Daily photo by Emily Saunders|
Connie Whitlow prepares barbecue venison sandwiches. Doyle Whitlow started a venison stew barbecue made from deer he and his family hunted. Connie Whitlow killed two of the deer for the 20th annual stew last week at Specialty Machine in Decatur. This was the first year she hunted and fired a gun.
Stew, barbecue hottest ticket in city
Sharing of hunting booty with friends start of Whitlow family tradition
Decatur's Doyle Whitlow thought it would be a good way to share deer-hunting booty with next-door business neighbors and banker friends.
He took a deer shoulder to Southern Style Barbecue. Then he served barbecue sandwiches at Doyle's Supply Inc. on Central Parkway Southwest.
That was 20 years ago.
Even though he retired and sold Doyle's Supply and two other businesses six years ago, those who like eating wild meat and sharing wild stories know their ticket to the Whitlow family's annual deer stew and barbecue remains the hottest in the city this time of year.
Doyle's son, Jeff, knew how hot when he arrived Feb. 7 at 11 a.m. with the food at Specialty Machine Co. of Alabama, another of his dad's former businesses — now owned by Rickey Moebes — where the event relocated a decade ago for more space.
"About a dozen people were waiting to get in, and the party didn't start until 11:30," he said.
For the next two hours, they greeted a steady stream of family, friends, employees, business associates and customers. After signing next year's invitation list, they filed through a line to fill their plates with the fixings for a barbecue sandwich.
Martha Kirby, who has worked at Doyle's Supply since 1984, kept bowls filled with deer stew. Her dad, former Decatur firefighter Pete Patterson, once prepared the stew, with assistance from his wife, Lois "Pee Wee" Patterson.
"We'd take deer necks to him and he'd make stew and invite us over to eat," Doyle said. "The third year, we invited Pete to make stew for our party. He had the kettle and utensils and we furnished the propane. It was such a big job, we started paying him."
Each year on the day before the party, the Pattersons cooked the meat in the kettle in their garage to get the broth or stock. They'd bring it over in jugs and prepare the stew on site, cooking all morning, adding onions, potatoes, carrots and corn.
"Pete made the stew for about 15 years, until 2004, when health problems forced him to stop," said Jeff, now the owner of Doyle's Supply and Parkway Productions. "But he's still a big part of our event."
Pete's recipe is still used for the event. This year it required 42 pounds of meat for the stew and another 100 pounds for barbecue.
Hunts supply meat
Doyle said the meat comes from the family's deer hunts on their farms in Franklin County, Tenn., and Tuscaloosa County.
With a deadeye shot like Jeff's wife, Connie, joining the hunt, they're not likely to run short.
"Until this season, I had never shot a gun, other than my pistol," she said.
The family was hunting in Tennessee when Connie aimed a one-shot muzzleloader. She dropped a 125-pound, seven-pointer from 120 yards.
Later, in Alabama, her husband gave her one bullet for a lever-action 30-30 rifle. She bagged a 155-pound, six-pointer with a 15-inch antler spread from 180 yards.
"This was my first time in a shooting house alone," she said. "They claim at the moment I fired, I also was talking on my walkie-talkie because I was so quick to say, 'Oh, my gosh, this deer fell. Come and help me!' "
During the final weekend of the season, Jeff trusted her with four bullets and she killed a wild pig.
Regardless of who sacks the meat, folks like Jerry Brewer, 71, of Tuscumbia are eager to partake.
"This is my 12th year at the stew, and I'll be back," Brewer said.
And at a table in the back, Pete, 75, and "Pee Wee," 73, ate with approval.
They agreed the event had kept to their recipe.
Save $84.50 a year off our newsstand price:
Subscribe today for only 38 cents a day!