The free Sonora Bean Feed and the annual Christmas Sing, two decades-old Mother Lode holiday traditions, drew hundreds of people to Linoberg Street and Courthouse Square in downtown Sonora on Friday.
Bill Morales, 66, of Stent, said he arrived outside The Sportsman on Linoberg at 4:50 a.m. Friday and he started working the beans at 5:30 a.m.
He said he used 100 pounds of pinto beans, ham, sausage, onion, garlic, tomato sauce and tomato puree, but he wouldn’t say if he used any chili powder or paprika. One of his helpers said “That’s getting close to your secret sauce, Billy.” Morales said if he shared all the ingredients he’d have to kill the questioner.
Morales and more than a dozen helpers with Tuolumne County Sportsmen, a local fishing and hunting organization, came out to prepare this year’s Bean Feed. Tuolumne County Sportsmen sponsored the event.
Morales and his helpers put on the Bean Feed this year because the event’s creator, Galen “Mut” Mutzner, 91, has stepped down after doing 30 years of Bean Feeds.
Morales said there were going to be quesadillas and French bread this year to go with the beans. There were no plans to serve popcorn or menudo this year.
“It’s a tradition that has been around 30 years,” Morales said before noon Friday. “This will be the 31st. Mut will be here to ring the bell.”
By 11:30 a.m., helpers were grilling cheese quesadillas and spreading halved loaf lengths of bread with seasoned butter or margarine
Jim Phelan, president of the Tuolumne County Sportsmen, said they wanted this year’s bean feed to mirror the tradition founded 31 years ago by Mutzner, complete with a bell-ringing at noon to let people know beans are about to be served.
“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.”
At noon sharp, Mutzner leaned on the rope attached to the big bell outside The Sportsman, and pulled hard to get it clanging several times. Scores of people were lined up along South Washington Street, from The Sportsman to the entrance to Coffill Park, waiting to get their free beans.
“I’m glad somebody’s taking over the thing,” Mutzner said of the 2018 Sonora Bean Feed. “I haven’t tasted them yet. I think it’ll be fine.”
Austin Hein, 23, of Coulterville, got one of the first cups served and came straight to the back of the line to get another cup for a family member.
“It’s about the same,” Hein said of this year’s beans compared to previous versions, dipping his plastic spoon deep into his paper cup. “It has somewhat the same taste. It’s the meat that tastes good.”
Duke York, the deputy director of roads for the county Community Resources Agency who is retiring after two decades with Tuolumne County and two decades in private sector work, shook hands with Mutzner as the Bean Feed line inched forward.
“Hey buddy, how you doing,” York said to Mutzner. Mutzner took a couple more pulls on the bell. It was 12:20 p.m. now and he said he still hadn’t had a chance to taste this year’s beans.
Over at Courthouse Square about 45 minutes later, a couple hundred people were gathered for the Christmas Sing, which was started 39 years ago by the The Union Democrat.
Some people still had their cups of beans. Some tilted their cups way back to get the last beans out of the bottom. Others held their cups in one hand and fiddled with their spoons to get more of the beans.
York helped hand out song sheets for the Christmas Sing, printed with the words for “Come All Ye Faithful,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Deck the Halls.” Larry Kram took his turn on the Roland RD-300SX digital keyboard, jamming out the notes for a rollicking version of “Jingle Bells” vocalized by five cheery, uniformed members of the Sonora Police Department, including Chief Turu VanderWiel.
Under the roof of the bus shelter in Courthouse Square, a man who declined to give his name reflected on the beans at this year’s Sonora Bean Feed.
“I’d like to let’em know the beans were a little crunchy this year, but I’d rather remain anonymous,” he said. “They did better with the seasoning. It’s more savory. I used to bring my own salt.”
Mutzner staged his last bean feed last December. He cooked the beans for 30 years, and he funded each feed, which cost about $1,000 each Christmas. The bean feed received a $500 donation from the Sonora Area Foundation this year, and local companies contributed equipment and manpower, Phelan said.
There are about 200 members of the Tuolumne County Sportsmen. The group was established as Tuolumne County Fish and Game in 1931, and members later changed the name after the state began to use the phrase. The group’s guiding principles are to promote public hunting and fishing grounds and to safeguard wildlife.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.