Copyright 2013. Fort Valley Fire Department. All Rights Reserved.
Fort Valley Volunteer Fire Department, Inc.
This version of "The Making of a Ham & Oyster Supper" is written by one of the current co-chairs, Rhonda Melton. She has been co-chairing this committee since 2006. She wrote this due to the overwhelming interest in what is involved in putting on a supper.
The Making of a Ham & Oyster Supper by Rhonda Melton
Back when I joined the department in 2002 I jumped in with both feet to get involved in this wonderful company. Between 2002 and 2006 I helped with the suppers but I only showed up on Saturday, the day of the supper. And then I only showed up from 3:30 till 7:00 then went home. I had no idea the amount of work and dedication it took days prior to and the day of a supper. So during one of the suppers in 2005, after hearing and hearing how much help was needed, not just on Saturday's I decided to mosey down to the department to see what all the fuss was about. OH MY GOODNESS!!!!! I was in for a very rude awakening. After some time there was a need for someone to take over chairing the committee. I agreed however I did not want to chair it alone so I was blessed with Mike Selby as my co-chair. Again after a few years went by, Mike was unable to continue co-chairing with me so again I was blessed with my new and current co-chair Wendy Bulakto. This story tells in detail all the ins and outs of putting on and preparing for a supper.
Preparations begin long before the first event.
At our January meeting, which is held the first Tuesday of the month, we look through the years calendar and set the 4 supper dates. We usually set them on the 3rd Saturday's of March, April, October and November however sometimes other holiday's, like Easter take precedence. During those times the supper date will be moved to another Saturday of that month. The secretary then contacts Steve Snyder, who takes care of the calendar so that he can book those 4 dates. He not only books those 4 dates, he books the whole week from Tuesday through Saturday to do all the prep work. At this point when the dates are set on the calendar the Secretary, which is also Rhonda sends the first of three ads to the 4 county news papers and also posts the information on the department's social media to announce to the public the dates for that year. The first ad is sent in January. The second ad is sent in February to print for 3 weekends in March and then again for 3 weekends in April. The third and final ad is sent in September to print for 3 weekends in October and 3 weekends in November. Also Kent and Teresa Tamkin post the announcement on the department's road side sign. And last Grayson Funk will contact various stores like H&R Grocery in Edinburg to give them our supper dates and ask them to hold beer flats to put the oysters in after they are rolled.
A couple weeks or so prior to each supper, Steve Snyder spends time at the fire hall going through the current supplies. He makes a list of all items needed for the upcoming supper. Just to give you an idea the items range from bathroom supplies, paper towels, place mats, eating utensils, cups, tea, coffee, white sugar, brown sugar, mayonnaise, pickles, fine cracker meal, eggs, canned milk, canned green beans, canned sauerkraut, butter, and many many more items too numerous to mention.
Russ Adams places an order for 2 cases of crackers, cocktail sauce, sausage, the rolls and full size boneless hams.
Grayson Funk contacts Bevans Oysters to place our typical 50 gallon order and get the current price per gallon. The oysters are always fresh when picked up. When I say fresh, I'm saying there have been times when they are still shucking oysters upon our arrival to pick them up.
So that's just the beginning. Typically in March on St. Patrick's Day, volunteers go next door to plow the potato garden and plant the many seed potatoes that will supply the department's potatoes for bingo and the suppers. Once they are ready to harvest they are placed in a location for storage. If the weather starts to turn too cold, typically a volunteer allows them to be stored in their home in the basement to protect them from freezing.
Once the week of a supper arrives preparations usually begin on Monday. Russ Adams typically arrives with the items he ordered and places them where needed. If time permits, the floors will be cleaned, otherwise they get done later in the week with lots of follow up sweeping and mopping. Rhonda Melton prepares postcards to be delivered to the Fort Valley residents to inform them of the supper dates and request desserts. Steve Snyder will take oyster buckets from the previous supper and fill them with water, place them in the freezer and once the water is frozen he dumps them into bags to use for drinks on Saturday. He will continue to do this through Friday evening.
