Time to make the dumplihgs: Millbridge Ruritan perfects the art
By Katie Scarvey
If you do something well, why not do it big?
That seems to be the philosophy of the Millbridge Ruritan Club when it comes to chicken and dumplings. The stick-to-your-ribs food has become the signature dish of these club members, and when fans of the comfort food come to the Rowan County Fair, they’re expecting it.
The week of Sept. 21, if you plunk down your $6 at the right booth at the fair, you’ll get a 16-ounce bowl of the classic southern dish, plus homemade vinegar slaw and a slice of bread to boot.
Of course you can’t serve up all those bowls without a lot of preparation.
The Millbridge Ruritans start a few months ahead of time, dividing the process into chicken-cooking and dumpling-making.
They devote three or four nights to cooking whole chickens ó 600 of them ó and painstakingly picking the meat from the birds. This process also yields chicken broth, an important ingredient.
Another five nights is devoted to making the dumplings. They process eight batches a night, with a batch consisting of 20 pounds of dough. They typically make 40 batches in all.
That’s a lot of noodles.
Everything that is prepared ahead of time is then frozen in the club’s freezers.
– – –
It’s a summer evening, and a dozen or so Ruritans are gathered together at the clubhouse on Sloan Road for a dumpling-making session. Three Deals are here: Frank, Mary and their son Ted. Also on kitchen duty are Leonard Hoffner, Eddie Poteat, Don White, Mike McLaughlin, Paul Rogers, John Buzzard, Billy Sigmon and Doug Goodman, club president.
Mary’s the only woman here, but since the dumpling recipe is hers, maybe she needs to be on site for quality control.
Then again, maybe not. Everybody here seems pretty comfortable with they’re doing, from processing the dough in an industrial-sized mixer to rolling it out and then slicing it into strips with pizza cutters.
After the dough is cut, the pale strips of dough are transferred by hand to the tables to dry overnight. The next day, they’ll go into containers, which will be popped into the freezer.
A few days before the fair, they’ll start taking things out of the freezer to thaw.
At some point close to fair time, members will make 250 pounds of vinegar slaw. On fair week, they’ll haul as many ingredients to the fair as they’ll need for one night. Around 3 p.m., they’ll begin heating up pots of broth. They will then add the noodles, which cook for about 20-30 minutes, and the chicken.
After the noodles are done, everything goes in a warmer.
“Sometimes, we sell them quicker than we make them,” Doug says. Friday is their biggest night ó they know they’ll be hopping then.
After years of chicken and dumpling-making, these guys have pretty much gotten the process down to a science.
The first year, 1987, before the clubhouse was built, the dumplings were made at Frank’s house.
Efficiency and volume came with experience.
The club grosses $12,000-$14,000 on their food stand at the fair, Frank says. (They sell things other than chicken and dumplings, including hot dogs and ham biscuits, but the chicken and dumplings are the big draw). After expenses, more than half will go to the club.
The money goes to help the community. The Ruritans give scholarships and help folks in need by building wheelchair ramps, painting houses, or doing whatever else may need to be done.
“We’ll help ’em out,” Frank says.
The Millbridge Ruritans also hold several blood drives a year and assemble baskets to distribute over the holidays to those in need.
“It’s a wonderful club to have in the neighborhood,” Frank says.
The Millbridge Ruritan clubhouse is a spacious, modern facility, with a well-equipped kitchen, as you might expect.
The club was founded in 1987, and the building was finished in the early 1990s. Members built about 75 percent of the building themselves, Frank says. They’re proud of it, and Frank wants the public to know that it’s available for groups to rent for events such as wedding receptions or parties. If you’re interested, give him a call: 704-633-2579.
They also do fish fry fundraisers, and they have a barbecue house, where they cook 100 pork shoulders at a time, two or three times a year, Frank says.
Did we mention that these guys appreciate food?
“We like to cook and eat,” Doug says.