Andrew Dys

Foodie alert: If you think arugula is food, count cholesterol and hate joy, don’t go to Hopewell Hash

The Tri-Cities Community Club’s 98th annual Hopewell Day was held last August at the old Hopewell Schoolhouse off S.C. 97 near Hickory Grove.
The Tri-Cities Community Club’s 98th annual Hopewell Day was held last August at the old Hopewell Schoolhouse off S.C. 97 near Hickory Grove.

There will be no foodies here on Wednesday, blogging about organic butter or beef cows massaged by hands of mystical tenderizers. No lauding the purported wonders of being skinny and unhappy and spending a life on a computer telling people how awful some are for not being skinny and unhappy.

No craft beers made by tattooed vegans. No artisinal soups that cost the rent for a bowl. No sparkling water more expensive than gasoline. No saffron, no star anise, no shallots, no nothing that the regiments of boredom have used to try and make those who like food that tastes good into candidates for the electric chair.

Because Wednesday – so far out in the country in western York County that the nearest stoplight is in another county – is Hopewell Day.

The 99th in a row – minus a couple of years lost to all the tough and patriotic men of the area off fighting the fascists in Europe and Asia during World War II.

Politicians aren’t invited, although over the years many have showed up at this magical place on the third Wednesday in August.

“Trump, and Clinton, we lost their addresses,” said Dale Mitchell, a postman by trade and a cook and organizer by birthright. “Haven’t invited them. Don’t plan on it, either.”

Just softness and sweetness under mighty oaks, rumors of long gone country corn liquor stills operated under starry skies by hard men fighting off poverty, and meat and onions and butter and salt and pepper. Food is ready by sunup. People eat it as soon as there is enough light to lick the spoon.

“Buy the butter by the case,” said Mitchell, whose family knows all about a day that is not a holiday but should be – Hopewell Day. “How much meat? Lots.”

Actually, they know the weight. An even ton.

Now the meat is bought at a store. In the old days the men would butcher a cow. Only the cow complained.

Hopewell Day means gospel singing, and the music floats out of the old schoolhouse into the air no different than a butterfly soars. Groups trade places and people sing along and clap and tap their toes and raise their hands toward the heavens and it brings joy into a heart that needs some.

It has never rained on Hopewell Day. Ever. One year it rained about nine inches the day before, bridges washed out, but by 10 a.m. on Hopewell Day the sun was out, Mitchell said.

Inside that old Hopewell school where kids three and four generations ago learned how to read and write and sing, there will be cakes piled high. Pineapple, coconut, red velvet and enough banana puddin’ to cause a diabetic coma.

The building has been fixed up, refurbished, over so many years by countless hands of care and donations and hard work. The school is now used for wedding receptions, parties, showers. But the big event is Hopewell Day.

All put on by the Tri-Cities Community Club of Hickory Grove and Sharon and Smyrna. Cities. Sharon has two mini-marts. Hickory Grove has a couple stop signs. Smyrna has a population of 52.

Still, in the country where the people are proud of their fresh air and wide spaces, the star is the hash. People bring lawn chairs and sit and eat it until they have to waddle to their cars. Hash has been the star since 1918 when the kids’ singing school finished in the summer and the crops were in and the farm people of the area gathered to sing and eat and share and make sure nobody went hungry.

Hopewell Hash is cooked in old black iron pots. This year, , the men and women who put on Big Wednesday, Hopewell Day, went all the way to Florence, which is so far away it has another area code, to find new pots at a farm supply.

“So big you need a backhoe to move them,” said Melvin Howell, one of so many Howells in almost a century who have cooked hash. “One pot is 75 gallons big.”

Howell is a magistrate judge by trade. He is not going to work Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday. Other judges will have to set bonds. It takes three days to cook the hash, then serve it. The hash is cooked slow, bubbling and simmering, until what’s left is either a stew or a soup or both so its a hash.

It is served with as many slices of Merita Old Fashioned white bread as somebody needs to sop up that revered liquid.

Pints are $8 for hash. They offer a special deal. $16 for two pints.

This year, and certainly the next on the 100th anniversary, Hopewell Day will stay on the third Wednesday of August. It has always been that way, forever. It might be the last, only midweek gospel-singing hash event left in the world.

But even Howell can’t change the one thing that yields to no man: The calendar. Schools start so early now that children are back in school already when Hopewell Day is celebrated. Families have to miss it because of school.

There has been talk, some of it even tame enough for printed pages, of moving Big Wednesday, Hopewell Day, to a weekend after the 100th anniversary to allow for more people to attend.

“Just talk is where it stands,” said Howell, and his ruling is law.

So Wednesday is still the tradition. The kinship of fellowship and the songs that are timeless and enough hash to fill bathtubs.

Just don’t ask for salad.

Want to go?

Hopewell Day is Wednesday. The school is located at 2501 Hopewell Road, Hickory Grove. Hash sales officially start at 8, but early birds can eat, too. Pints are $8. Singing with the Riverside Boys and the Hamptons and congregations from churches starts around 10 a.m.

For information, contact Chris Revels at 803-925- 2840 or Dale Mitchell at 803-628-0926.