Tuesday: Steve Snyder typically comes down to the department to unwrap and bake all 12 boneless hams. Once the hams have been baked and cooled, they are wrapped in foil and placed in the cooler for slicing on Thursday and the pans are placed in the sink to soak. At some point someone will wash those pans for Saturday. On Tuesday evening volunteers meet to set up the dinning hall with 29 tables and 81 chairs. There is a specific set up that needs to be followed in order for them to fit and allow room for serving. The table cloths are cut to size and placed. Then the place mats, salt and pepper shakers, napkin holders and sugar/creamer containers are placed on each individual table. The table numbers are placed on each row. 2 bread warmers are set in their areas, 2 small tables to hold the coleslaw, 4 small tables to hold ketchup, place mats, cocktail sauce, napkins, and any extra items to refill the tables as needed. Then we set up a small table in the front to hold 2 large coffee pots, one small table by the exit doors to hold the third coffee pot, 2 small tables to hold the drink pitchers, 1 small table to hold the unsweet tea and 2 small tables to hold the sweet tea and water. 3 steam tables are placed in their assigned corners. Boards that operate as a back splash are covered with aluminum foil and placed behind each steam table. This typically takes about an hour if there's enough help.
Wednesday: At some point Wednesday morning Mary Ann Huffman arrives to get out the drink pitchers, serving bowls, serving spoons, ketchup and cocktail sauce. At some point that morning to mid afternoon the large supply/food delivery arrives. If volunteers are available they help the driver unload the order and place all items in the back kitchen to be sorted and put away. Usually Steve Snyder and Bo Snyder come down to go through the order and put everything away. Grayson Funk starts pulling out the 6 cases of cabbage to start leafing them. Then they are washed, quartered and the hearts removed. After the cabbage is quartered is is placed in one of 5 large plastic tubs, covered and placed in the cooler. Rhonda Melton typically comes to the department during the day to start rising, baking, buttering, cooling and wrapping 1,440 rolls. Once they are wrapped, a towel is laid in the bottom of each warmer drawer and one pack of rolls placed on top of that. The remaining packs of rolls are divided on tables between the front and the back. Typically it is a one person job but it's awesome when someone arrives to wash all the pans.
Thursday: Typically on Thursday morning Volunteer Bob Morgan, Grayson Funk (perviously Jim Marsh and Margie Lichliter) come to the department to start peeling the 10-12 bushel of potatoes. They are placed in 5 gallon buckets of water to keep them fresh till Friday morning. Typically Tom and Kathy Vann come to the department to grind the 2 cases of crackers into a medium cracker meal and place them in bags which get closed and stored for Saturday. At some point during the day after lunch, typically Grayson Funk and Bob Morgan stop peeling potatoes and start the hams. The 12 full size boneless hams are taken out of the cooler and unwrapped. They are skinned with the skin being placed in a large metal bowl. The ham then gets sliced to a certain thickness and stacked on trays. If there's enough help the ham will then be weighed into small and large portions. Sturdy boxes are lined with aluminum foil and the ham is placed and stacked in a boxes until full. It is then covered, labeled small or large and placed in the cooler for Saturday. The ham is not country ham and is not fried. If there isn't enough help to weigh the ham, the ham will be covered on the trays and placed in the cooler for later that evening. In the back kitchen 14 steam table pans, 2 large plastic tubs and a large round pan are placed on the counter with lids ready for the potatoes on Friday morning. At some point during the day Mary Ann Huffman comes back down to bring grocery bags for the take out orders then she takes out the carrots for the coleslaw and washes, shreds, wraps and places them in the refrigerator. The last job for Thursday is the bowl of ham skin. These scraps are cut into small chunks and used for seasoning on Saturday.
