Kool FM Invites You to Lamesa’s ‘Chicken Fried Steak Festival & Crossroads Balloon Rally’ This Weekend!
In April 2011, the Texas Legislature declared Lamesa, Texas the “Legendary Home of the Chicken Fried Steak”. The City of Lamesa celebrates this declaration each year on the last weekend of April by having a fun-filled weekend and cook-off competition. This year’s CFS Festival and Crossroads Balloon Rally (April 26-28, 2013) kicks off on Friday night with a handmade chicken-fried steak dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and a roll. Grupo Vida (the Electric Cowboys) will take the Plaza Stage on Friday from 9:00pm to midnight.
Saturday’s festivities are held at Lamesa’s Forrest Park, which has a covered plaza for live music from local bands and musicians. Hot Air Balloons will take off at sunrise on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Enjoy a classic car show, team-roping competition at the rodeo grounds, wine tasting from Lamesa’s Delaney Vineyards, pony rides, bouncy castles, kiddie bumper boats, bubble runners, craft and clothing vendors, and food booths offering the usual festival fare and plenty of Chicken Fried Steak. The Saturday highlight is the Chicken Fried Steak Cookoff. Contestants enter and receive the same meat, but have the liberty to bring all their other ingredients. Saturday night the Hot Air Balloons will put on a Fire concert for spectators followed by a performance from Jake Kellan at the Plaza Stage in Forrest Park. Vendors, pilots and contestants can register online at www.ci.lamesa.tx.us or call Terri Stahl at 806-777-1171.
For years, stories have circulated that Lamesa is the birthplace of the chicken fried steak. The account has been reported throughout the state and in a number of national publications. Many famous chefs even give Lamesa credit for being the first to create the beloved dish. It’s part of the great Texas lore that has been spread far and wide. State legislators made it official in 2011, formally declaring Lamesa as the “Legendary Home of the Chicken Fried Steak.” Never mind that it’s not true. Yep, a hoax. Totally false. Made up. A piece of fiction. Ah, but isn’t that what legends are made of? In fact, one dictionary definition of legend is “a popular myth of recent origin.” This one can be traced to early 1975, according to Larry BeSaw and BeSaw should know. You see, he was the one who created it-although completely unintentionally.
BeSaw, now director of physician publications for the Texas Medical Association, was a writer for the Austin American-Statesman at the time. BeSaw recalls that plans had fallen through at the last minute for a major feature story that was supposed to be run in what is known as the “People” section of the newspaper. In desperation, the section editor came to BeSaw and asked him to write a story. She didn’t care what it was about, she just needed it soon. “How about I write a story about the history of the invention of chicken fried steak? BeSaw asked. Fine, she said. What he put together came straight out of his imagination.
BeSaw wrote that Jimmie Don Perkins was a short-order cook at a Lamesa eatery back in 1911. One day a waitress turned in an order for chicken and fried steak but ran it all together, without a comma. Looking at the order, Jimmie Don didn’t want to admit he’d never heard of a chicken fried steak, much less cooked one. So he pulled out a steak and cooked it like he would a chicken – fried in batter. It became an instant success and, as they say, the rest is history.
BeSaw says he doesn’t know why he picked Lamesa as the setting for the story. He recalls only coming through here one time, a few months earlier, on his way back to Austin after a football game at Texas Tech. “ It just came to me, “ he says. “It took me about 20-25 minutes to write it.” The story became part of a package that pooled the talents of several young members of the newspaper staff. While BeSaw praised the dish, another reporter took an opposing view and wrote an anti-chicken fried steak story. “He thought it was a terrible thing to do to a piece of meat, “ BeSaw said of his friend Mike Cox, now a spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Another young writer, Arnold Garcia-now the editorial page writer at the American Statesman-penned yet a different perspective, praising menudo as a better food. Even Ben Sargent, who later won a Pulitzer for his editorial cartoons, got into the art with some of his earliest artwork.
BeSaw said he was certain everyone would recognize the story for what it was – a piece of humorous fiction meant to do nothing more than entertain. After all, he had filled it with hints, even describing Jimmie Don Perkins as an out-of-work freelance drawbridge oiler.
A freelance drawbridge oiler in West Texas? Come on…”nobody could ever read the story and think it was true,” BeSaw said. But, he adds “We didn’t take into account Jack Maguire.” Maguire, the curator of a museum in San Antonio, wrote a weekly piece called Talk of Texas that ran in newspaper thoughout the state. “Two weeks to the day later, I picked up the Sunday American-Statesman and ……..here’s the story in Maguire’s column, “BeSaw recalls. “He had bought the story hook, line and sinker.” It ran in every newspaper in Texas. The tall tale had suddenly become legend.