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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

HUSHPUPPIES

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
Hushpuppies are as essential to catfish dinners as catsup is to french fries.

But 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 can remember.

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.

The first 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 event.

Those who attended the first event found that the hushpuppy cooks seldom confined their concoctions to cornmeal, milk and grease.

Some 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 hospitals

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.
All Things Historical
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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