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Hush puppies take the spotlight

One of the things journalists have to be careful about is the tendency to think we know the story we’re going to write ahead of time.

I’ve been in this business long enough that I shouldn’t make such a rookie mistake, but I’m as fallible (perhaps more) as the next guy, so once in a while I need to be taught the lesson all over again.

Saturday was one of those days.

We’re working on a series of stories for the next edition of Suffolk Living magazine that will take a look at some of the city’s biggest food-related fundraisers, and one of my assignments was the semi-annual fish fry at the Chuckatuck Volunteer Fire Department.

Having lived in North Suffolk for much of my life, I’m well familiar with the fish fry. It’s one of the biggest fundraisers around, and it has the feeling of a huge family reunion. Folks begin gathering at the fire station an hour before the official opening, and they tend to linger at the tables long after their plates are empty, chatting with friends old and new.

I had expected my story would be about all the preparation involved in the event — the thousand pounds of potatoes that must be peeled and cut, the 1,200 pounds of fish that are fried and the camaraderie of all those doing the work.

All those things will surely be a part of the story I write. But while I chatted with members of the fire department as they prepared for their guests early Saturday afternoon, I suddenly realized hush puppies were going to be a big part of the story.

I say, “realized,” but perhaps it would be more accurate to say I was prompted by John Hoy, who, it should be noted, was part of the “hush puppy crew” and therefore could be said to have had a dog in the fight. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.)

“This is the main part of the operation, here,” he said, and then he introduced me to Tom Sparling, a 40-year hush-puppy veteran whose recipe is the heart and soul of the little golden nuggets of fried cornmeal and, to hear the hush puppy crew tell it, the whole reason folks look forward to September and June.

I won’t reveal everything here, but I’ll give you a glimpse of the secret: Beer. The yeast content in cheap American beer, he said, makes all the difference.

As I spoke to Sparling, it occurred to me that someone with 40 years of experience in just about anything is a person deserving of attention. Of course, it helps when that person takes such obvious pride in his endeavors. Sparling even has a special apron embroidered with the slogan “Firehouse Hushpuppies.”

I had a great time hanging out with him and with the other members of the Chuckatuck fire department, and you can be sure they didn’t allow me to leave without sampling their hearty and tasty treats.

Fish straight from the fryer. Potatoes right out of the pot.

And four delicious hush puppies, hand delivered by a guy in a special apron who’s been perfecting his recipe for 40 years.

You can’t do better than that.