The Mallard Creek Barbecue is sponsored by Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church as a supplement to our building fund and mission projects.
The Barbecue has operated from the same site since the early days, although the site was originally the Mallard Creek School. In 1932 the church bought the school property from the state, so now it is called the Mallard Creek Community House. The Barbecue was the only event scheduled at the Community House for years but now the Boy Scouts and the Mallard Creek Optimist Club use the facility and grounds.
For a number of years the Barbecue was held on the last Thursday of October but from time to time there would be a fifth Thursday and it would fall on Halloween. The church voted to schedule the Barbecue always on the fourth Thursday of October. Thursday was chosen because that was the day the maids in Charlotte had the afternoon off.
We trace the beginning to the late 1920’s. Either in 1928 or spring of 1929, Dr. W.H. Frazer had his brother Mr. Ben Frazer barbecue a pig to entertain the men of the Church as a get-together social event.
The Church’s current Chapel and Educational Building was built prior to 1929 as the first dedicated Sunday School rooms. In 1929 the Great Depression began, the payments for the new Sunday School rooms were coming hard, and the deacons were trying to decide what to do. Everyone had enjoyed the get-together so Dr. Frazer agreed to the idea of a Barbecue. Thus started our first Barbecue in 1929 with either three or four pigs and one goat. To celebrate the 50th Barbecue in 1979 more than 10,000 pounds of pork was cooked. We have barbecued more that 16,000 pounds of pork hams and shoulders in recent years.
The fame of the Mallard Creek Barbecue spread over the county, then the state. It became known as the “Granddaddy of the Barbecues”. Many other barbecue fund-raisers were started following our example.
During the first 50 years we had only three General Chairmen of the Barbecue: J.W. Oehler, Sr. 1929-1943; John A. Kirk 1944-1965; and J.W. Oehler, Jr. 1966-1978. J.W. Oehler, Jr. assumed the responsibility of cooking the meat in 1943. He resigned in 1978 and two of his sons, Donald Lee Oehler and Richard Craven Oehler were appointed as Co-Chairmen starting in 1979. In 2008 Charles Kimrey and Bill Wood assumed the role of Co-Chairmen. We also have long-serving Brunswick Stew Chairpersons: Mrs. Jennie Foster, Mrs. Mary Oehler, and Mrs. Beck McLaughlin. In 2011 our Brunswick Stew Co-Chairpersons (Linda and Richard Wallace) have been replaced by their son and daughter-in-law: Connie and Rusty Wallace.
At the beginning the pigs were raised by the farmers and donated to the Church. Men of the congregation went around the day before the Barbecue, collected the pigs and brought them to the home of H.Y. Galloway to be slaughtered and dressed. The dressed pigs were taken to the Community House to be cooked that night. The first couple of years, Mr. Tom Hunter, Sr. helped J.W. Oehler, Sr. to cook the meat, and then Mr. Oehler assumed the responsibility with the help of other members, until his death. Then J.W. Oehler, Jr. took his place. The meat was chopped in a shed there on the grounds by members of the church.
During the early years, the meat was cooked over open ditches that were dug in the ground that reached from the present ticket stand nearly to the woods. The racks holding the meat were placed on the dirt banks. Hickory coals were placed under the meat. The wood was donated and cut by the men of the congregation. The aroma was so strong that people for miles around came to watch the barbecue being cooked and to get a better smell of the unique aroma.
In 1946 we started taking the pigs to the abattoir to be slaughtered and dressed. The block building, that is now the serving line, was built and the meat cooked there. On the morning of the Barbecue, the ditches were filled up and the serving lines were set up in the same building.
Soon the Barbecue became too big and the amount of meat too great so it became necessary to cook the meat indoors in a screened building. The meat cooking was moved to J.W. Oehler’s barbecue house. Eventually another block and screened building was built at the Community House. Concrete block pits were built into the new building so the ditch digging days were over. By 1993 all the meat was cooked, chopped, and seasoned in just two days. The meat is never frozen, but kept in two large refrigerator trucks until the special day. The meat is then steamed to 180 degrees for serving.
