The Boys' Club
Thursday dinners at a hunting and fishing camp in North Carolina
Enlarge Image Credit: Todd ColemanWhen I arrive at Seniard Creek Farm for dinner, things are just as I remember them: Rhododendron bushes still line the rutted gravel road; the old log cabin is warmed by a fire in the stone hearth; and there are a bunch of gray-haired men in the living room, drinking whiskey and practicing the high art of BS. I've made the trip to this hunting and fishing club in western North Carolina from my home in New York City as a guest of my grandfather, John Erichson. I call him Pop, and at 95, he's the oldest of the club's 30 members.
It's a Thursday in October, the one day each week when Pop and his buddies gather together to fish, eat, and play cards. On the bar, there's a platter of wild-boar sausage and smoked pork tenderloin, which the men snack on as they banter about the off-field struggles of the Tar Heels football team, the cold weather approaching, deer season. It's been a year since my last visit to Seniard Creek, and the old men quiz me about my new apartment, my recent wedding, my job.
Out back, the kitchen is warm and cozy with Clarence Bratton's cooking. Clarence, a 77-year-old retired cook from the local hospital, has been preparing these Thursday-night meals for as long as anybody can remember—so long that he's as much a member of the club as anyone else. Pop, his white hair still thick but his back slightly bent, warms himself by the wood-burning stove where Clarence is stewing okra and tomatoes and simmering bacon-studded collard greens. He seasons two whole beef tenderloins with chopped garlic, black pepper, and rosemary sprigs. Cast-iron skillets of corn bread and roasting pans of quartered new potatoes go into the oven. I watch Clarence divine each dish's doneness with a tap on the rims of the battered pots. "Well, let's see what we got now," he says to himself, going down his mental checklist for the menu.
The smell of seared beef summons folks to the kitchen's long picnic tables, which are covered with red-checked plastic tablecloths. Out come platters of juicy, rare beef; wedges of corn bread to be slathered with honey; and supermarket bottles of cabernet sauvigon and merlot. A request goes out from a friend of Pops: "Hey, Pearce, can you pass the goddamn Chateau Who Knows?"