Friday, May 27, 2011

40th Annual Redway Fire Department Barbeque

Fortieth Annual Redway Fire Department Barbeque
On Memorial day week-end 1971, forty years ago, the Redway Volunteer Fire Department had their first Barbeque. Ben Doane, a local sheriff’s deputy at the time was also a Redway volunteer firefighter. He was from Willow Creek, where he had seen them have a successful fund-raising barbeque. He suggested that the Redway Fire Department have a similar barbeque. He gave the firefighters, at the time, complete specifications as to how to build the deeply dug pits, how to place the meat wrapped in butcher paper and wet burlap directly on the coals, leave a six inch air space above the meat, place pipes and roofing tin over that, and bury in six inches of soil, uncover the meat after twelve hours, unwrap, slice and serve with homemade bread, baked beans and salad.

Ben’s plan was to dig a twelve foot long trench, four feet wide and four feet deep. The walls of the pit were to slope gently outward because the bottom of the pit, and the sides, were lined with six inch rocks to hold the heat, leaving a six inch space at the top for the cross-bars, tin, and a six inch layer of dirt to smother the fire and bake the meat.

Firefighters being very, very smart as a very, very general rule, had a better idea. Against Ben Doane’s very, very loud objections, they proposed that they build two large steel box-ovens. It was their idea that the meat would be easier to handle, and they just couldn’t warm up to the idea of placing the meat directly on the coals, because it would surely burn, and they just didn’t want to ruin four hundred pounds of meat, so they dug their pits, pretty much as originally designed, but they welded together some very elaborate oven-boxes, complete with hinges and latches. After all, they were going to have to last a very, very long time, the firefighters intended for this to be an annual fund raising Barbeque event!

They placed the roasts onto racks in their elaborate ovens. They lowered the ovens gently into the fire pits, They talked about maybe having the ovens chrome plated to make them look nicer and cleaner. Firefighters all like clean, chrome, shiny, and red. Some of us even have those words embroidered on our pajamas.

As things often, (always?) go, the boxes didn’t get enough heat from the coals, the meat came out very, very rare, and pork is not appreciated in the very, very rare form. In a panic, the firefighters recruited all of the neighbors ovens to finish cooking the roasts, mine being one of the neighbors ovens. So, I was involved in the very, very first barbeque.

The next year, Ben gave the firefighters a list of the people in Willow Creek, who have done this barbeque before. After calling them all of them on the phone, they were able to convince the firefighters that “yes indeed, just wrap the meat in butcher paper, tie it in wet burlap and place it directly on the coals. Ben Doane said that he would consent to do the barbeque again as long as every single firefighter do every single thing that he told them to do. It was a humbling experience for the otherwise smart firefighters. We sometimes ponder what might have happened to the steel box ovens.

By the second year of the barbeque I was a “probie”, Probie is a term used by firefighters to identify a probationary firefighter, or rookie. I had joined the fire department by then, but you don’t get accepted as a rank-and-file fire department member until you complete your training and get voted in by the regular members. At that time a firefighter gets issued a regular set of fire protective gear, boots, gloves, pants and coat. The other advantage is that you got named on the insurance as a regular firefighter. Before that, the rookies were covered as “John does”. The fire department covered Five Does.

It was a real “Plum” to become a regular firefighter back then, and, there was a waiting list. We had twenty regular firefighters and five, or so, rookies as they were culled-out or accepted. My badge number is “22”. I became rank-and-file in 1973. But, I have been at, and worked on, every Redway Fire Department Barbeque.

Nowadays, we have improved our fire pits, they are fire-brick lined and they have fitted steel lids, but we put the meat directly on the coals. We now cook 800 pounds of beef and pork. We now wrap the meat in yards of foil, then in wet burlap. We lost some of the smokey flavor with the foil wrap, but we gained tremendously in juiciness. When we unwrap the roasts, they are surrounded in juice. The meat is tender and well seasoned in our “Top-Secret” dry rubs and sauces.

We start working on the barbeque Wednesday, May 25th, 6:00 PM at the Redway Fire Department at 155 Empire Avenue in Redway. (behind Shop Smart) Wednesday we make all the rubs and sauces, gather the sand that we use to cover the pits, and make the hall ready. It a “punch-list” day. The real fun starts on Thursday at 6:00 PM we clear out the hall, set up tables, then we season and wrap the meat for placement into the pit’s the following Friday night. We have Carnitas with spices and sauce. We have “refreshments”, play a little music, and generally have a good time getting things prepared. Local people come and go to participate in the fun. It’s always an open house, after all it’s YOUR fire department. Then the meat marinades over-night.

