Part VI - The Soup Never Stops Boiling

Besides adding fresh vegetables to the soup, the night cooking crew has been busy with other chores, such as repairing temperamental machinery, stoking the fires under each kettle, and retrieving more wood and stacking it neatly in a line beside the shelter.

The wood supply this year comes in the form of broken up pallets (with the nails still in them) stacked in large cardboard cartons, each holding about half a cord of wood. In the few hours I have been here, the crew has already used seven or eight containers of wood, and more are brought up to the cooking area with a forklift and unloaded by hand.

Hondo weighs cabbage

David (Hondo) Huey studies the scales as he weighs a basket of chopped cabbage before adding it to the burgoo. Gary Beard looks on.

Just as soon as the fires under the kettles burn down to red embers, more fresh wood is shoved underneath, and the soup never stops boiling.

The men are serious about the soup-making--even to the point of dividing a single bucket of an excess ingredient evenly among the twelve kettles. Each man here pitches in and works when the soup demands it, but after most of the fresh vegetables have been added, the pace slows while they wait for the stew to cook. Some choose this moment to go home and get some sleep so they can do a repeat performance the next night, and others pull up chairs and relax. It gives them a chance for a break while they wait for the right moment to add the canned vegetables.

It's about 3:00 a.m., and the town is quiet except for the sound of the electric motors driving the stirrers, the conversation from the men, and the occasional sound of the carnival workers setting up the rides on Main Street. A couple of the men go off to cook some hamburgers for the rest of the crew, and I find a warm place to sit near the kettles.

Men talking

Arenzville philosophers from four different decades share their versions of truth while they wait for the soup to cook. Joe Huey, Rus Lutkehus, Tony Clark and Gary Beard are engaged conversation behind a cloud of steam from the kettles.

Harry Bentsen

Harry Bentsen sits by a stack of wooden stirring paddles ready for use. He's one of a handful of out-of-towners who return each year to work at the Burgoo.

Don Wessler and Harry Bentsen pull up a couple of chairs near the fire and mull over the next step in the cooking. They are the senior members of the remaining crew, and each of them has seen several years of duty at the kettles. Harry is a college friend of Don's from their years together at Culver-Stockton College, and he has worked at the Arenzville Burgoo for the past six years. He grew up in Chicago and now lives in Springfield, but each year he works with the all-night cooking crew, making soup for the first day of the Burgoo. He returns on Saturday to enjoy the rest of the festival. When he's not making burgoo, he dabbles in other civic duties, such as serving as president of the board of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra.

Hondo Huey seems to have as much to say about the soup-making as anyone. His father, the late Tim Huey, had overseen the cooking of the soup for many years, and Hondo and his brother, Ken (Joe), have apparently learned the art from their dad. Seeing them work their way through the hundreds of pounds of ingredients, dividing them neatly and watching the soup like a fussy chefs, I am reassured that the recipe is still in good hands.


Hondo enjoys a joke during a pause in the work.

Don and Harry

Don Wessler and Harry, college friends now cooking burgoo together.


Tony Clark reacts to Rus Lutkehus's humor.


Gary Beard laughs at Rus's description of him as one of Arenzville's "upper-crust elderly."

One of the men returns with a tray full of hot hamburgers, and I join in with the others as we enjoy an early morning snack. Even with just ketchup on it, it's amazing how good a hamburger tastes in the middle of the night. The food seems to revive the group, and when someone says, "Let's do it, " they swing back into action and prepare to add the canned ingredients.

Continued ...


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This page last modified: 08/25/2023