- Cullman, Alabama

August 30, 2013

Annual Sweet Tater Festival kicks off Sunday at Smith Lake Park

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

The Details

The festival will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday. Admission is $3/person, which includes free parking.

This year will be the first Street Rod car show - $10 participant fee. Contact David Speegle for more information on the car show at 256-385-1401.

Fall is just around the corner and with it comes the first of the wonderful autumn harvest celebrations — the Sweet Tater Festival. This year’s gathering is full of fun for the entire family, including some great entertainment.

For the first time, the popular festival will be moved to Smith Lake Park. This gives everyone a chance for one last summer fling on the lake, as well as some great food, creative vendors and wonderful live entertainment.

Terry Kelly Productions brings a full lineup of stage personalities, including a variety of professional talent from Nashville and Florida and some great local talent to delight all ages.

The Tall Timber Antique Medicine Show will have you laughing and smiling the whole time they are onstage. This talented group presents humorous skits along with their original music. Bill and Susie Sterling are known for their humorous family fun performances. All ages will get a big kick out of them!

Also on the roster of great entertainers are traditional country music stylist, Ross Key, who travels from Nashville to bring you some of the old standards everyone remembers and loves.

Jake Mann has been on hand at the Sweet Tater Festival for several years now. A crowd favorite, Mann is known for his repertoire of country songs.

Taylor McLain is 2013’s version of the lovely and talented Patsy Cline. She captures the stage with her presence. Taylor is from nearby Hartselle, Alabama.

For Brook Sinyard and her band, this is a first time performance at the Sweet Tater Festival. They are looking forward to entertaining you with some great music.

Traci Hite, a local singer with a new country feel will also take the stage to wow folks with her incredible voice.

Cullman’s own darling of gospel music, Enell Baker, has graciously agreed to come and sing some of her own songs as well as those old gospel favorites.

Savannah McCain is another local gal with a great voice. Savannah brings a new meaning to country music.

Krystel Rager does a variety of country and gospel songs that will have you singing along.

And of course, the Sweet Tater Festival favorite, Wayne Abbott as Willie Nelson! This festival wouldn’t be complete without this versatile, talented entertainer who has a huge local following.  

There will be a booth set up for these artists who have CDs for sale, and an opportunity for autographs and photos. Look for the Terry Kelly Productions tent.

Another special surprise guest that Kelly is proud to bring to the Sweet Tater Festival 2013 is none other than one of Cullman’s own. Barry Smith moved to Louisiana a few years back. He started out as an extra in several movies, but has become a character actor in various productions such as “Swarm” and “Ray” the Ray Charles story in which Smith played the part of an Alabama State Trooper.

Smith will be the master of ceremonies for the Sweet Tater Festival and the deejay during the event. Be sure to stop by and say hello to Barry.

Of course, there are plenty of other things to do at the Festival. For the kids, there are games galore and bouncing fun for everyone.

And the food is going to be better than ever! Seven Winds Kitchen will have a selection of their delicious homemade baked goods, and other vendors will have just about anything you crave.  

A new vendor at this year’s festival, Kingdom Creations Crafts, will be sold at the Terry Kelly Productions booth. These stylishly unique handmade earrings are a new division of Terry Kelly Productions, and will make wonderful Christmas gifts, as well as giving you a great new look!

To top it all off, you can purchase a five-pound bag of delicious, locally grown, nutritious sweet potatoes for only $5! There will be 5,000 pounds (500 bags) of the vegetable that put Cullman on the map as top producer for several years.  

Dr. Wes Abbott will once again be on hand with his hand-thrown pottery. People come back to the Sweet Tater Festival year after year to purchase his quality works of art.

“I consider Labor Day to be the beginning of the 2013-14 festivals,” said Abbott. “It’s too hot in the summer, so the fall festivals are my favorite, and this one is more like a reunion. You see so many people that you know and look forward to talking with. I think of this as a homecoming.”

Abbott taught art classes at Dowling for a while after he got out of the service. He has a lot of memories centered around the school and community. The move to Smith Lake Park seems to be a good thing, but Abbott will miss the nostalgia of having the festival near the close-knit community center. “But there will be new faces and new friends to meet now,” he smiled.

There are still many people around who have lived in these mountains for years, they attended the Dowling School for generations, like Nadine Page. Her grandmother, mother, she, her daughter and her grandchildren went to school there. Her father was the school janitor. “It was a good school,” Page emphasized.

In 1996, the school burned. It was the night that Tony Leonardi moved to Crane Hill. He was camping in a pop-up tent while his house was being built when he saw the flames.

The Leonardis moved here from South Florida. He and his family traveled all over the country following the Soapbox Derby circuit. “We knew that we wanted to get away from the glitz of southern Florida, so we had been looking at different places. We passed here and pulled off of I-65 and ate at Shoney’s,” recalled Leonardi. “We met such nice people, and it was really the people who drew us to this place, that, and the grace of God.”

