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story.lead_photo.caption Cornbread is the cornerstone of a festival this weekend.

— Cornbread is such a staple in Arkansas cuisine that it would be an obvious thing to celebrate, early and often.

But Saturday’s 2011 Arkansas Cornbread Festival, which will take up two blocks of Little Rock’s South Main Street centering on Bernice Garden, an outdoor sculpture display space at Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive (formerly 14th Street) and Main, will actually be central Arkansas’ first.

“I’m kind of surprised that it hasn’t been done yet,” says Liz Sanders, event coordinator for Bernice Garden. “It’s something people will get really excited about.”

Professional and amateur corn bread chefs will vie for bragging rights and prizes, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday on Main between Daisy Gatson Bates Drive and 16th Street.

Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children 6-12 and free for children 5 and under; pets can also come. Proceeds benefit the garden and future festivals.

Call (501) 617-2511, e-mail or visit arcornbreadfestival. com.

The professional competitors, those who make cornbread (among other things) for a living, include Boulevard Bread Co., Dogtown Coffee and Cookery, House Catering, Loblolly Creamery, Old South Cornbread Co., Rosalia’s Family Bakery, Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel, the Root Cafe, Savory Pantry, War Eagle Mill and Whole Foods Little Rock.

Amateur participants include Terry Wright, Rose Smith, Diana Sivils, members of Quapaw Quarter United Methodist and Christ Episcopal churches, Dreamland Ballroom and four student groups from Arkansas Culinary School at Pulaski Technical College.

A panel of celebrity judges — cookbook author Crescent Dragonwagon; television personalities Pam Smith, Craig O’Neill and Phyllis Speer; Mary Twedt, who hosts public radio’s Arkansas Cooks; and singer-actor Lawrence Hamilton — will pick the winners in overall, nontraditional and sweet categories, based on flavor, texture, aroma, appearance and creativity.

Judging and tasting will take place until 2 p.m.; the awards presentation follows. Attendees can sample the results on a first-come, first-served basis. The best professional winner will also receive an invitation to showcase their cornbread at the 2012 New Orleans Road Food Festival.

Like barbecue, cornbread is the source of considerable dispute among folks who cook and consume it. Of particular issue: traditional or nontraditional, sweet or not.

“I’ve seen close to fistfights between best friends over whether to add sugar,” Sanders says.

Just what constitutes nontraditional is a bit hazy, Sanders says. It would probably include a friend’s recipe for jalapeno strawberry cornbread, but the criteria “are about as clear as buttermilk,” she says.

Buttermilk, of course, should be a primary ingredient in corn bread, shouldn’t it?

“In my opinion, yes,” she adds.

The event will also feature blues, bluegrass and folk music from the Bullock Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church Ya-Ya Youth and Young Adult Choir Gospel Choir, Buffalo City Ramblers, Tyrannosaurus Chicken and Kent Burnside and the New Generation. In the Family Area, the Little Rock Fire Department will have a firetruck and safety demonstrations; there will also be a “Jump Zone,” face painting and arts and crafts.

Weekend, Pages 34 on 11/03/2011

Print Headline: South Main Street cooks up Arkansas Cornbread Festival

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