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Beans, Greens & Cornbread: DCC Celebrates the Delta’s Culinary Heritage

Delta Cultural Center - Thursday, October 04, 2018 2018 - Thursday, October 04, 2018 Storyline - Thursday, October 04, 2018

Bring on the ‘Beans, Greens and Cornbread,’ and you’ve got the Delta Cultural Center’s (DCC) third annual culinary heritage cook-off! The DCC will celebrate this intriguing dimension of the region’s cultural heritage with a cook-off that applauds the unique tastes of the Arkansas Delta. It has been said that not even music is as distinctly characteristic of this area as the spreading of a feast of native foods before a gathering of kin, neighbors and friends.

Appropriately called ‘Beans, Greens and Cornbread,’ the cook-off continues to grow — so much so that last year it was moved to a venue with the capacity to accommodate cooks who come from throughout Arkansas, as well as the large crowd of tasters and spectators. So, mark your calendar for Saturday, January 26, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will be at the American Legion Post, 409 Porter St., in historic downtown Helena.

Celebrity judges will choose winners in three categories: Best beans, leafy greens and cornbread offerings.In addition to the judges’ choices, the audience will sample the dishes and select one audience favorite! Entry in the cook-off is free, but registration is required. The deadline is January 25.

According to Dr. Kyle Miller, director of DCC, food plays a major role in telling the story of a region’s cultural heritage.

“Especially in the Delta, food is a sort of colloquial history which tells the story that is singularly ours,” he said. “‘Beans, Greens and Cornbread’ is more than just a cook-off.It’s a living history exhibit that is accessible to people from all walks of life. And, it’s a fun way for people to share Arkansas folk stories and enjoy some really good food — food that reflects our distinct heritage.”

Though DCC is a cultural heritage and history museum, sometimes it may not be as easy to communicate to the public through traditional interpretive exhibits exactly what the cultural heritage part of that means.According to Thomas Jacques, assistant director of DCC, people understand the history part of what DCC is because history is not as ambiguous in most minds as cultural heritage tends to be.

Jacques puts it this way: “Cultural heritage is the interpretation of the Delta’s history through music, religious affiliations, quilting, the way people gather in good times and sad times. It interprets how we do everything in our daily lives — then and now — even how we cook and what we eat.”

It is this understanding of “cultural heritage” that gave birth to DCC’s ‘Beans, Greens and Cornbread’ cook-off.

Southern cooks have always creatively drawn upon the mix of cultures that once collided to create the South we know today — most notably, Native American, African and European cultures. In fact, the same basic foods in the south exist as they did three centuries ago.

“Our ‘Beans, Greens, and Cornbread’ cook-off is an excellent example of how different foods that are affiliated with our history here in the Delta, are lived out in our culture every day and around the dinner table,” Jacques said.

So, it is no co-incidence that the selected categories of food in this competition are foods that are staples of both the Delta’s history and its culture.

“Cornbread is one of my favorites. They’re always so different — some with a little sweetness, others without any sweetness at all. There’s crackling cornbread, and still others with jalapeños, or corn mixed in,” Jacques carefully distinguishes. “They all are a tasty twist on one of the Delta’s most authentic breads — besides that of biscuits, or top-of-the-stove prepared flour hoecakes. Cornbread is just one great example of the Delta’s cultural heritage represented through food.”