The free Sonora Bean Feed will return on Friday with a local fishing and hunting organization, the Tuolumne County Sportsmen, sponsoring the event.
Jim Phelan, president of the Tuolumne County Sportsmen, said the bean feed would be mostly identical to the tradition that was founded 31 years ago by Galen “Mut” Mutzner, complete with the iconic iron vat and the ringing of the bell at noon.
“We just want to keep it going into the 21st century,” Phelan said. “Everyone seemed to appreciate it so why not keep it going. It's about giving back to the community.”
Mutzner, 91, said he was honored to ring the bell for the Tuolumne County Sportsmen as long as he could maintain his retirement.
“If they ask me to ring the bell, I’ll ring the bell for them, but if not they can do it themselves,” he said. “We’re going to be down there to see what's going to go on. We had a hell of lot of fun doing it right downtown so we’re going to see how they're doing too.”
Mutzner staged his last bean feed in December 2017.
The bean feed is held on the third Friday of December before the start of the community Pop Hudson Memorial Christmas Sing, put on each year by the Union Democrat.
The sing brings together various groups from business and government to sing Christmas carols. It begins at 12:45 in Courthouse Square and is named for a long-time downtown Sonora business owner.
The feed is held outside of The Sportsman on South Washington Street, where a long line forms for members of the public to receive a free 16 ounce cup of beans. The Tuolumne County Sportsmen, like Mutzer, plan to prepare approximately 100 pounds of beans and serve between 500 and 700 people.
Phelan said he felt a sense of duty to organize the event and continue the tradition.
“We got some people that stepped up to volunteer to get it done,” he said. “It’s important to us to keep this going.”
When the Tuolumne County Sportsmen learned of Mutzner’s retirement last year, Phelan said he asked the family if the group could get their blessing to continue the event. For many months following the final “Mut” feed, the family was unsure if the tradition would continue. Phelan, who knew the family as their neighbor, said the Mutzners were happy to let the Tuolumne County Sportsmen take up the mantle.
“I was doing it for 30 years. If somebody wanted to take over I said I'll help them out with whatever they want,” Mutzner said.
Mutzner not only cooked the beans for 30 years, but he also funded the feed, which costs approximately $1,000. The bean feed received a $500 donation from the Sonora Area Foundation this year, and local companies contributed equipment and manpower, Phelan said.
But taking over the event required more planning — and permits — than was previously realized, Phelan said.
“We’re getting to the finish line with everything. We’re rounding up equipment to get it done and getting all the permits from the county health inspector, planning department, fire department and police. We’re really in fine shape,” he said.
The beans will be prepped in the commercial kitchen of the Tuolumne County Fairgrounds and transported to Sportsman before noon, Phelan said.
Mutzner’s wife, Sissy, said she was initially discouraged by the permitting process that the Tuolumne County Sportsmen were subjected to. For the entire history of the bean feed, “Mut” set up on South Washington Street without having to procure as many (or any) permits, she added.
“When Mutt started it, he just did out on the street. You couldn’t get rid of the stuff,” she said. “They had to do a lot of stuff we never had to do, so I hope that it goes over OK with everyone.”
Phelan said his group was not put off by the permitting process, but viewed it as an essential update to the storied tradition.
“I don't see anything happening any different as it happened in years past. People don't have to do any work. They can just go down and enjoy some beans,” he said.
Phelan said the beans would be prepared in the same iron vat that “Mut” used at previous feeds. The recipe would be similar, he added, but a discerning taster may notice that the beans were a little different.
“I don't think it's going to be that much different than Mut’s, but he didn’t give us the ingredients and say put that in,” he said laughing. “We’re still excited. We just want to have a successful event and keeping the tradition going.”
Quesadillas will be served with the beans, but no menudo or popcorn will be made this year, he said.
Sissy Mutzner said she was looking forward to enjoying the event as a member of the public rather than a server.
“It wasn't about the food so much as the get together. We’re going to go down to be there. They want Mutt to bring his bell to ring so we’re going to do that. Other than that we’re not involved in any way really,” she said.
The Tuolumne County Sportsmen has about 200 members countywide and is made up of both younger and older members. The group was established as Tuolumne County Fish and Game in 1931, but changed the name after the state began to use the phrase. The guiding principles are to promote public hunting and fishing grounds while also safeguarding wildlife.