Leonardi got involved with the Sweet Tater Festival after the school burned because of the ladies who had worked so hard to save the remaining building, a lunchroom, after the fire. They started cooking to raise money for the upkeep of the building. Leonardi went to one of the first festivals in order to sell watermelons for Daystar House.

Nadine Page was one of the group of six local ladies who started raising money to preserve the lunchroom. “We all wanted to help take care of what was left of the school because it was such a big part of the community,” Page explained. “We got together at the lunchroom and made sweet potato pies to sell, we made the crusts from scratch and everything.”

Later the ladies made chicken and dumplings and other crowd pleasers to bring in funds to keep the school updated. They painted the inside, made curtains and added a bathroom. After it was painted on the outside, they rented it for community functions.

It was Page who encouraged Leonardi to become a member of the group. “She encouraged me and I just couldn’t say no,” he laughed. Leonardi is now the president of the Dowling Memorial Park board.

The Sweet Tater Festival has continued to grow and the money is invested in the lunchroom for its continued upkeep. Now in its 17th year, it has outgrown its space. “The move to Smith Lake Park will help with the crowd, especially the parking,” explained Leonardi.

Both Page and Leonardi invite everyone to come out and enjoy the two day festival. There will be a drawing for prizes each hour of the festival. One must be present to win.

Why you shouldn’t miss the festival:

Bags and bags of taters, and some baked, fried and some in pies, all for the whole family, even the couch potato and the little tater tots

Country-style cooking (Mmmm), arts and crafts, live entertainment, door prizes of $50 gift cards every hour

Over 4,000 people attended last year's festival, with 82 venders. This year with more space there will be a car show with up to 350 custom cars, lots of kiddy rides, food and craft venders, and oh, so much more! For more information, visit our web sight at and “like” us on Facebook: Sweet Tater Festival.


From Cullman’s own farms and fields, grows one of the most nutritious foods available – the humble sweet potato. Packed with vitamins, minerals and nutrients, this little orange vegetable is a powerhouse of nourishment just waiting for you to find your favorite way to eat it!


Recipes from Nadine Page of Crane Hill:

Cobbler Pie Crust

1 stick Oleo

1 c. milk

1 c. sugar         

1 c. self-rising flour

2 tsp. salt

2 c. sweet potato, puréed

Mix all. Bake at 300º for 45 minutes, till brown. *See filling recipe at bottom of recipe list.

Sweet Tater Casserole

3 c. mashed sweet potatoes

1/2 stick margarine      

1 1/2 c. sugar  

2 eggs

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla

Mix all and bake in 425º oven for 10 to 15 minutes.


Topping For Sweet Potatoes

3/4 stick margarine

4 1/2 c. light brown sugar

12 c. nuts (pecans are the best)

1/2 c. coconut

1 c. corn flakes crushed

Mix and spread on top of sweet potatoes.


Sweet Potato Cake

By Jane Gammon

1 3/4 c. mashed cooked sweet potatoes   

1 c. brown sugar                

3/4 tsp. salt       

2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour  

1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1 1/4 c. oil                                       

1 1/4 tsp. baking soda

3 eggs                                      

1 1/4 tsp. orange peel            

3/4 c. chopped pecans               

1 1/4 tsp. vanilla

Mix oil and sugar; add vanilla, eggs and beat well.

Add dry ingredients, blend. Then add sweet potatoes and pecans. Knead into a loaf and put into a loaf pan. Bake in a preheated 350º-oven for 45-50 minutes. When completely cooled, top with sweet icing.

Sweet Icing

3/4 c. sugar                        

1/2 tsp. orange extract

3/4 c. sour cream              

2 tsp. corn syrup

1/4 c. hard butter                      

Mix together all ingredients well. Cook on low temperature until butter melts. Mix and cook to a stringy consistency. Cool before icing breads or cakes.

Sweet Potato Fries

by Diane Leonardi

2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed if not peeling off skin

2 T. olive oil, extra virgin

1 tsp. parmesan cheese

Salt and black pepper to taste

Cut the potatoes lengthwise into quarter-inch thick slices, then cut slices into fry-shaped sticks. Pour olive oil and parmesan cheese into a bowl, mix together and toss in the tater sticks to coat. Spread onto a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, then turn the sticks over and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. While still warm, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle more cheese on and serve.

 Sweet Potato Pie Filling

This is a standard sweet potato filling and can be altered to suit taste.

1 lg. sweet potato

1/4 c. light brown sugar

2 T. granulated sugar

1 lg. egg

1 T. heavy whipping cream

1 T. unsalted butter, softened

1/4 tsp. salt

1 T. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp. ground allspice

1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

Scrub sweet potato, prick the skin, and bake at 350º for 45 minutes, or until potato is soft throughout. Remove from oven, place on a rack until cooled. Remove flesh and discard the skin; mash flesh with a fork. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat potato pulp with sugars and remaining ingredients until batter is smooth, about 2 minutes.