A chicken barbecue for the ages

Henry Spering stands outside the Dimock Community Church with his sauce maker inherited from BBQ founder Reuben Yoselson. The church will hold a barbecue this Saturday at Elk Lake school. STAFF PHOTO/ROBERT BAKER

BY ROBERT L. BAKER

Visitors to this Saturday’s Chicken barbecue at the Elk Lake Schoolwill be getting more than just a meal.

They will have a chance to partake of a tradition that has just passed the half-century mark for fundraisers.

Started in 1961 by Ruth Sheen to get indoor plumbing for the Dimock Community Church, long-time church member Henry Spering said Monday the church has been fortunate to create something that people look forward to coming back to year after year.

Spering is among a select group of Dimock Church members who have been with the barbecue from its start and noticed it was nonexistent one year in the 1970s.

He said it was much bigger than any one of them and continues to benefit the maintenance of the United Methodist church just east of the village.

He said that a chicken farmer who lived north of Dimock, Reuben Yoselson, was the brains behind the actual barbecuing because it seems he was always looking for innovative ways to find a market for his latest brood.

Yoselson, a 1933 graduate of Penn State, helped develop a vinegar-based chicken sauce through the Farm Home Extension Program at Cornell and anyone can find its recipe online as it is called the Cornell Barbecue Sauce.

For years Yoselson prepared the barbecue for Claverack’s annual picnic, and his reputation was well know as far west as Texas.

Spering said when Yoselson died in the 1970s, he “inherited” the mixer and it is still with the barbecue today having gone through 50 gallons of sauce for the 1,000 chickens that will be prepared this Saturday.

In its first year, Spering noted that 1,091 split chickens were prepared and while the total peaked at around 1,350 in the early 1990s, the church’s crew will prepare 1,000 this Saturday.

In the early days, Spering recalls getting the chickens from D.W. Richards & Sons of Moosic, but now they are acquired through Robinson’s Market of South Montrose.

It will be a full day stating at 5 a.m. with someone preparing the coals, and then 5:30 to begin laying out the chickens on a rack.

They will slow cook,  and then the process will go through two more cycles until all are cooked.

In the beginning, a barbecue dinner cost $1.50 and just a half was $1, and Spering said that although today’s price has jumped to $8.50 for a dinner and $5 for a half, it is still a modest price considering the cost of living.

The barbecue takes place at the Elk Lake School, just because the church isn’t big enough to handle all the people, Spering said.

He noted that in addition to the main course, the dinner has potatoes, beans (cooked from dry ones), and coleslaw.

Another staple is a slice of pie.

Spering said that in the first two years, all of the ladies of the church donated pies, but that got to be quite the chore, and so in later years the church has resorted to buying frozen pies and then cooking them up right at the school.

One year, Spering noted, that someone thought it would be different and maybe a trend could get started to have cupcakes with their meal, but that didn’t go over too well.

And, pie was preserved as the dessert of choice.

But innovation did reign about five or six years ago as the church set up a drive-thru window where people could stop in to pick up their dinners or halves to go.

“That seems to be very popular and people do like the convenience,” Spering said.

Where will he be this year?

The veteran teacher of 32 years at Lathrop Street Elementary School who is now 69 said his back isn’t what it used to be and so his role this year has been to help the new pit specialist, Mark Golden make the sauce, but the time has come for another generation to carry the barbecue forward on the big day.

Spering said the church has been richly blessed over the years to have customers who liked the barbecue and willing workers who volunteered considerable energy to make it happen.

Among those who have been with the barbecuse across the half century are June Ely, Ada Hess, Bobby Hess, Martha Locey, Carl Smith, Mary Jane Ackley, his wife Mary and himself.

And he also wanted to lift up Patsy Gesford, who works at the Elk Lake School and has been co-chair of the barbecue since 1989.

“We have been so thankful for everyone,” he said.

The Dimock Community Church’s 50th Annual Chicken Barbecue Dinner on Saturday, April 28, will be from11:30 a.m.until4:30 p.m.Head to the Elk Lake School, and you can sit down in the cafeteria  to enjoy your barbecue with your friends or you can take advantage of the drive thru. Just give your order and your barbecue will be delivered right to your car.