The Delaware Grange cooks up some good eating at the Delaware State Fair, something Jim Correll has been doing for more than 40 years.
Jim Correll of Clayton joined the Delaware Grange back when he was just 15 years old. Now 65, the retired farmer has spent a half-century working with the organization and supporting its efforts on behalf of agricultural concerns and rural communities. For approximately 40 of those years, he’s spent the last two weeks of July at the Delaware Grange building at the Delaware State Fair, serving up fried chicken and corn on the cob. It’s a job he loves, particularly because it supports the Delaware Grange. Founded in the late 1860s in response to the devastation of Southern farms during the Civil War, the Grange – more formally, the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry – has worked in support of issues affecting agriculture nationwide. It was one of the first national organizations that encouraged leadership roles for women, and has a tradition of supporting policies that favor agricultural interests without regardless to political affiliation. Correll’s grandfather, Jake Correll, was a charter member of the Pencader Grange. “When you become a Grange member, you do what you can to help,” Correll said. “But you don’t have to be a farmer. “The Grange means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.” For Correll, being a member of the Grange and taking part in the Delaware State Fair are like intertwined destinies. He first came to the Fair at the age of 12, working with and exhibiting livestock. After a long day of labor, he and his brother often spent their nights sleeping in the expansive livestock barns. Today, it’s a bit different: Correll and his wife, Becky, now stay in a camper parked near the Grange building. The Delaware Grange has had a presence at the State Fair for decades. Correll remembers the current Grange building, where between 70 and 80 members spend each day preparing meals for hungry Fair patrons, as much smaller back in the 1960s. At the time it was little more than a large hot dog stand. The current building was put up in the mid-1960s. The spotlessly-clean cooking area has large sinks, refrigerators and fryers on a cement floor, while diners take their meals on picnic tables. The eating area has a sand floor to make cleanup easier. The building itself has changed little, although overhead fans were installed several years ago. Volunteers now use automated peelers and dicing machines instead of preparing the ingredients for French fries by hand. Food served in the Grange building – a meal costs $12 – comes from Delaware farms, Correll said, and the menu is basically the same as it was 40 years ago. The chicken is seasoned with a traditional blend of ingredients, known to only a few Grange members; it is then deep fried and roasted until perfectly done. Everyone working in the Grange building, from the cooks to the cash register lady, are volunteers, working to support the Grange, Correll said. Money raised by Grange members goes toward supporting organizations such as the FFA, 4-H and the Delaware Agricultural Museum. The Delaware Grange also provides scholarships and generally works to help people in need, even if they’re not farmers or engaged in farming activities. It’s satisfying work for Correll and the rest of the volunteers: even though it’s an uncomfortably hot Sunday afternoon, their down-home fare has drawn a considerable number of diners, and there’s a line of people waiting outside the door. It just goes to show that people know what they’re getting when they come to the Grange building for a bite to eat, he said. “When you get a piece of chicken that falls off the bone, you know it’s good,” Correll said. “And you can only get that kind of chicken here. “Everyone says that, and it’s nice because it makes you feel good.”