GALLIA COUNTY — With summer underway, Gallia’s bean dinners will soon make a reappearance as a tradition in remembering the sacrifices of Gallia’s veterans and serving as a homecoming for its residents.
The Vinton Civil War Bean Dinner will be held Aug. 5 in Vinton Community Park and the Rio Grande Bean Dinner held at the Bob Evans Farm from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug. 12. The Vinton dinner has traditionally started around noon.
According to information previously provided by Vinton American Legion Post 161 Commander Bob McCarley, the dinner reportedly was first held Oct. 13, 1883 and is the oldest recurring tradition of its kind. He has said the event has served as a homecoming for many families from the region. Members of the Corwin Post 259 Grand Army of the Republic reportedly used the event as a means of celebrating the anniversary of the unit’s post with an estimate 1,500 to 2000 individuals attending the first event.
The first 10 years of the bean dinner were referred to as either a “soldier’s campfire” or “Grand Army campfire.” The dinner was held on different dates, but mostly during October, September or August. In 1893, the dinner formalized to occur on the first Saturday in August. The dinner was formalized as a homecoming event in 1910. Gov. Bob Taft in 2003 recognized Vinton for honoring Civil War soldiers for 120 years.
The Rio Grande Bean Dinner is sponsored by the Rio Grande Memorial Association, a nonprofit group dedicated to remembering the history of American veterans.
Group historian Robert Leith has said in the past that bean dinners originally started as a means for the public to show appreciation for American Civil War veterans by eating what the soldiers ate during the war. Beans, bitter black coffee and hardtack were among the items offered. Hardtack was noted for being a simple and inexpensive cracker that was often filled with maggots over long voyages before being delivered to soldiers in the field. When meat was delivered to soldiers, it was often requested it was cooked and eaten first so as to prevent quick spoiling and so soldiers would have the energy to engage in an upcoming battle. Beans and hardtack were saved for long marches and sustained engagements.
Using seven black kettles, David Morgan and James Blazer cook up a bean mixture using 50 pounds of ham and 210 pounds of beans. According to RGMA members, between 240 and 270 individuals are served during the bean dinner day.
Randy Skaggs, RGMA member, said the recipe for the beans is a “well-guarded secret.” He did say the bean recipe mixture uses “ground up bacon ends, onions, pepper and salt” among some of its ingredients.
Dean Wright can be reached at 74-0-446-2342, ext. 2103.