Small towns are often known for their hospitality, especially with food. Some towns in Oklahoma show how seriously they take this tradition by hosting an annual community dinner that goes back generations in some cases.
The Frederick oyster fry began in Manitou in 1952, says co-organizer Betty Box, when resident Bramlett Johnson went fishing on the Texas coast and brought back a gallon of fresh oysters.
“Nobody in this part of the country (southern Oklahoma) had tried it,” Box says.
Tradition was born when one PTA member, after tasting the dish, suggested a fundraising oyster fry. After that, the fry was held every year until 1983, when it was discontinued, Box says.
But, in 1990, the Chamber of Commerce for the city of Frederick – 10 miles south of Manitou – restarted the fry, and the dinner is still held today, in support of the chamber.
“You either like oysters or you don’t, but more people seem to like them,” Box says.
The oysters used for the fry are transported by a local truck the night before and are never frozen.
Now, 800 to 1,000 people attend the fry, including bus tours that come from Tulsa, Oklahoma City and eastern Oklahoma.
The event’s popularity often causes long lines to form hours before the event, but this doesn’t discourage anyone, Box says.
“It’s worth the wait,” she says.
Another long-standing dinner takes place on the eastern edge of the state. In Tahlequah, a wild onion dinner organized by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary has been going on as long as Faye Morrison can remember. And Morrison has been a member of the organization for 47 years, as a former president and as a current secretary.
“People won’t let us quit,” Morrison says of the annual dinner. “The community demands it.”
This annual event’s main course is wild onions and scrambled eggs.
“Wild onions are a traditional Cherokee food in this area,” Morrison says. “We fry the onions with bacon drippings and add them to the eggs.”
Proceeds from the wild onion dinner, which is actually held during lunchtime, go towards veterans’ needs.
“It’s something you just do here in the spring,” she says. “The money goes back to the community, and you won’t go away hungry.”
Tulsa might be a city, but the Tulsa County Democratic Party has taken a cue from small towns with its annual bean dinner Cowboy Bash, which marked its 45th anniversary this year.
Vice chairman and executive director of the party, Michael Whelan, says that the dinners help raise funds and give candidates a chance to meet and mingle.
“Bean dinners and bean suppers have been a mainstay throughout the Democratic Party across the state, and it is important for the party to continue to pay homage to that tradition,” Whelan says.
Community dinners can be found scattered all throughout Oklahoma, like newer bean dinners held by Wagoner’s Okay Senior Center and Norman’s American Legion, to Bartlesville’s wild onion dinner in its 58th year. All Oklahomans need to do is work up an appetite.