known for producing cast-iron cookware that’s perfect for baking cornbread.

by Bakery Boy

My skillet, made by Lodge Cast Iron in the 1950s, still serves my needs just fine. Photo by Bakery Boy

Ah, cornbread. If ever there was a staple food with as many uses as there are cultures using it, it’s cornbread.

Maize-growing Native Americans ate versions of cornbread long before Europeans reached the hemisphere. All across the South it goes naturally with barbecue and chili. Cowboys in the West pair it with pinto beans and ham hocks. In the Southwest adding jalapeño peppers creates a hot Hispanic edge. It’s a cornerstone of African American “soul” food. Whether doused with butter or honey or molasses, specked with diced onions or bacon bits or cheese, thinned with whole-wheat flour or fluffed up with eggs, cornbread is a crowd-pleaser in all its many forms. It can be deep-fried into hushpuppies, stewed into a pudding popular in colder climes, boiled into Italian-accented polenta, or molded around hot dogs on sticks to become county-fair-standard corndogs.

But the absolute best way to make cornbread is to bake it in a cast-iron skillet. And one of the best ways to experience that is to attend the National Cornbread Festival held at the end of April in the only place in the United States that still produced cast iron cookware: South Pittsburg, Tennessee, the home of Lodge Cast Iron and its perfect-for-cornbread cast-iron pans.

ALL ABOUT CORNBREAD

Young Danny's cooking skills earned him a blue ribbon. Photo courtesy of the National Cornbread Festival.

On April 30th and May 1st somewhere around 50,000 people will pour into South Pittsburg, a population 3,300 town 25 miles west of Chattanooga, for the 15th annual National Cornbread Festival (admission: $5 per day). They’ll all have one thing on their minds—cornbread.

South Pittsburg, which also dubs itself the “Tidiest Town in Tennessee”—community volunteers do clean the place up really well after such events—overflows with cornbread-themed everything during the festival. Bakers and cooks compete in a National Cornbread Cook-off sponsored by Martha White, Lodge Cast Iron, and FiveStar Range (top prize: $5,000). Entries range from the most basic recipes to attention-getting innovations such as adding smoked Gouda, sundried tomatoes, strawberry yogurt, sliced apples, peanut butter, hot dog chunks, M&M candies, or other ingredients.

Wholesome entertainment highlights this small-town event. Photo courtesy of the National Cornbread Festival.

At a series of tables on a downtown lane renamed Cornbread Alley for the occasion, you can taste samples of nine cornbread recipes ranging from “pork puppies” and “chipotle cornbread” to “chicken–and-chive flaps” and “tutti fruity cornbread balls.” Your $2 ticket for the tasting supports the nine local non-profit groups doing the cooking.

Like at any good small-town festival there will be a carnival, a food court, music, artwork, crafts, the awarding of blue ribbons to cook-off winners, the crowning of a Miss National Cornbread Festival beauty queen, and more.

ALL ABOUT CAST IRON

Sturdy Dutch Ovens are great for baking and cooking over campfires. Photo courtesy of Lodge Cast Iron.

Lodge Manufacturing Company has been making cast-iron skillets, griddles, and Dutch ovens in South Pittsburg for 115 years, a line that has gradually expanded to include deep fryers, grills, kettles, woks, pizza pans, muffin pans, and more. Naturally the company has a lot to do with putting on the festival, and most of what gets baked or cooked for the occasion gets baked or cooked in cast-iron.

You can see first-hand how Lodge Cast Iron is made during half-hour tours through the foundry on Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. during the festival. There’s also a well-produced 11-minute video about the process on the company’s website. Click the “How Lodge Is Made” button on the www.lodgemfg.com home page to see how raw pig iron and recycled scrap metal—moved around by giant magnetic cranes and heated to an impurities-removing molten state in a 2000-degree furnace—becomes some of the highest-quality cast-iron cookware in the world.

