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Fair's signature sauce shrouded in secrecy

By J.R. Williams -- jrwilliams@nvdaily.com

Justin Frazier pours a layer of the secret barbecue sauce
Justin Frazier pours a layer of the Clarke County Ruritan Club's secret barbecue sauce over chicken halves in one of the grilling cages Monday afternoon at the fairgrounds. Dennis Grundman/Daily

secret sauce is added
A little more of the secret sauce is added to a dinner plate. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Patsy Burner and Chayanne Fowler label baked goods
Patsy Burner, left, and Chayanne Fowler, volunteers at the Clarke County Fair, label youth baked goods that will be judged this morning in the homemaking and arts-and-crafts barn. Dennis Grundman/Daily

BERRYVILLE -- Behind the office, past the rows of sheep and cows and carnival rides at the Clarke County Ruritan Fairgrounds, about 15 guys are standing in smoke.

"Hey boys, let's flip 'em," somebody yells, and 500 pieces of chicken in grilling cages get a turn.

Then comes the man with the watering can, who gives the meat what the people expect -- a coat of traditional Clarke County Ruritan Club barbecue sauce.

For more than 50 years, the club has been slathering chicken with the special recipe, and weather permitting, they say it's what helps them typically sell every single piece.

Just don't ask them how to make it.

"It would blow our cover if we told everybody," said Bill Milleson, longtime club member and fair president. "It's like corn liquor."

The recipe is considered a Clarke County Fair specialty. It's what many people come to the fair for, he said, and the club wants to keep it unique to Clarke County.

The recipe isn't necessarily locked up and insured, just kept in the family, Milleson said. It exists on various cards, photocopies and in several kitchen cupboards. Legend has it the formula was passed down from a former member of the club and Clarke County resident a half-century ago.

It's homemade every year, just like all food the Ruritan Club sells at the fair. On Saturday, members created all the sauce for this year's fair on the fairgrounds. It takes 51/2 gallons to a batch, with three hours to make each. They serve it on chicken halves or beef with sides that vary by day.

As far as most folks can tell, the renowned mild sauce tastes one part sweet, one part ... something else.

"It's got a little bit of perk to it," said Maude "Boots" Woodyard, who was helping process items for the youth baked goods competition. "It's just good. It's very good."

The cooks have been sworn to secrecy.

"That's a Ruritan special, a closely guarded secret," said Brad Frazier, who was running the grill ahead of schedule Monday afternoon.

Many of the volunteers take the day off to come volunteer and make the chicken, which is served every day of the Clarke County Fair.

"When people hear it's time for chicken, man they line up quick," said Craig Hagaman, of Berryville, who said he's been cooking for about four years. "They sell out every night. Some people get left out in the cold."

There's pride in the preparation, he said.

"They just don't let anybody come here and cook," he said. "They all go way back together."

Mike Milleson, who supervised this year's batches, said he's satisfied with how it turned out. Although the system to make the sauce is changing with the growth of the fair, he said, the taste "hasn't changed, and we try to keep it that way."

"We've been doing it so long, we can hit it pretty good," he said.

The Clarke County Ruritan Club begins serving its famous chicken at 5 p.m. each day.

Today's events at the fair include exhibit judging and sheep, rabbit, poultry, pet and goat shows. The figure-8 demolition derby begins at 7 p.m.

For more information, visit www.clarkecountyfair.org, or call the fair office at 955-3755.


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