Memories of the Fair, Florida and Flanken Soup

Submitted by Jackie Dickman

Florida Boyd

Florida Boyd

These are my childhood memories of the State Fair in the early 60’s. That was when the fairgrounds were covered in saw dust, there were girlie and freak shows, live mice in the lucky numbers game, and fairgoers often were loud and rowdy after sundown. That did not keep me with my sisters and friends from having free rein at the fair—meeting at the rocket if we got separated. 

The B’nai B’rith Women’s fair booth with homemade Jewish food was a major operation and a real Jewish community affair. This was their big fund-raiser for the year. It was a favorite among fairgoers who enjoyed sitting down to a good corned beef or pastrami sandwich or a Kosher hot dog. For the carnival workers who travelled with the fair, the B’nai B’rith Women’s booth was a place to get a good hot home cooked meal on a cold fair night. I remember the experience of watching these men who led hard lives. It was not what I was used to seeing.

Since my dad Max Dickman was a great cook, who happened to own a scrap metals business next to the fair, and my mother Selma Dickman was very active in B’nai B’rith Women, serving as President and chair of the BBW booth for several years, fair week was a very busy time in our family. But it was Florida who was the outstanding member of the fair booth preparation task force. Florida Boyd was my family’s long time house keeper, cook, extra mama, friend and family member. If you grew up Jewish in Columbia in our day, you knew Florida. She prepared amazing Jewish and Southern dishes. Florida “catered” many Passover and Break the Fast meals at the Tree of Life Temple and was the “go to” for brit milah celebrations. That is a story for another day. 

Florida was a mainstay at the fair.   One of the dishes especially enjoyed by the traveling carnival workers was Florida’s flanken (beef short ribs) and barley soup. It was thick and hot and delicious. I do not have her recipe. In fact, Florida would not have had a recipe. We do have the pots!

Soup pot used by the Dickman family at the fair in 1960s.

Soup pot used by the Dickman family at the fair in 1960s.

Although I do not have her recipe, I know this hearty soup was made with cellophane tubes of Manischewitz soup mix to start, with added carrots, celery, onions, maybe potatoes and powdered garlic, and of course short ribs.  So I have scoured the internet and combined several entries to come up with an approximation of Florida’s delicious flanken soup. And now I am motivated to prepare this soup for a cold winter night and think of the fair, my parents and Florida.  Dad and Florida also made pots of whole cow tongues for the fair, but I’ll try not to think about that.

FLANKEN and BARLEY SOUP (8 servings)

  • In a large pot, cover 8 pieces (about 3 lbs.) of flanken (beef short ribs with bone in) with water; bring to boil for 2 minutes; then change water to the full amount (4 quarts).

  • Bring water with flanken to a boil then simmer covered for 1 hour.

  • Add Manischewitz soup mixes (not the enclosed season packets)-one tube lima beans & barley and one tube split pea & barley.

  • Add chopped carrots, celery and onions, potatoes (at least 1 cup each).

  • Simmer covered another hour.

  • Mix in contents of seasoning packets, a few bay leaves, and garlic powder, salt or pepper if needed—simmer covered for 15 minutes.

  • As cooking, stir occasionally and thoroughly, and add water if needed. And may need more or less cooking time.

  • These are typical Florida instructions. If you want a more specific recipe, consult the internet or a traditional Jewish Cookbook.

PS. The end of the B’nai B’rith Women’s fair booth was due in part to an improved life style of carnival employees, and in large part due to stricter regulation of off-premises preparation of foods served at fairs and festivals. 

A Taste of Home

Submitted by Jerry Emanuel

B’nai B’rith Women & the South Carolina State Fair

State Fair, midway, October 17, 1955

State Fair, midway, October 17, 1955

All images of the South Carolina State Fair are provided courtesy of the Walker Local and Family History Center at Richland Library for educational use and remain under the copyright of The State Media Company. To see additional images of the fair, click here.  

The Agricultural Society of South Carolina was organized in November 1839 in Columbia.  It was also the beginning of the S. C. State Fair. 

The state legislature allocated $5,000 in 1855 to the fair and erected buildings on Elmwood Street, the first site of the fair. 

At the start of the Civil War the Confederates occupied the buildings, using them as a place to make war material.  The buildings were burned by William T. Sherman in 1865. 

Four years later, with the Agricultural Society resurrected, the legislature appropriated $2,500 annually to assist the Society and the City of Columbia rebuilt the buildings.  Private donations helped create a statewide fair. 

The fair outgrew the Elmwood site and, in 1904 the Society moved to the current location on Rosewood Drive.  Needing still more exhibit space, the Society bought the Hippodrome Building, site of the 1908 Republican National Convention, and moved the building to Columbia from Norfolk, Virginia.  That building was destroyed by fire in 1966 and was replaced by the Hampton and Ruff Buildings. 