Friday: Typically around 4:00 or 5:00 am Grayson Funk and his son Eric Funk drive to Kinsale, Virginia to pick up the oysters. They typically take a pickup truck with a tarp to place the boxes in and line with ice. The boxes the oysters are in are also filled with ice. Typically around 7:00 or 8:00 am a group of volunteers come to the department to finish peeling the remaining potatoes. Typically there is still a large quantity to finish. Someone will tote the buckets of water to the peelers for them to place the potatoes in. Once a bucket has enough potatoes in it, it is carried to the back kitchen. In the back kitchen there is typically a small group of volunteers, including Sonny Tamkin and Martin Cullers who dump the buckets of potatoes into a sink to drain. The potatoes are checked for spots then cut to size. They are put in the pans approximately a third of the way then covered with fresh water and a lid. They are checked throughout the remainder of the day and evening for swelling and the need for more water. Typically around 10:00 am or so Ed and Glenna Beitel, and a volunteer or two will pull out the 5 tubs of cabbage to start shredding it. Once the cabbage has been shredded it usually produces 4 large tubs of coleslaw. It is covered and placed in the cooler for Saturday morning. Greg and Rhonda Melton typically come down around noon or so to make the many batches of tea. 6 big pots with the long handles are made with single batches of tea. 4 of them are strained into 4 five gallon buckets for sweet tea and 2 of them are strained into 2 five gallon buckets for unsweet tea. Then the same 6 pots are made with double batches of tea. 2 pots will make one bucket of either sweet or un-sweet tea syrup. One syrup bucket will fill a serving bucket 4 times. If the tea ends up a little too sweet you can get 5 batches out of it. So 4 buckets of sweet syrup are made and one bucket of unsweet syrup is made. That's a total of 100 gallons of sweet tea and 30 gallons of un-sweet tea. 4 large coffee pots are filled with water and coffee and placed on their tables. Anywhere between 11:00 to 2:00 pm Grayson and Eric have made their trip back from Kinsale with the oysters. Those available at the department will help unload the oysters. The buckets are wiped off with towels and placed in the cooler. Steve and Bo Snyder come back down that evening and set up the counters for rolling oysters. They get out all the room temperature ingredients and supplies needed to make the rolling mixture. Steve also prepares the sausage to get it ready for breakfast. Also desserts start arriving from the numerous people who either baked something or bought something.
Saturday: Typically around 5:00 am Steve and Bo Snyder arrive to start pulling things out for breakfast. They turn on the one large coffee pot in the main kitchen for the workers. Bo will take the round pot of potatoes and put in the oven to start cooking to make the pot pie for lunch. Then Rhonda and other volunteers like Rex Mantz, D.D. Dinges, Adam Stout and Ben Runion arrive to start opening the cans of green beans. Approximately 64 gallons are opened, and seasoned. We then open approximately 36 gallons of sauerkraut and season that as well. We make 3 steam table pans of each so they can be taken out and turned on. The remaining of each get put in large pots and placed on the stove to start cooking. We then take a break to eat a yummy breakfast of sausage and egg sandwiches. After breakfast and a break we go back into the kitchen and start draining the potatoes. They get filled with fresh water and placed in the ovens to wait to be turned on. We get the young boys to fill several buckets of water and cover then place under the tables with the tea syrup. Then someone takes a large block of ice and places one in each serving tea bucket and the 2 water buckets. Around 7:30 or so volunteers start showing up to roll the oysters. They work in groups of 2 or 3. Steve is busy making the egg mixture while Grayson is busy getting the workers either more oysters or cracker meal. We normally have a good number of people who show up throughout the morning to give those who have been standing on their feet a break or just relieve them so they can go home or go to an errand they need to do. Betty Rinker comes down to help by washing dishes. Sometimes she has a helper. She will stay till all the work is done that morning then she comes back to wash dishes that evening. Around this time or so Wendy Bulatko, and some of the 4-H kids will come to clean and stock the bathrooms. A small group will fill the bowls of pickles and apple sauce. The fruit cups are filled. The meeting room is cleaned, tables set up for various vendors like Relay for Life, etc... and a table for Russ Adams and Linda Murphy to collect money and hand out tickets. The line is put up to divide the take out side and the dinning in side. Around 8:00 am the coleslaw dressing is made and the coleslaw is prepared. We check the potatoes for the pot pie and once they are just soft enough to cut Rhonda crumbles sausage in the pan and dumps a gallon of mixed vegetables adding salt and pepper and minced onion. Biscuits are made and placed on the pot pie once the sausage is done.
