Aldona Bird, Columns/Opinion

Celebrating Buckwheat season is a Preston County tradition

Buckwheat season is upon us. This week, folks will dig into traditional buckwheat cakes and sausage, watch King Buckwheat and Queen Ceres float by in the parade, admire one another’s exhibits and generally enjoy our county’s 78-year-old tradition.

As I understand our history, buckwheat played a part in West Virginia’s slow recovery after the Great Depression. A fast-growing, easy-to-cultivate cereal, buckwheat provided good animal feed and a backup for when other crops failed.

After buckwheat harvest, farmers could relax and enjoy a respite. In 1938, residents of Preston County turned this time of rest into a time of celebration and threw the first Buckwheat Festival.

While looking up historical information, I came across the same description of the first Buckwheat Festival several times:

“The first Buckwheat Festival was held October 13, 14, 15, 1938 and included an all-day horse trading and a farmer’s auction.

“Early festival activities were located on the east lawn of the courthouse, and attendees enjoyed sack races, hog calling for women, husband calling, nail driving for women, eating contests, tugs of war, and rolling pin throwing.

“As continued today, buckwheat and other agricultural crops were exhibited, a king and queen were selected, and a banquet of buckwheat cakes and sausage were served.”

Many of the other festival details have stayed true — including the banquet of buckwheat cakes.

My understanding is that the Kingwood Volunteer Fire Department (host of the Buckwheat Festival) sources the meat for the sausage they serve from the Preston High School slaughtering facility, and the buckwheat flour from the closest mill.

For years, I’ve seen signs for buckwheat cakes served at the Masontown United Methodist Church, and curious for more info, I gave them a call.

I spoke to sisters Brenda Smith and Alice McKinney, who help in the buckwheat cake feast preparations.

Alice said they started ordering ingredients and prepping about a month ago, including 40 25-pound bags of buckwheat flour from Eglon — the Eglon Farm Service sells Eglon Roller Mills ground buckwheat flour.

Much of those 1,000 pounds of flour will be used over the next four days, and the rest will be used throughout the year for other buckwheat cake dinner fundraisers at the church.

The Masontown Methodist Church has been serving buckwheat cakes since the mid-1950s, according to Brenda. “People come in from the community to help,” she said, including cadets from the Challenge Academy.

Wednesday through Sunday, from 8 a.m.-8 p.m., they serve “at least 3,000 people over the four days,” Alice said. “Sometimes our line is out the door.”

Brenda said “people really like our cakes and sausages,” adding, “we’ve been using the same recipe and sausage for years.” The sisters said the recipe for buckwheat cakes has been passed down through the years, and they weren’t sure whose it was originally.

Last weekend, they mixed the batter for their cakes to make and serve on Wednesday, and they said they would mix more as they needed it.

Whether you eat your cakes at Masontown United Methodist Church, Kingwood Volunteer Fire Department, or make them at home, this week you’ll be participating in a many-decades-old tradition of county pride.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, previously writing for The Dominion Post. She explores possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County.