By MATT CRANE
The annual Oktoc Country Store is fast approaching, and community members are working hard to keep the 42-year-old tradition alive.
Held on Oct. 6, the Oktoc Garden Club will sponsor the annual community event which features bake sales, the traditional quilt raffle, snack items, canned and fresh vegetables and produce, face painting, and of course, the famous Oktoc Brunswick Stew.
Oktoc Garden Club President Hellen Polk said the stew, which can be purchased as individual bowls or taken home by the quart or gallon, serves as just one part of the club's fundraising efforts which has boasted between $4,000-$6,000 in recent years.
"The Garden Club funds several different organizations," she said. "Part of our funds go to the upkeep of the Community Club as well as making donations to our Oktoc Volunteer Fire Department and several other community organizations."
Founded in 1923, the Garden Club has been sponsoring the annual Oktoc Country Store since 1970 and Polk said she is proud to be a part of the traditional event that brings the community together and serves as a great opening to the fall season.
"The Garden Club is rich in our community's history," she said. "It's a great opportunity to learn from the people in the community and get to know the new folks, like me, who have moved out here."
The famous Brunswick Stew will be prepared by a team of Oktoc community men led by Jason Honnell who is taking over for 20-plus year cooking veteran Bill Polk.
Honnell said conversations were held about discontinuing the stew-making for this year's event, but he realized the importance of honoring the time-honored process.
"There's no sense in squashing tradition," he said. "So I said I'd take the lead and keep it going on."
Honnell said the cooking process begins at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5 and does not stop until the stew is served at noon the following day.
"Crews of about 6-8 guys will work cooking the meats and adding ingredients throughout the night because there has to be a constant stirring action going on," he said. "We do that just to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot and it helps break the ingredients down to its final serving."
Honnell said eight cauldrons will be used to cook approximately 200 gallons of stew in a process that he said allows for great community bonding.
"It's a lot of talking and telling old stories because you're standing around with a bunch of guys for hours and you learn a lot about each other," he said. "It's good camaraderie and you get to know the people in the community better."
Honnell said the traditional recipe for the stew is something that can be achieved at home, but the familiar Oktoc flavor is what keeps people coming back every year.
"It's got a specific taste so when people come to get it, they know what they are looking for," he said. "I'm just glad to be doing it again and keeping the tradition going."