Once the oysters are all rolled, clean up begins. The volunteers clean off the counters and wipe them down. The floors are swept and cleaned. After clean up lunch is served. The pot pie is placed on the counter with a bowl of coleslaw and a dessert of choice.
At 11:00 the ovens are turned on for the potatoes and at 12:00 the pots of potatoes on the stoves are turned on. Lots of 1lb blocks of butter are unwrapped and placed into a metal bowl. Once the potatoes are soft enough to cut 3 large blocks of butter are added. Glenna Beitel arrives to start pulling out the desserts and slicing them to size. The coffee pots and bread warmers are turned on at 1:30. 8 towels are wet and rung out then placed on top of the packs of rolls in the warmers to give them some moisture. During this time and until 3:30 the cooks, Rhonda, Bo and Rex will keep an eye on all the food. It will get stirred as needed and the temps adjusted as needed.
Before serving time, the deep fryers are turned on. The to go cups of sauerkraut and coleslaw are made up along with single serving wrapped rolls. The coleslaw is dipped out into bowls on the tables. 4 pans of potatoes are taken out, parsley added and taken to the steam tables. A warmer is placed on the counter to put the fried oysters in. To go trays, regular trays, eating utensils and paper towels are taken out ready for the crowd. The paper towels are used to place in the warmer and drain the grease off the oysters.
Sonny Tamkin arrives with the dry erase board to write down who will be working what table either as a food server or a drink server. The floor workers will get their aprons on and everyone will stand ready to start serving. The vendors will arrive and set up their areas. Steve Snyder, Kent Tamkin and Grayson Funk will start frying some oysters so once we start serving they won't have to wait.
Once 3:30 hits and things are in full swing everyone has their job or assignment. They stick with that job until they are relieved for a break or to leave. We typically have 3 people who tote food back and forth. Their job is to keep the steam tables filled and ensure no one gets burned in the process of transporting the food. Various things will happen during the evening like taking out the trash to the designated vehicles then running it to the dump, making more tea if need be, making more available food if need be and keeping things running smoothly. Wendy Bulatko typically runs the dinning hall and the vendor room while Rhonda Melton typically runs the kitchens.
Other than the food servers, drink servers and oyster fryers, we have cooks who keep an eye on the food, 2 people placing oysters on the trays, someone taking the dinning in tickets and your order, someone taking the to go tickets and your order, a variety of people taking care of the desserts, Teresa Tamkin and typically Sydney Neil who take care of the rolls, the dish washers who are typically Betty Rinker and Ray Waldron and his family, Russ Adams and Linda Murphy taking money and handing out tickets, Jeanie Lichliter selling department t-shirts, hats and cups, Jake Mantz or Tom Hunsberger seating the guests, Sonny Tamkin or Tom Hunsberger, greeting the guests as they wait to be seated, Wendy Bulatko keeping track of the 4-H kids, or other kids who are there to help serve drinks and so on.
After the supper is finished at 7:00 pm, some of the people will stay to help clean up and wash and put away the dishes. Typically Bill Mantz's family will come for clean up. That includes the Asbridge family, and the Ruhling family and other family members. It is a great experience, a lot of hard work and a lot of fun. It is so rewarding to see how everyone enjoys the food and all the great compliments we receive on the service.
Thanks to all of you who participate by supporting our department!