Even if you miss the Cornbread Festival, you can still find Lodge cookware anytime at Lodge Factory Stores located in…

• South Pittsburg, Tennessee (504 South Cedar Avenue; 423-837-5919)

• Sevierville, Tennessee (105 Knife Works Lane; 865-429-1713)

• Commerce, Georgia (165 Pottery Factory Drive; 706-335-4875)

• Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (100 Legends Drive; 843-236-7849)

SING IT WITH A TWANG

Tennessee is known for music, so Tennessee-based Lodge Cast Iron designed a guitar-shaped skillet good for making cornbread, biscuits, scones, and more. See other cast-iron options at the online catalog at http://www.lodgemfg.com.

A country music song, the kind that gets stuck in your  head, accompanies a slide show on the National Cornbread Festival website. Among lyrics about pinto beans, cornbread, clowns, car shows, fun-runs, concerts, and the cook-off—delivered with deadpan honesty by local baritone singer and songwriter Neil Bennett—is this refrain that’s been repeating in my mind for days now:

The last weekend in April / There’s just one place to be / The National Cornbread Festival in / South Pittsburg Tennessee

See you there!

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National Cornbread Festival

April 30–May 1, 2011

Festival details: www.nationalcornbread.com

Lodge Cast Iron details: www.lodgemfg.com

South Pittsburg details: www.southpittsburg.com

For more about traveling in Tennessee: www.tnvacation.com

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Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post with sample recipes from the National Cornbread Cook-off.

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RECIPES Cornbread Recipes from the National Cornbread Festival

Here are three popular recipes shared during past National Cornbread Cook-offs, part of the National Cornbread Festival held the last weekend in April in South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post about the National Cornbread Festival.

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BERRY CORNMEAL MUFFINS

Submitted by Boy Scout Troop 63

1 cup flour

¾ cup cornmeal

½ cup sugar

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups chopped fresh strawberries

1 (8 oz) container strawberry yogurt

¼ cup butter, melted

1 egg

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, sift together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl gently toss strawberries in ½ cup of flour mixture. Whisk together yogurt, butter, and egg. Stir yogurt mixture into flour mixture just to moisten. Fold in strawberries. Spoon batter into prepared cast-iron pan. Bake 25 minutes.

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MEXICAN CORNBREAD

Submitted by Richard Hardy Memorial School Athletic Club

1 cup Martha White Yellow Self-Rising Cornmeal

1/3 cup melted butter

1 cup Mayfield sour cream

1 (8 oz) can cream-style corn

2 eggs

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese or Mexican blend cheese

1 (4 oz) can chopped green chile peppers, drained

Heat oven to 375°. Grease an 8- or 9-inch skillet; place over medium heat while preparing cornbread batter. Stir melted butter into cornmeal and add sour cream, corn, and eggs, blending well. Spoon half of the batter into the greased hot cast-iron skillet. Sprinkle batter with cheese and chile peppers; cover with remaining batter. Bake for 35 minutes, until nicely browned.

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BROWN SUGAR CORNBREAD

Submitted by the Christian Women’s Job Corp

1 cup unsalted butter

2 2/3 cups Martha White Yellow Cornmeal

2 cups Martha White All Purpose Flour

2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar

2 cups Mayfield milk

4 large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease two 9 x 4½ loaf pans and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together yellow cornmeal and flour. Heat butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat just until melted and whisk until mixture is smooth. Remove from heat; whisk in milk and then eggs. Pour into dry mixture, stirring just until blended, and divide evenly between prepared pans, smoothing the tops. Bake in the middle of the oven until loaves are golden and cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

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Recipes reprinted with permission from the National Cornbread Festival and Lodge Cast Iron.

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NATIONAL CORNBREAD FESTIVAL

April 30–May 1, 2011

Festival details: www.nationalcornbread.com

Lodge Cast Iron details: www.lodgemfg.com

South Pittsburg details: www.southpittsburg.com

For more about traveling in Tennessee: www.tnvacation.com

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Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post about the National Cornbread Festival.

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Baking 1800s Style at the Chuckwagon Cookoff in Pigeon Forge, TN

Using cast-iron pots over campfires beside his vintage chuck wagon, Lexie Dean bakes old-fashioned fruit pies, cornbread, and biscuits.

by Bakery Boy

Lexie Dean prepares to serve cowboy vittles from Dutch ovens at his Ramblin’ Rose Chuck Wagon. Photos by Bakery Boy

Lexie Dean bakes like it’s the 1860s. He bakes like he’s the camp cook on a cattle-drive, stirring up hearty grub for hungry cowboys on the dusty trail. He bakes like, at the latest, it’s the 1880s, just before railroads replaced cattle-drives and rendered chuck wagons obsolete.

