‘A blessed life’

JAMES K. JOSLIN Staff Writer Published November 24, 2011 at 12:57 a.m.
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— The iconic image first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on March 6, 1943. It was the third installment of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series, a depiction of a family gathered around a Thanksgiving table as mother brings the centerpiece of the feast in from the kitchen. That painting, titled Freedom From Want, is often referred to as “Thanksgiving Dinner” by many.

Like Rockwell, the folks at Dorey’s Catfish Buffet (www.doreycatering.com) paint a picture of warmth and friendliness while serving up a product that is pleasing to the palate. Plainly put, the Doreys try to make their guests feel like they’re at home among family.

“We are a family operation that caters to families,” said Leola’s Tudy Dorey, the matriarch of the Dorey clan. “That’s our goal of this whole endeavor - to offer a place for people to bring their families.”

Tudy and her husband, Carlton Dorey, have woven that philosophy into the fabric of their lives throughout the existence of what was once known as Dorey Fish Farm.

As Tudy explained, she and her husband had been laboring for years in the logging industry when they decided to start a catfish farm. Back in 1986, the Doreys were weekly processing, by hand, 15,000 pounds of catfish from the little plant they had originally begun.

In one day’s time, however, all of their plans almost turned to ashes. The Doreys’ home burned. Then, three family members ended up in a hospital emergency room.

That ER visit didn’t come as a direct result of the fire. Instead, Carlton passed out after dealing with a day that included his logging work and the blaze at his residence. After that, the Doreys’ daughter and daughter-in-law had a head-on collision on the Grant County road that goes to the fish farm. In the process of these events, the family lost Tudy and Carlton’s first grandchild - a full term granddaughter who did not survive the effects of the traffic accident.

With the world seemingly falling around t hem, fate stepped through the door in the form of the Tennessee Pride meat company. After reading the “Jesus saves” logo on Carlton’s cap, a company executive told the Doreys he wanted to delve into the catfish market. Soon thereafter, a huge processing plant stood on the Dorey property to fill that need.

“That is the greatest company ever around,” Tudy said. “They were family-oriented people, and we’re still grateful to them. We had 140 to 160 employees when we had the big processing plant. We treated them like family, but we had to close it in 2001.”

As the commercial side of the catfish farm faded into history a decade ago, the Doreys continued to make changes, evolving with the world around them as the times and economic climate dictated.

Verging on the epitome of diversification, the Dorey operation shifted from the commercial world to retail. Today, Tudy and Carlton own a petting zoo and Dorey Catering,along with Tony and Katie Dorey of Bryant. Meanwhile, Robin and Lisa Dorey own the restaurant at the rural site outside of Leola.

Those features have been mainstays for a while now. More recently, the Doreys have added bluegrass music events alongside the white tailed deer, ponies, ducks, goats, fish and food - catfish, barbecue, chicken, vegetables, casseroles, salads and homemade desserts.

The success of those family-oriented plans has even led the Doreys to eye the large processing plant, which they repurchased, with designs on turning it into a cold-, hot- or inclement-weather venue for the bluegrass music and other performances.

“These are hard times, but we’ve had a blessed life,” Tudy said, then reflected on high and low points of the journey, including the death of another Dorey child. “In times like these, when it is so difficult, people just try to survive. We just want a place for our family and for our heritage. This is a time when people need a place to go that is family-oriented.

“We share what we have here with everybody. We have 125 acres of ponds, the petting zoo and the bluegrass festivals. A lot of people come out to eat and then just roam around for one or two hours. People should come to Dorey’s for the food. We’re known for our food and great hospitality. We’ve made a lot of friends over the years, and we’ve got a lot of repeat customers. People even schedule their vacations so they can come by and eat at Dorey’s. Our guest book proves that.”

Ultimately, it is indeed the food that has kept people coming back time after time to visit Dorey’s. Two of the popular items on the buffet are the Italian Creme Cake and the Corn Casserole. Tudy decided to share the recipe for those items. So, see if you can come close to the original. If not, make the trek to Leola and give Dorey’s Catfish Buffet a try.

ITALIAN CREME CAKE Ingredients: 2 cups sugar 1/2 cup shortening 1/2 cup margarine 2 cups flour 5 eggs, separated 1 teaspoon soda 1 cup buttermilk 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 cup chopped nuts 1 cup coconut Directions:

Grease and flour three 9-inch cake pans. In a large bowl, cream margarine and shortening; add sugar. Beat well after each addition. Add soda to buttermilk. Combine buttermilk, flour, egg yolks, vanilla, pecans and coconut to the sugar mixture. Stir really well. Beat egg whites until really stiff and fold into the other mixture. Pour evenly into well-greased and floured pans and bake at 350 degrees until the cake springs back when you touch it. Let cool before icing.

CREME CHEESE ICING Ingredients: 1/2 cup margarine, softened 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened 1 teaspoon vanilla1-pound box powdered sugar Directions: Beat margarine and cream cheese until very blended and slowly add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat vigorously until creamy and smooth.

Ice cake between layers and tops with plenty of icing, and sprinkle grated pecans on top of the cake to make it extra special.

CORN CASSEROLE Ingredients: 1/2 stick real butter 1 small grated onion 3 eggs 1 box Jiffy cornbread mix 1 small can chopped green chilies 1 16-ounce can creamed corn 1 16-ounce can sweet kernel corn (drained) 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese 1/2 cup Rotel (optional, if you want the casserole to be spicy) Directions:

Sauté the butter and onions, mix well with all the other ingredients, and pour into baking dish that has been greased. Bake at 350 degrees until the cornbread looks done. Sprinkle the top of the casserole with more grated cheddar cheese - it will melt and give extra flavor and attraction to the dish.

Staff writer James K. Joslin can be reached at (501) 399-3693 or jjoslin@arkansasonline.com.

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