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A Club Tradition: Spencer Ruritans make stew from scratch |

A Club Tradition: Spencer Ruritans make stew from scratch

SPENCER – The Spencer Ruritan Club’s Brunswick stew all starts with the meat, through a laborious process they’re proud of.

It’s so much work that “if we didn’t have a good time, we couldn’t stand doing this,” Myra Bourne said.


“We don’t just pour our ingredients out of cans and make a stew,” Jerry Hylton said. “We still do it like they did a lot time ago,” cooking meat from scratch.

They don’t do it exactly like it was done a long time ago, however: Originally, Brunswick stew was made more from what the hunters could get out hunting as well as what people had growing in their gardens. “We used to be able to put rabbit and squirrel in it,” said Mary Jordan, but public health laws don’t allow that anymore.

The club use bone-in chicken breasts and thighs, sirloin tip roast and London broils, Hylton said.

The meat is all cooked on Monday, then processed starting at 8 Tuesday morning. Hylton, Brode Corns and Bruce Corns were packing the broth while nearly 20 other people chopped meat.

The Corns were scooping broth from the cookpots and pouring it through funnels into gallon jugs. They’d roll the gallon jugs over to the big double sink where Hylton was stationed. He would set them in cold water, then run two other changes of cold water in the sink until the jugs were cool enough to refrigerate. All in all, they expected to come up with 34 gallons of chicken broth and 72 gallons of beef broth, Hylton said. The stew has a ratio of one gallon of chicken broth to every two gallons of beef broth.

Meanwhile, Mary Jordan was one of the people chopping beef. “It’s so tender,” she said. “This is sirloin, too. It’s not just inky dinky broth (and meat). This is top, top sirloin.”

They were chopping for hours, but it’s good fellowship and fun when it’s with “some of the best people in the world,” said Bucky Taylor.


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G.T. Bondurant (left) and Mary Jordan pack freshly chopped beef into bags to refrigerate as Virginia Rodgers (seated at left) looks on.


Holly Kozelsky

“It would be nice to know how many pounds of beef and how many pounds of chicken” they were going through, said Dowell Lester. He lives in Sandy Ridge, North Carolina, and comes each year to help out his friends.

It was more than 400 pounds of chicken and 500 pounds of beef, Hylton said.

Then “we come back Friday and cut up 1,000 pounds of potatoes,” Hylton said. The potatoes are put in the pots Friday afternoon, and the full stew with all of its ingredients is cooking by early Saturday morning.

The stew will be cooked in five old steam pots which came from the old cannery in Axton. When the cannery closed, the club bought some of the pots, and Fontaine Ruritan Club bought the others. However, Hylton said, Fontaine eventually sold those pots to the Spencer club.

The pots are heated by a boiler which is outside the building. Each pot has both an inner and outer lining. The steam from the boiler comes through pipes into the hollow between the pots’ linings and runs up through the tank.

“It’s an even heat,” Hylton said. “The stew can cook faster and it’s not as bad about sticking” as when pots are heated from below, by far the most common method of cooking.

About 450 gallons of stew will be made Saturday, he added.

The Spencer Ruritan Club was formed in 1942, said Ben Robertson, and is celebrating its 75th year. However, the fair is even older than that, he said. It’s been being held on the third Saturday in September since 1936.

“Ever since I was a little, bitty girl I’ve been coming to the Spencer Fair,” Carol Bondurant said. When the Spencer school was still open, “they used to have exhibits at the school. People would come to the classrooms and look around to see what the children had done.”

While they were all working (and laughing and chatting) in the main building, Johnny Dillon was making lunch for them in the smaller kitchen. His famous hash gravy was ready, just waiting on Hylton to make the biscuits from scratch.

The gravy was simmering in a massive iron skillet. He started by sizzling up some bacon, Dillon said, then removed the bacon and stirred some flour into the grease. Once it was browned, he stirred in beef broth. Then he stirred in a few chopped potatoes and onions.

The stew and other meals will be ready by 10 a.m. Saturday at the Spencer Ruritan Club. Black pot fried chicken will be cooked in the Chicken Shack behind the main building. Some of the chicken will be fried in a cast iron skillet, and some of it in electric skillets, but either way, “it’s the bomb,” Randy Akers said.

Also for sale will be ham biscuits, a limited amount of chicken and dumplings, potato salad, deviled eggs and homemade pies and cakes.

Don Smith and the Foggy River Boys will perform from 3-5 pm.

Next door at the Spencer-Penn Centre, the Craft and Collectible Fair will have vendors and demonstrations in weaving and spinning from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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The Spencer Ruritan Club’s Brunswick stew is made in steam pots the club bought from the old Axton cannery. The pots are double-welled. Steam from a boiler outside the building travels by pipes up between the two walls of each pot, heating the pot thoroughly. The stew cooks more evenly in a steam pot and has less tendency to burn than with the more common bottom heat source, said Johnny Dillon (left) and Jerry Hylton (right).


Holly Kozelsky

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