Sign-up begins for 38th annual stew contest

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

July 25, 2008 - With the end of July come plans and preparations for the coming school year, which in turn prompts thoughts of fall.

Autumn in Hopkins County also means the annual Fall Festival, and no Fall Fest would be complete without the World Champion Hopkins County Stew Contest. While the Sept. 13-20 Fall Festival may seem far off, there's actually less than two full months until the annual celebration kicks off.

And stew contest cooks know there's even less time to register for the upcoming cook-off, and those who are planning to return to compete for the coveted title are encouraged to get their entry forms and fees in as soon as possible.

Previous cooks have until Friday, Aug. 29, to get the paperwork in to the Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce or they'll lose the camp sites they claimed last year. Beginning Sept. 2, camp sites will be determined on a first-come, first-served basis.

And for those who've got a hankering to compete but have yet to put their stew pots and recipes to the test, Chamber President Meredith Caddell welcomes them to test your metal this year on Sept. 20, and assures there is always plenty of room for another cook team.

For the untried cooks out there Caddell explains the basics of the contest:

"If you have never been a 'Stew Cook' before, here is how it works" Caddell notes. "First of all, create a cooking team -- up to two cooks and two helpers. Second, ask someone to sponsor your stew pot. They will pay $150 to sponsor you -- we give you $100 back so that you may purchase ingredients, and the Chamber uses the other $50 to run the contest. Then, turn in your entry form with your sponsor's check, pick up your stew site, and you are ready to get cookin'!"

While all are encouraged to participate, there are a few rules to keep in mind. First and foremost, at least one member of the team must be a Hopkins County resident. As Caddell said, teams can have no more than two cooks and two helpers.

The $100 from the entry fee will be returned during a "cooking team" reception Sept. 15 at Southwest Dairy Center. At least one team member must be present. The teams must use USDA-approved meat and cook their stew in large cast iron pots. The vittles are to be cooked over a hard-wood fire -- in other words no pine or other soft wood -- which the teams furnish.

Each team must cook a minimum of 10 gallons of stew, which will be sold to the general public following the judging to see who has the top three beef and chicken stews, and which of the previous stew winners will come up with what is judged to be the top three "Super Stew" entries -- the best of the best. The stew must be ready for judging at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 20. Two quarts are to be reserved, one for judging and the other for auction in case the stew is one of the top entries.

Cooks may not give away free samples or quantities of the stew to friends and family. Those who want to sample the various entries will pay the $5 fee for a styrofoam container, spoon and opportunity to go through the food tent for extra "fixings." (Team members, however, are exempt from the $5 fee.) The great things about the fee is that it entitles the person to all-you-can-eat of the stew from any of the pots on the grounds until it's all gone.

Each cooking team will display a sign recognizing their sponsors. A sponsor's logo or sign may be used, but the entire display should be any bigger than approximately 22 x 28 inches.

Cook teams may set up the evening before the event and can cook for family through the early morning hours Saturday -- just not the contest stew, which will become the property of the Chamber of Commerce. Teams may camp out overnight if desired on the Civic Center grounds, but all except one vehicle must be removed from the camp site by 6:30 a.m. Saturday or the team will be disqualified. Also, all cook teams are asked to "please be mindful and considerate of your neighbors," limiting activities to the team's designated cook space.

Caddell also encourages all teams to participate in the campsite and costume contests. Those planning to really get into character with costume and decorated sites should be sure to denote participation on their entry forms.

So what do cooks get out of the deal, except exposure of their recipes to the thousands who enjoy the contest? Aside from bragging rights for having the top stews, campsites and costumes of the year, cash prizes are also awarded. The first place chicken and beef stew winners will go home with $300 a team and a plaque, and second place teams will receive $150 and a plaque. Third place in each garners $50 and a plaque. The first place Super Stew winner will go home with $400 and a plaque, and the second place Super Stew will be awarded $250 and a plaque.

An award of $250 and a plaque will go to the winner of the Super Campsite/Costume contest, in which only previous winner can compete. The campsite/costume winner earns $200 and a plaque.

Sponsors have generously stepped up each year to donate the prize money. Any business, group or individual interested in helping sponsor the 38th Annual World Champion Hopkins County Stew Contest is encouraged to get a sponsor registration form from the Chamber of Commerce and return it, along with the designated prize category and amount being donated for either the stew contest or the quart auction, which immediately follows the announcement of the winners. The entry deadline for sponsor registration is Aug. 15.

For more information drop by Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce, 1200 Houston St., or call 903-885-6515.

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