A Jefferson tradition continues

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 14, 2006

The month of April is a busy time for many people. Some wrap up tax returns while others find the joy that spring flowers and beautiful weather bring. In Jefferson, Ala., it’s time for the annual Jefferson Barbecue.

Members of the Jefferson Community Club come together to host an all-you-can-eat barbecue each April.

For the Club, it’s the event of the year.

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“You never plan anything for the third Saturday in April,” said club secretary Pam Baker.

In fact, it’s best to keep clear the days leading up to the barbecue, as well.

As with any large-scale event, preparations are made weeks, even months, ahead of time.

Everybody has a job: some are in charge of cleaning the pit while others unload slabs of firewood and advertise the event.

Days are set aside for cleaning the clubhouse and the yard, and supplies are gathered.

So that nobody is overwhelmed, everybody is asked to contribute side items.

Nearly everybody in Jefferson is busy perfecting recipes for potato salad and cakes on Thursday and Friday.

Around Jefferson, Postmaster Patsy Rogers is famous for her caramel cakes, so she always bakes several.

Rogers usually makes at least four because they’re so popular.

Various jobs have been passed down through the years.

Rogers and former Postmaster Lucretia Norris remember when they used to help make the sauce.

“We’d spend all day in the kitchen making about five or six gallons of sauce,” said Rogers.

Norris remembers making sauce in her own kitchen while others were at the community house making sauce.

“It has come a long way now.

The recipe has changed a little over the years, but it’s basically the same recipe we started with.”

Douglas Peteet of Jefferson makes the sauce now, and he has been the chief sauce cook since the late 1970s.

Rumor has it that when Peteet makes the sauce, he asks watchers to “turn around” while he puts in the secret ingredient.

While nobody really knows what the secret ingredient is, according to Norris, “It makes it good.”

The food is not the only treat at the Jefferson Barbecue. While the barbecue is a day of hard work for club members, it’s also a chance to come together and enjoy the fellowship with friends and neighbors.

“It gives us togetherness.

It shows how a little community like Jefferson can come together, and it brings us closer every year,” Norris said.

“It’s kind of like a homecoming at older churches.

You see people there that you may not see again until the same time at the same place next year,” Baker said.

“It’s a real holiday.

We all come together, no matter what our differences are, and work like a well-oiled machine to produce the best barbecue in Alabama,” explained Baker.

A well-oiled machine it is – the club has hosted more than 30 annual barbecues, and nearly every one has been a raging success.

Having grown up in Jefferson, Baker has worked at the barbecue nearly every year and remembers a year when the barbecue was nearly rained out.

At the time, the barbecue was being cooked at a pit down the road from the clubhouse, and rain put out the fire.

“Everyone was in a real dither, but we made it through fine.

I was only a little girl, but I remember how upset everyone got,” Baker recalled.

The club has since built a pit with a shed over it behind the clubhouse and added rooms to the building to accommodate larger crowds.

Such renovations were made possible by funds raised at annual barbecues.

“All of our proceeds go to community projects,” explained Norris.

“We give to our churches, our volunteer fire department, the cemetery, and, of course, maintain our clubhouse.”

The clubhouse used to serve as a girl’s academy more than 150 years ago, but now it serves as a meeting place for several community functions, the barbecue being its biggest.

The club has tweaked its schedule for this year’s barbecue.

They will begin serving guests at noon and continue until 7 p.m.

For only $7, guests who dine in will be treated to a buffet of all-you-can-eat barbecue, home-cooked potato salad, light bread, pickles, fresh skins and – of course – freshly baked cakes.

Take-out plates and individual pounds of barbecue will be available on the side lawn of the clubhouse.

Plates cost $7 and include 3-quarters of a pound of barbecue, potato salad, light bread, pickles and cake.

It takes days of hard work for the members of the Jefferson community to host such an event, but the members agree that they enjoy they day.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but we enjoy working with each other,” Norris said.