Obsolete maybe but still appealing to hobbyists such as Lexie—who calls his rig the Ramblin’ Rose Chuck Wagon—and others who keep chuck wagon traditions alive. They set up at festivals, rodeos, scout camps, church picnics, vacation bible schools, and anywhere else they’re invited to re-create authentic cowboy cuisine.

As he bakes biscuits, cornbread, and lattice-topped fruit pies to go with the chicken-fried steaks, beans, potatoes, and sawmill gravy that round out his menu, Lexie uses ingredients, tools, and techniques true to the period. He does this because he’s a stickler for authenticity, because people gather to watch how things were done back in those days, because he’s a fan of cast-iron cooking, and because he’s being judged.

Chuck wagon cooking, it seems, has become a competitive pastime as well as a nostalgic hobby.

CHUCKWAGON COOKOFF

Impressive sight: Lexie and Katy Dean cooking and baking with more than a dozen heavy cast-iron pots.

Look for Lexie wearing his trademark stovepipe hat, muttonchop whiskers, cowboy boots, and bandanna at the fourth annual Chuckwagon Cookoff in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, in late February. He and Katy, his wife and trusty sidekick, will be busy among more than a dozen big, heavy, scalding-hot, cast-iron pots and a string of campfires. Their Ramblin’ Rose will be among six chuck wagon teams—with names such as Grumpy’s Grub, Cow Camp, Fairplay Cattle Co., Double X Ranch, and Wish Bone—competing for prizes, honors, and bragging rights. It’s a highlight of the 11th annual Saddle Up!, a four-day celebration (February 24-27) of the old American West that also includes Western music and dancing, cowboy poetry readings, mechanical bull riding, storytelling, and a cowboy church service.

As he geared up for this year’s Chuckwagon Cookoff from his home in Greenville, North Carolina, Lexie was glad to talk to the Bakery Boy Blog about 1800s-style campfire baking.

Lexie cuts strips of pie dough for a lattice top crust.

“First of all, everything I cook or bake is done in cast-iron pots,” he says. “For contests I take 12 of the big 16-inch-diameter Dutch ovens with the flat lids so I can pile hot coals on top [to get more even temperatures inside]. Each one weighs more than 30 pounds empty and costs about $120 to $160. I also take two 26-inch skillets, two 18-inch skillets, and two 10-gallon bean pots. Mine are mostly from Lodge Cast Iron in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, and from Cabella’s, the big outdoor equipment company from Nebraska.

“Proper care of the pots is a big part of being successful at this,” he says. “You have to use them a lot to break them in and clean them well after every use. I wipe them with olive oil for storage. Other vegetable oils or any sprays will turn to a glue-like paste and ruin the pots. The acid in tomatoes will take off the finish. But if you treat these pots right, they’re great for camp cooking.”

While steaks, potatoes, beans, and gravy simmer, Lexie focuses on baking: yeast-style biscuits featuring a sourdough starter, thick cake-like cornbread suited to sopping up sauces from the main course, and his specialty—fruit pies.

PIE TIME

How Lexie designs his woven pie crust top.

“A lot of chuck wagon cooks make cobbler, but I like pie,” he says. “The difference is the crust. I put a layer of pie dough on the bottom and make a basket weave pattern for the top [see diagram].”

The main ingredient in the filling depends on what the contest organizers supply. “At these events you never know exactly what you’re going to work with. They might give you apples or peaches or dried apricots or blueberries. You have to be prepared for anything, just like camp cooks on cattle drives, where sometimes they had to cook whatever they could scrounge up.”

Flour for the Chuckwagon Cookoff comes from The Old Mill, an historic water-powered mill in Pigeon Forge.

Using rough measurements such as “handfuls” of sugar, a “dusting” of cinnamon, “just enough” fruit depending on what kind and how juicy it is, and “lots of” butter, Lexie mixed his pie filling more by feel and experience than by a strict recipe. Same with the crust, made from flour supplied by The Old Mill, an historic water-powered mill in Pigeon Forge, lard or vegetable shortening, a pinch of salt, and cold water.