At 5:00- 6:00 PM Friday we kindle the fire pits. We keep the fire going with nothing but ash-free Madrone wood. Do you know that the north coast of California is one of the only places in the world that Madrone grows? We are soooo lucky. Back to the barbeque. We have a pot luck dinner at 7:00 PM. We mostly tend the fire and talk about “The Big Ones” (fires of the past) The kids play music and we have lots of fun tending the fire. It’s like camping, only with a much bigger fire, and we have chairs around the fire pits, indoor plumbing, a T.V…. Okay It’s not like camping but there is a BIG fire and a lot of fun. Folks from other fire departments come and go, and members of the community come and go for the fun of it. The kids go nuts with their games and fun is had by all.

At somewhere between 11:00 PM and 1:00AM, we place the meat in the pits and cover the lids with sand. We all go home, except for a few well placed guards.
At 10:00 AM Saturday, we “crack the pits” by shoveling the sand off a lid and placing a shovel under it, that slows the cooking and readies the meat for serving. At High-Noon Saturday we sound the hall siren and serve food until 7:00 pm.

We serve juicy deep pit barbeque beef and pork, baked beens, salad, bread, and your choice of milk, coffee, or water. We sell beer, regular and premium, or a premium dark beer. We sell sodas, and we also have a wide variety of desserts for sale.

The band will be Twango Macallan. The head Twango told me that there will be a six piece combo there this year. They have added a dobro player, and a saxophone. The wonderful Brigette will be delighting us also. They play great music widely appreciated by the crowd.


skippy said...

Ernie, you had me at the bratwurst-- but now you've really got me going. I'm sold. I'm there.

Not only was this an outstanding(!) folk history (and knowing Officer 'No Nonsense' Doane and his precise specifications of doing things properly), this was more like... a guided fantasy for BBQ lovers. Heavenly. Yours truly can smell the smoke from here.

Could you go over this again, Ernie? I can almost taste it.

Hats off the to the Redway Fire Department, you, the volunteers,-- and Ben. Skippy doesn't want to miss this.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Hope to see you there skippy. We will be serving rain or shine. We actually do better when it rains, because some people have their week-end plans rained out. We serve inside where it is dry. Fun will be had by all.

The thing that I like most about our fundraiser is that we don't beg or badger for money. The diner gets more than their money's worth.

It's more than just a meal, it's an event.

Ernie Branscomb said...

I will personally buy a Guiness for the person that comes the farthest!

Anonymous said...

Ernie, If you please, what is the "very well behaved but probably too hot for the car" dog policy?

Dave Stancliff said...

I enjoyed your brief history of the fire department and 1st babeque.
If my wife and I didn't already have plans this weekend, I would have taken you up on that beer!

Maybe next year.

Ross Sherburn said...

A day late and a dollar short! I missed it again.

Anonymous said...

Did Clif Clendenen show?

Ernie Branscomb said...

I'm really not sure about Clif. We were too busy to even look up most of the time. I saw Mike Downey, Johanna Rodoni. I saw a lot of the local deputies there.

We served everybody, but we sold out of everything. It's going to take a week to count the money. I'll do a post later, right now we are headed to watch the sculpture race. I will be blogging from my cellphone.

Ekovox said...

Ah-ha! You doubted the wisdom of the superior intellect of the people from the Klamath-Trinity region. I told you that's not wise. Ben Doane bequeathed you with such BBQ knowledge and you Eel River bunch just HAD to find a better, albeit shinier way. Did he mention wrapping the meat in madrone leaves just prior to the butcher paper? I doubt it. We don't want to give up all of our secrets for fine mountain culinary cuisine.

Sadly, I missed the BBQ. NExt year, I promise! By the way, Bigfoot Days in Willow Creek is Labor Day.

Anonymous said...

Well, I read the post and got a reminder of how my memory has failed me. I remember the year of the 1st BBQ but it seems like I gathered and hauled river rocks for the freshly dug pits and helped Ben stack them along the sides. Also seems like we placed rods across the tops of the rock wall put corrugated metal on the rods.
Again, memory has me thinking we wrapped the meat in cheese cloth then the burlap.
Time has taken a toll on my mind.


Anonymous said...

I don't see the rebuttal I was expecting Ernie. I was wondering if what I thought I remembered is close to the "way it was"?