Judging the Southern Hushpuppy Championships

Nothing showcases ‘East Texas’ heritage like the people, food, and fanfare of the Texas State Forest Festival. First held as a county fair in 1938, the annual carnival and celebration of forestry activities has been held in Lufkin in its form since 1984.

On Saturday, September 19, 2009, I had the privilege of taking part in one of the signature events, the 38th Annual Southern Hushpuppy Championships. This fierce competition pits recipes against each other in a three-heat elimination format.

Judging the Southern Hushpuppy Championships 2
Each hushpuppy is scored on its taste, appearance, and uniqueness.

For those who are unfamiliar, the hushpuppy is a Southern staple when it comes to side items. It’s a small, round cake of cornmeal fried in deep fat. I tasted and scored the culinary creations of 20 teams. Most prepared traditional, savory recipes, while a few decided to whip up a sweet dessert version. Meats and seafood made it into some. A red velvet cake batter stood out among the dessert pups.

When the signal was given, each team had 30 minutes to mix ingredients, heat the oil, and fry the batter. Contestants prepared a plate of 12 hushpuppies, six of which were later presented to the judges. A page of official rules and regulations were given to each team upon registration, outlining proper presentation protocols.

Judging the Southern Hushpuppy Championships 3
Winners go home with bragging rights and a medal.

Judging the recipes was the hard part, in my opinion. Each hushpuppy was graded on its own merit, receiving points for taste, appearance, and uniqueness. Winning teams received a iconic Hushpuppy Olympics medal mounted on a plaque. The competition was fierce.

Being asked to judge was a real treat. Not only did I walk away with a full belly, but I had a great time seeing how much fun each team was having together.

I was also surprised to learn a fellow Louisiana native served as the judge for the very first competition. Famed Louisiana chef and humorist Justin Wilson even talked about the Hushpuppy Championships on his cooking show.

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of KTRE/KLTV-TV or Raycom Media.  They are solely the opinion of the author. All content © Copyright 2009 Lane Luckie

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