In a stew over catfish

The whisker-worshing wags in Elgin make no bones about it.

The media lunch they hold each November is a bribe, a shameless attempt to woo otherwise ethical journalist into writing stories -columns, no less – about the Elgin Catfish Stomp, coming up Dec. 3 in downtown (cough, cough) Elgin.

They think we can be bought for a bowl of catfish stew.

They’re wrong.

I was gonna write about it, anyway.

Catfish are my life. The first fish I ever caught was a catfish, hooked in the muddy waters of Gill Creek off Woodlake Drive.

Plus, I own a lot of cats. This qualifies me eminently to be Catfish Editor, a title I embrace with pride.

In Elgin, they sniff at Jimmy Koon’s catifsh stew, served daily along with the world-famous hot dogs at Jimmy’s mart near Spring Valley. According  to Sonny Smith, an Elginite who was part of the first Stomp committee, there’s good catfish stew and there’s great catfish stew.

What’s served in the old Blaney Elementary School  cafeteria the first weekend of December, Smith says, is great catfish stew.

You’ll get no argument here.

The man responsible for this culinary nirvana is Larry Nelson, who was taught at the knee of the late Ross Boulware, the originator of recipe. Nelson continues the radition in grand form. In his first batch of the year, served to otherwise ethical journalists at Blaney Baptist Church last week, he recruited the help of a stew committee.

They were happy to help sample. But when the stew committee starting telling Nelson “a little more this” and “a little less that,” the democracy dissolved.

“It’s ready when I say it’s ready,” he growled.

Yeah, stew committee, just who do you think you are?

The Catfish Stomp, launched in 1975, has gained national recognition in its 13-year history. The three-day event, featured in The Ford Times magazine two years ago, draw inquiries from as far away as Connecticut.

The main event – the eating of the catfish- Commences Saturday, but the Stomp kicks off Friday night, this year with a musical talent show. (To enter, call Nettie Campbell at the Elgin Town Hall; 438-3450, or Jeannie Potter, talent show coordinator, 348-3448. Deadline for entry is Nov. 21.)

Saturday starts with a parade – 100 units expected this year. As the parade goes, so goes the Stomp. Smith recalls a year when it was pouring rain, but people still lined up for the parade. When he saw that, he said, he knew that Stomp would be a success, rain or shine.

It has been. The stomp has never lost money, not even the first year, and it’s raised quite a bit for the Blaney Fire Department.

After the parade, the serving begins. Nelson ladles out 500 gallons of catfish stew and 200 pounds of fried catfish with all the fixin’s: hush puppbies, cole slaw, french fries, iced tea – as long as it last. Sometime it doesn’t.

The stew lasted the media luncheon – enough for the otherwise ethical journalist to pack a styrofoam cup to take home. Microwaves are great, Smith assured us.

The Scrub Oak Festival, the northeast’s other festival of note, through of considerably less resonance, could learn a lesson from the almighty catfish.

You can’t bribe otherwise ethical journalists with a cup full of oak leaves.

Jennifer Nicholson, community editor of the Northeast Neighbors, can be found the first Saturday in December in the cafeteria at the old Blaney Elementary School. The rest of the time, call 771-8507; from Lugoff-Elgin, toll-free, 768-2626, ext. 8507. Or write c/o Neighbors, P. O. Box 1333, Columbia, S.C. 29202.

1988.11.17 - In a stew over catfish
November 17, 1988  State (published as The State)  Columbia, South Carolina Page 73

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