Chris Mackowski’s recent post about George Pickett’s culinary legacy reminded me of seeing a few newspaper articles that featured cooking shad while researching the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the battle of Five Forks. None of those articles were about the combat itself or the division commander’s lack of involvement. Instead, an annual shad bake in the town of Wakefield inaugurated the campaign season for aspiring Virginia Democrat politicians. Thus George Pickett’s legacy could not escape the bony, migratory fish haunting the battle’s anniversary. On the same page of the Petersburg Progress-Index‘s feature on the Five Forks centennial was an article promoting the upcoming shad planking.
The tradition continues to this day with a few changes. Douglas Wilder broke the shad planking’s color barrier in 1976, a woman first attended the next year as a reporter, and–as political affiliations evolved in rural Virginia–the event is now dominated by Republicans. Terry McAuliffe, current Virginia governor, noticeably skipped the event when he ran for office in 2013. The large spill of the pesticide kepone into the James River from a Hopewell factory in 1976 forced Governor Mills Godwin–featured in the 1965 article when he began his campaign–to suspend fishing in the river. Event organizers nevertheless secured shad for the next decade from unaffected rivers. The event was rebranded last year as the Shad, Grapes and Grains Festival to include local breweries, wineries, and distilleries. Proceeds benefit the Wakefield Ruritan Club and the community as a whole. Should circumstances allow I hope to attend next year to report back with more on the smoked fish itself. Stay tuned for a more in-depth look of both the 1865 shad feast and the centennial commemoration of Five Forks–rivals themselves in ridiculousness.