are as essential to catfish dinners as catsup is to french fries.|
more than three decades, Lufkin
has successfully made hushpuppies a source of pride and recognition without serving
a single fillet of catfish. On September 25, the community will observe the 33rd
consecutive running of the Southern Hushpuppy Cookoffs, a celebration of a Southern
delicacy that, according to tradition, was invented when a fisherman tossed a
dollop of cooked cornmeal to his hungry dogs and admonished them, "Hush, puppies."
East Texans have been cooking hushpuppies with fried catfish for longer than anyone
The evolution of the only hushpuppy cooking contest in
the U.S. began in 1971 when the late George Henderson, the new president of the
Lufkin chamber of commerce, decided the town needed an event to make its name
better known across the country.
Henderson summoned two friends, printing
company owner Claude Smithhart and myself. Together, we came up with the concept
of a hushpuppy cooking contest.
It was a harder job that you may think.
After all, fun-loving Texas communities had already pounced on every subject
imaginable for their annual festivals -- including barbecue, gumbo, chili, black-eyed
peas, ice cream, shrimp, fajaitas and onions.
And when they ran out of
food festivals, some towns turned to other sources of local pride. One even came
up with a fire ant festival. Another turned to mosquitoes.
Southern Hushpuppy Olympics was held in a city park in 1971 with contestants from
Dallas, Waco, Houston, Nacogdoches, Tyler, Lufkin and other Texas towns.
Texas newspaper reporters -- known for their willingness to eat anything as long
as it's free -- were asked to judge the contestants' cooking skills. Cajun humorist/cook
Justin Wilson, himself an aficionado of hushpuppies, was invited to emcee the
Those who attended the first event found that the hushpuppy cooks
seldom confined their concoctions to cornmeal, milk and grease.
of the entrants mixed in ingredients which, to veteran cooks, seemed a little
foreign -- including shrimp, jalapenos, crab meat, onions, vegetables, chili and
more than a few unidentifiable things.
One contestant even mixed in
a little whiskey, which left the judges a little bewildered, but in a noticeably
relaxed mood about what they were doing.
George Henderson's idea for
an event that would "put Lufkin on the map" has been going on for longer than
the three of us ever suspected.
Some of the most memorable cooks in the
thirty years have been Parker Folse, a Dallas architect who won the Olympics at
least three times; Shotgun Wright of Waco, who cooked in a prisoner's stripes
and produced hushpuppies in the shape of the firing end of a double-barrel shotgun;
and Dubbie Perry of Lufkin, who once competed in a gorilla's suit.
Today, the event is held annually as a part of the Texas Forest Festival. Contestants
are mostly from the Lufkin area and represent community groups such as banks and
The event is no longer the "Olympics." Lufkin had its hands
slapped several years ago when the real Olympics said it owned the trademark to
the name. So now it's the Hushpuppy Cookoffs.
But the cooks are still
creative, the hushpuppies are just as good as ever and occasionally someone still
slips a little joy juice into the batter.
September 15 , 2004
Published with permission
Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman is a former president
of the Association and the author of 30 books about East Texas.
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