Pies, rolls, and cornbread go into aluminum pans that go into cast-iron Dutch ovens perched over beds of hot embers and covered with more glowing coals. “I use hickory wood because it burns hot,” he says. “It’s hard to judge the temperature of charcoal and other types of fuel, but with hickory I have a pretty good idea. I put a third of a cord on my fire the morning of the contest, let it burn down into a humongous coal pit, and then get all the food cooking so it’s ready at noon, when it’s time to eat.”

COME ’N’ GET IT

Piping hot and ready to eat, one of the scrumptious glories of campfire baking. Photo courtesy of Lexie Dean

Held at Clabough’s Campground in Wears Valley, the cook-off attracts chuck wagon teams from as far away as Georgia and Texas. Hundreds of people wander through camp to inspect wagons and watch cooks at work. Tempted by wafting aromas, many buy $10 meal tickets and line up for platefuls of grub at lunchtime. Judges gather under a tent for an official tasting before awarding prizes in several categories.

The Ramblin’ Rose wagon dates to 1868. Photo courtesy of Lexie Dean

Last year Lexie’s Ramblin’ Rose won 1st place in wagon authenticity, bread, and potatoes categories, tied for 1st place in cornbread, took 3rd place for meat, and landed 1st in the coveted overall category. Not a bad day for a cowboy camp cook.

“On Friday it’s all about authentic wagons,” he says. “You don’t want anything showing that wouldn’t be found in the 1860 to 1880s. No cell phones or plastic coolers or aluminum foil that judges will see. On Saturday it’s all about the food and there’s a different set of rules. Cleanliness comes first, so it’s okay to have plastic wrap and coolers to keep the food safe.”

WHY DO THIS?

“We work hard to make every detail of our chuck wagon authentic,” Lexie says. Photo courtesy of Lexie Dean

“I’ve been a scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America for a long time and starting cooking outdoors 25 years ago,” Lexie explains. “I saw a chuck wagon with a guy cooking the old ways at a charity event, and I was hooked. I started looking for a chuck box to outfit an old farm wagon that has been in my family for generations. It’s a 10-footer with a 12-foot tongue to harness four mules to pull it, built by the Fish Brothers Wagon Company of Racine, Wisconsin in 1868.

“Since I got the wagon from my grandfather, the Ramblin’ Rose has crossed the Mississippi River 34 times going to events and coming home,” he says. “Between contests and scout trips and church functions, I cook about 15 chuck wagon meals every month.”

Lexie works as a mechanical test engineer for NACCO Materials Handling Group, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of heavy-duty lift trucks. “You know those crash test dummies you see in car commercials? What I do is something like. I try my best to tear up the lift trucks we make in order to see how we can improve our designs.”

Ramblin’ Rose includes harnesses for four mules to pull it. Photo courtesy of Lexie Dean

He’s much more cautious with his antique chuck wagon, carefully transporting it on a 35-foot flatbed trailer. “People see it going down the highway and wave me over so they can ask about it,” he says. “Anytime I stop for gas, someone wants to know what it is and where it’s going.”

For years, Lexie’s wife Katy has been his constant companion on this adventure. “If she ever gets tired of doing this, I guess I’ll go on by myself. Most teams have four or five people, but we do fine with just us two. If I had to, I think I could be a one-man show.”

He keeps going because of reactions from spectators. “I let kids climb on the chuck wagon for fun when I’m not cooking. At events people will look at it and say, ‘It’s beautiful!’ or taste my cooking and say, “It’s really good!’ or shake my hand and say, ‘Thank you!’ That makes it all worthwhile.”

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Email Lexie Dean about his Ramblin’ Rose Chuck Wagon at agldean@nmhg.com

Learn more about chuck wagon culture from the American Chuck Wagon Association

For more about the Chuckwagon Cookoff and Saddle Up! (February 24-27, 2011) in Pigeon Forge, TN: www.mypigeonforge.com/saddleup

For more about Pigeon Forge: www.mypigeonforge.com

For more about Tennessee: www.tnvacation.com

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