“Meet your party at the rocket,” is a familiar cry heard throughout the fairgrounds on the public address system.  If one is lost or looking for someone, meeting at the rocket, which towers above the buildings, is a logical meeting place.  The rocket, a Jupiter intermediate range ballistic missile, was a gift to the city from the U.S. Air Force because it was named “Columbia.”  It was designed by Dr. Wernher Von Braun and built by the Chrysler Corporation.  The SC State Fair acquired it in 1969.  

State Fair, midway, October 17, 1955

State Fair, midway, October 17, 1955

In the late 1950s or early 1960s the fair not only included food booths on the midway but other booths sponsored by eleemosynary organizations.  One of those booths was sponsored by the local chapter of B’nai B’rith Women.  Located near the bandstand, it catered to the carnival workers who traveled with the entertainment and food trucks to carnivals and fairs across the country.  “They came to our booth because we served corned beef and brisket, salami and eggs,” said Heidi Golden.  “It was good old New York Delicatessen style.” 

“Many of the [carnival workers] were Jewish,” said Helen Coplan, “and they just worshipped the food...we didn’t have a kosher restaurant in Columbia so there was no place to get decent Jewish food except at the fair,” she said. 

Volunteers from B’nai B’rith Women, B’nai B’rith and BBYO, the youth organization, worked the booth in some capacity.  “I worked there a couple of times with BBG, B’nai B’rith Girls,” said Ilsa Kahn Young, “We were either on the serving line or cleaning up.” 

The fair lasted ten days, and members of the Jewish community would cook and bake, sometimes weeks prior to the event.  “Matzo Ball soup and Lentil soup were big hits,” said Golden. “I usually made several pots of chopped liver.” 

“I enjoyed listening to [the carnival workers],” said Fred Fields.  “They usually had some interesting stories to tell.” 

Florence Berry was one of the leaders who planned and supervised the event.  The primary cook was Florida Boyd, Selma Dickman‘s maid.  Dickman had taught Florida how to cook Jewish.  Florida was in the kitchen every day, and she would even make things “on the spot” like omelets and sandwiches.  The cooks prepared the gamut of traditional Jewish cuisine. 

The booth would sometimes become crowded because too many volunteered that day so they would take turns walking around the fairgrounds.  “It was a pleasure to work with B’nai B’rith Women and to meet all the interesting people who stopped by,” said Delores (Dee) Friedman.  There were times when working in the booth was a challenge.  “When it rained on a Big Thursday, the day of the USC vs. Clemson football game, water came into the booth, sometimes horizontally, and everyone got soaked,” said Helen Silver. 

“The booth was divided into the kitchen and the bar area where the prepared food was laid out,” said Judi Emanuel.  “We’d be in the area where the big ice chests were located handing out drinks.  We’d freeze our hands off,” she said. 

Helen Silver remembers one particular incident that, thankfully, had a happy ending: 

“I remember one fellow who was ‘in charge’ of the booth that day.  He saw the portions we were giving and said, ‘from now on when we sell soup and knaidel (matzo balls), we only give one and a little bread to go with it.’  I did that with one of the [carnival workers] and he looked at the food and said, ‘oh, you’re charging more and giving less?’  I looked at him and said, ‘you know, you’re right.’  Then I went to Florida and asked her to give me a hot bowl of soup, two knaidlach and plenty of bread, which she did.  I took it to the worker who remarked, ‘that’s more like it!” 

“When I was president of B’nai B’rith Women around 1977 or 1978,” Emanuel said, “they changed the menu to include more than Jewish food mainly because preparing our normal menu was getting very expensive.” 

Then in the early 1980s, the SC State Fair changed the rules and increased the rent on the booths, which made it much harder to continue.  “They imposed new rules because some were not following sanitary procedures,” said Golden.  “Then we couldn’t get the same booth the last few years so people couldn’t find us and that put the kibosh on it,” she said. 

“As with a lot of things,” Silver said, “people started losing interest, women began working and with housework, children and other responsibilities, you can only spread yourself so thin.” 

State Fair at night, midway, October 17, 1955

State Fair at night, midway, October 17, 1955

Over the years many people have worked the booth: Mary Miller, Ethel Miller, Heidi and David Lovit, Helen Kahn, Bobby and Barbara Kahn, Louis and Frances Berry, Max and Selma Dickman, Sandi and Bob Schulman, Benay Chandler, Sandy and Eddie Hertz, Frank and Barbara Bruck, Merrie and Ira Zolin, Sarah Kline and Ruby Harris among a host of other volunteers.  It was a time of comradery, community involvement and dedication. 

Helen Silver summed it up, “I enjoyed every minute of it,” she said.