Diners, voters to be separated for the first time since '52 New Windsor ballots to be cast at new school

firehouse feed may suffer

November 03, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The day Eisenhower won his first term, New Windsor Fire & Hose Co. served its first Election Day dinner -- roast beef and mashed potatoes -- right there in the fire hall where everyone voted.

November elections and dinners have been together since -- until today. Voters go to the polls today, choosing state and local candidates. But in New Windsor, for the first time in 46 years, they won't be able to walk across the hall for a post-vote dinner.

The two events in the town with one polling place have separated. Voters, who occasionally had to weave through trucks and step over equipment, will go to the new middle school. The fire station, about a half-mile away on High Street, will lose its steady stream of diners.

Members of the dwindling Ladies Auxiliary, which runs the dinner, worry that the relocation to New Windsor Middle School could put a dent in a fund-raiser that often added as much as $1,000 to the all-volunteer Fire Department's coffers.

"The dinner helps keep our company volunteer," said Rebecca Harman, charter member and town councilwoman. "We are trying as hard as we can to support this company. We want to keep volunteerism alive. This gives everybody a community spirit."

The women have vowed to cook on, hoping memories of juicy beef, spicy gravy and creamy cole slaw ($5.50 a plate) will bring people back to the fire hall.

For the first time in years, they have advertised the dinner, posting signs at the school and at spots throughout the town of 1,100.

"This is one of the few public dinners we still have," said Harman. "We just don't have the help to do dinners like we used to. We are cooking and hoping for 150, but you just don't know if they will come."

If 150 customers show up, the three-hour dinner could mean a profit of $500, well worth the effort, volunteers said.

The decision to move the polls was made by Carroll County Board of Elections. The 3-year-old school has ample parking, and it is roomier and more accessible for the disabled. It's also free to taxpayers. The Fire Department charges $125 for hall rental, said Harman.

Separating ballot boxes from the dining hall was inevitable. Even when firefighters moved out the two large engines, usually stationed at the hall entrance, quarters were cramped in the 50-year-old building. Jarring sirens would distract voters as alarms summoned firefighters to emergencies.

The backdrop for voting machines was fire equipment -- yellow turn-out gear and tools that line the walls. Voters had to maneuver their cars into tight parking spots on High Street. Still, past dinners have attracted as many as 500.

"There were plenty of suppers where we had no leftovers," said Edith Franklin. "We had to walk up to the corner restaurant to get dinner ourselves afterward."

The women -- nearly all senior citizens now -- have cooked so many Election Dinners that everyone knows her kitchen duty. About a dozen volunteers gathered in the spacious kitchen last night. They peeled 50 pounds of potatoes, chopped endless bunches of celery, diced hundreds of vegetables for soup and shredded a half-bushel of cabbage. The women perched on stools, reviewing time-tested recipes and chatting about dinners past.

Time- and labor-saving appliances never made it out of storage.

"We will get one of the men to shred the cabbage, but we'll peel the potatoes," said Kitty Green, organizer of the dinner. "With 50 pounds, it hardly pays to plug in the peeler."

They have made few menu changes since 1952, although they have switched from mashed to parsleyed potatoes. Everything is homemade.

"We are the only ones who still cook everything from scratch," said Harman. "A lot of the other fire departments use caterers."

They will roast 40 pounds of beef in commercial ovens and slice it early today. Shortly before the dinner hour, Green will take charge of turning essence into thick brown gravy.

At 4 p.m., the cooks convert to servers. They fill platters along an assembly line, wait tables and wash dishes.

"I can't wait tables anymore because of arthritis," said Harman. "But I can serve on the assembly line."

Dish washing is minimal. "We use disposable dishes but our own silverware," said Franklin. "Real knives makes cutting the beef easier."

Everyone attests that the main course is tender enough for a plastic knife.

Carryouts are offered and, for customers who don't want a full dinner, homemade soup with a fried ham sandwich is available. A fresh fruit cup comes with dinner, but for something sweeter and a little extra money, a dessert table is laden with pies, brownies, cookies and cakes.

"We never know how many desserts we will have," said Harman. "It is just what volunteers bring in."

Longtime New Windsor residents know apple cobbler is a fire house dinner staple.

Mary Magruder, who becomes auxiliary president in January, goes through a half-bushel of apples and fills several sheet pans for her "town-famous" cobbler.

Pub Date: 11/03/98

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