“Throwing a fish stew” is what they say in Deep Run, North Carolina, and it's as good an excuse as any for a low-key gathering. They usually happen in the fall, during vest season.
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Walking behind the main house, Greg Smith and his father, Emmett, are gathering supplies outside their party shack (formerly a tobacco packhouse). To one side sits a large, black iron kettle. Emmett found this cauldron years ago in a “manure field,” as he describes it, and this gets a rise out of the guests, all longtime friends who grew up together in the small town. He clarifies: It was technically a cow pasture, but you can see the connection. The pot was nearly completely buried when he unearthed it, but with determination, he scrubbed it back to life. Emmett estimates that his pot has held more than 500 stews.
Emmett and Greg fire up the propane burner under the pot and then drop in a pound and a half of chopped bacon to cook until its fat has rendered. Guests emerge from the kitchen in a procession, each bearing an offering for the stew: 10 pounds of sliced potatoes, 5 pounds of sliced onions, and 7 pounds of local rockfish. Emmett layers it all into the pot. One guest spoons in a couple of cans of tomato paste—his only job, but he performs it with authority.
Emmett throws in a heavy handful of red pepper flakes and stands guard as the stew simmers away. He eventually adds the final, and most surprising, ingredient: four dozen eggs, cracked and dropped one by one into the stew—just enough for 20 people.