The Coleman Family by H&H Staff

 

Anyone who prepared a special feast for family and friends last holiday season knows that cooking a crowd-pleasing meal for a large table of loved ones can be overwhelming. Now, imagine the pressure of cooking a feast for 550 - 600 people . . .

That's precisely what the Coleman family of Coffeeville did for decades.  

[The following article is a continuation from last issue, which included the Coleman family's legendary recipe.] 

Most of us know the story of loaves and fishes – and how they miraculously multiplied to feed five thousand people. Nevertheless, perhaps you haven’t heard about Coleman Family Stew – one batch feeds approximately 550-600 people.

In 1971, when Red Coleman graciously decided to cook for his church community, his fellow congregants at Dividing Ridge Church in Coffeeville, Miss. probably would not have guessed they were experiencing a tradition in the making.

Coleman had a 20-gallon pot that had been in his family for years. He filled it with squirrels, chicken, beef, vegetables, and seasonings.

That was the first Coleman Family Stew.

“The first stew we had, we probably had about 20 people other than the family,” recalled Red Coleman. Years later, residents of Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, and other parts of Mississippi comprised the crowds that gathered to experience the Coleman family’s legendary stew.

“The most squirrels we ever cooked at one time was 400, and those were donated by family and friends,” said Red Coleman. “We used 200 pounds of potatoes, 30 pounds of onions, 60 chickens, corn, peas, carrots, peppers, choice meat off of two deer, 30 pounds of beef stew meat, two bottles of Louisiana Hot Sauce, butter, Crisco, and other secret family seasonings.” Red Coleman credits his father, Joe Coleman, with his love of stew making. “Daddy always wanted to cook a little stew, and that’s how I got started,” said Red Coleman.

Each year, the Coleman stew drew larger crowds. Several years later, community member Bill Harper, donated a 60-gallon pot. Nonetheless, the Coleman stew quickly outgrew it. At Red Coleman’s request, his cousin, Doyle Wright, began searching for a larger pot. He found one in Pittsboro, Miss. that held 110 gallons.

As the annual event continued growing in popularity, Red Coleman asked his wife, Elizabeth Coleman, to prepare dumplings in the smaller, 60-gallon pot. Using part of the chicken and squirrel broth and cooked meat, Elizabeth Coleman made dumplings to feed the masses. “I would buy twenty 5-pound bags of Martha White self-rising flour,” she said, “and sometimes that wasn’t enough.” Elizabeth Coleman recounted how she rolled out the dumplings with a tall, smooth glass. “I rolled the dough and my sisters helped drop the dumplings into the boiling broth,” she stated.

In addition to cooking dumplings, Elizabeth Coleman was responsible for planning and preparing for the event. “In mid-October, I would start to estimate the size of the crowd and get everything together – plates, cups, and ingredients.” One week before the stew, her family cooked the squirrels and chickens and deboned them. She stated, “We saved the broth the cook the stew in.” Friends and family gathered early to peel potatoes, chop onions, and prepare everything going into the massive pot. “The men started taking turns stirring with large paddles – made by Fuzzy Clark and Bobby Cook – at 11 a.m. and continued until dinnertime,” she further explained.

Elizabeth Coleman also managed to find time to bake nine caramels pies. “Many attendees brought desserts,” she said.

Music and dancing added to the celebratory feel of the Colemans’ annual stew. Red Coleman stated, “Our family band would play and other bands would call and ask if they could play. People would dance while we played – adults and kids. My wife bought my first fiddle in 1956 or 1957. My brothers and sisters started playing in 1945 or so. Each of us played a different instrument.”

Although the band lost some members over the years, the group still plays occasionally.

The Colemans’ daughters, Sherry Little, Susan Sinquefield, and Cathy Harrison, remember watching their grandparents dance the two-step. “Papaw Coleman,” as his granddaughters knew him, also performed the buck dance. In addition, their father wrote a song to commemorate the event; his daughters and their daughters sang it with him and the band.

Little, Sinquefield, and Harrison reminisced about other fond memories of their family’s tradition. “I remember the ash leaves falling around the time of the stew,” recalled Harrison, “and people had to pick them out of the pot continuously.”

“When we were kids, we didn’t help much,” said Sinquefield. “We just played and visited with all the people.”

For Little, one stew was particularly memorable. She stated, “As Daddy prepared squirrels for the stew, my husband asked Daddy for his permission to propose to me.”

For decades, the Colemans’ daughters observed this labor of love. As they grew older, they became increasingly aware of their parents’ graciousness and sense of community. As adults, they had greater appreciation for their parents’ efforts to provide a memorable meal and fellowship for the community’s benefit. Somehow, the Colemans found the money for sufficient supplies and ingredients to feed hundreds of guests. While relating their memories, Little, Sinquefield, and Harrison collectively explained that family and friends were always giving and that their parents always thanked God for providing what they needed.

The Colemans hosted their final stew in 2011, which was the last chapter in their 40-year tradition. Nevertheless, the memories have not faded. “We have great memories of this tradition and the people we encounter continually remind us of those wonderful times."

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“The Coleman Stew Song” - Red Coleman

 I’m gonna cook up a stew in my big black pot

My wife’s gonna make dumplings and pies

People come from miles and miles

Just to hear us pick and sing

 

Well I’m sipping on some good ole homemade wine

Foolin’ around with little Liza Jane

It’s Saturday night in the country

Colemans gonna pick and sing 

 

Well it’s snowing up on top of the mountain

I got a big fire burning bright

I’m gonna bake me a coon in the oven

Gonna rest these weary bones tonight

 

Well I’m sippin on some good ole homemade wine

Foolin’ around with little Liza Jane

It’s Saturday night in the country

Colemans gonna pick and sing

 

Courtesy of the Coleman family