At the beginning, all of the chickens, tomatoes, and butter were donated for the Brunswick stew. Today the community doesn’t even raise the chickens.
Originally the Brunswick Stew pots were donated for Barbecue Day by members of the congregation. Unfortunately one night all nine pots were stolen along with a wood stove in the Community House and the brass gas lines. Hurriedly the next morning more pots had to be bought. Since that night, a guard stays at the Community House during Barbecue week..
The slaw was made at the Community House on the morning of the Barbecue until the job became too large. It was then made on Tuesday at the home of H.Y. Galloway. The cabbage was cut on hand grinders. Then to supplement these grinders, barrels with straightened out hoes were used to chop the cabbage. The Women of the Church (now called Presbyterian Women) bought six salad masters which was a great improvement. Today we use three electric grinders. When the task became too great to finish on Tuesday, the working women met on Monday night to fix carrots and celery.
Now the slaw preparation is at the Community House. Today we begin about 8:00 am on the Saturday before the Barbecue. We prepare 2,500 gallons of Cole slaw during a 4-hour work period. Preparing the slaw on Saturday allows the slaw to age to peak flavor.
Real china and silverware was used and washed for a number of years to serve the Barbecue meals. As the Barbecue grew larger, we borrowed china and silver from the neighboring churches. The crowds became so large it became impossible to keep them washed, so we went to paper ware and wooden spoons and forks. Today we use plastic products.
The “silverware” was first wrapped the day of the Barbecue; however the demand became too great to do then. For years they were wrapped on Wednesday night at the home of O.B. Cochran. Later this too was moved to the Community House. In 1978, 7500 plastic knives, forks, and spoons were wrapped and then we ran out. Today we have to use prepackaged utensils.
In the beginning all of the serving was done in the School House/Community House. The serving line was in the front room on the right coming in the front door. Volunteers serving the table met the customers at the end of the line and carried their trays to the tables for them. Each person serving wore a green organdy apron.
The first menu consisted of Barbecue, Brunswick stew, slaw, rice, and pie. Later the rice was replaced with potato salad and tomatoes. As the crowd grew larger, this too was discontinued. Pies were served until during World War II when we couldn’t get enough sugar to make them. Applesauce replaced the pies.
The serving line, first in the Community House, moved to the yard behind the Community House (no cover), then a tent was placed over the two serving lines, and finally the serving line was moved to the 1946 block building. Today we run two serving lines through the building as we prepare plates for the take-out lines. Mallard Creek sells most of our meat on plates or sandwiches, but sales of individual pounds of barbecue average around 1,200 to 1,500 pounds.
Each year several members prepare a beautiful arrangement of fruits and vegetables and display it at the head of the serving lines.
To make the grounds appear more festive a member brings banners and hangs them all around the grounds. Flowers, pumpkins, or fall leaves decorate each table.
One year a circle made red and white checkered aprons with a red felt pig appliqued on the pocket. Many of these are still worn on Barbecue day. In 1988 the Presbyterian Women sold white bib style aprons with a mallard duck embroidered on the pocket for use at the Barbecue.
The meal was first served by oil lamps, and then Pump and Lighting Company brought Delco Lights until electricity came to the community.
The well was not strong enough to furnish enough water as the Barbecue grew; so much water had to be hauled in. A second well was drilled, and in 1979 a third well was drilled. By 1997 we were finally hooked to city water.
The crowds became so large and demand for take-out boxes so great, a “take-out-box” line was started. Today we operate four covered drive through take-out lines to accommodate the crowds. The crowd frequently has all four lines extended to the road. In 1993, 7,000 take-out boxes were sold by 1:00pm. Take-out orders of 50 boxes or less are handled upon arrival. Orders of more than 50 boxes may be placed by phone to speed service.
In the past the County and State Police have helped to park cars, along with the Boy Scouts and church members. Recently the County Police and the Sheriff’s Department handle traffic control and members direct the parking.
At first the Barbecue cleanup was left to be done on Friday morning, but usually few folks returned. Today nearly everything is cleaned up and stored Thursday night. All garbage is hauled off, all tables and chairs are stored, and the permanent storage trailer is organized and ready for the next year..
Coffee is made in 60 gallon vats. In 1993 about 400 gallons were made. The free coffee tradition continues today.
You couldn’t have a barbecue without drinks, ice cream, and sandwiches. About 10,000 sandwiches are made on Barbecue day.
The price of plates began at 50 cents. In 1979 they were $3.50. In 1995, the price of a plate or three sandwiches increased to $7.00. Today the cost is $10.00.
The gross income at the first Barbecue was $89.50 with very few out-of-pocket expenses. The net income from the Barbecue is used to supplement the building fund and to fund local and foreign mission programs. In recent years as much as 100% of the Barbecue profits were used for state hurricane relief efforts.
In 1978 the stew building and chopping stand were torn down and replaced by a new block building built by volunteers in the congregation – no paid help. This building is used to cook the Brunswick stew; the new portion of the stand for selling sandwiches and drinks. Tables can be placed in part of the building in case of rain.
Several improvements have been made in the last 25-years. In 1984 forty acres of land adjoining the Community House property was purchased to help ease the parking problem. Two new bathrooms were built in 1989. A shelter on the side of the serving building was put up to cover some of the outside tables in 1992. This replaced the large tent that was used for years. The serving line building received a new roof in 1993. (Everyone who worked in the serving lines or the take-out box lines in 1990 appreciated the new roof. Rain, wind, hail, thunder and lightning attended the 1990 Barbecue. That was only the second time in Barbecue history that weather was a spoiling factor.) In 1997 about 50 church volunteers built a large shed to provide a covered drive through take-out area. Up to four lines of cars can be accommodated. This will be especially nice if the weather happens to be wet or wintry.
Thanks goes to these businesses who have donated over the years to help make our Barbecue a success: Wash Davis (S.W. Davis Company): cabbage; Speas Vinegar Company : vinegar; Commercial Bottle Gas: gas; A&P: coffee; Charlotte Linen Supply Company: aprons; Eugene H. Alexander: hickory wood. More recently, Piedmont Natural Gas and Heritage Propane have donated the gas; most supplies are bought from Institutional Food House in Hickory, NC. Eugene H. Alexander still supplies some of the hickory wood.
Although the Barbecue started out to be a get-together, fellowship between members and neighbors and to reduce our church debt, it has become a top gathering of candidates during an election year.
Since the Barbecue is a church project and so many people have given endlessly of their time, very few names have been given in this history. The list is too numerous! The real thing that has made this Barbecue a great success WAS and IS all the members of the church who VOLUNTEER their time and talents. No place has seen more enthusiasm, cooperation, fellowship, and working together. Many of the members give the whole week to this project. Some save a week of their vacation to help. Many more will take the day off from work to help on Barbecue day. Members never get too old to be there to greet the visitors and friends. Most everyone, including neighbors who are not members of the Church, come to help on Barbecue Day. All this help is volunteer; members pay for their own meal tickets too. They can be purchased in advance to save member’s time on Barbecue day.
Although many material things have been accomplished from the money acquired over the last years, it is nothing compared to the fellowship, brotherly love and partnership acquired working side by side. It is really a spiritual awakening for each person. Tired bodies maybe, but a lighter heart. Longtime members wouldn’t miss it and many of the new members are becoming just as enthusiastic.
This was originally written from the Barbecue History information on the occasion of the Fiftieth Barbecue, in 1979. It was done from memory and newspaper clippings as Marie Cochran and Esther Oehler remembered it. Current information has been added by Linda B. Killian to cover the last 28-years.