Feeding the Multitudes

DSC06791Do you like to eat? If so, this post is for you.

The Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale was our destination April 8-9 this year. Held annually on the state fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas, this event is one of several across the U.S. and Canada to raise funds for the disaster relief work of the Mennonite Central Committee.

We planned to enjoy the sights, sounds, aromas, and tastes. We were NOT disappointed.

One of the first things I noticed was the courtesy of the crowds. The Relief Sale was a place where people remembered their manners. They held doors open for each other. Imagine that! Attendees said things like, “Excuse me,” and “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome.” Even in the l-o-o-o-n-n-n-g line for Feeding of the Multitude (the line stretched outside of the dining hall for 1 ½ blocks) people remained cordial.

Large groups gathered to eat together: families enjoyed their annual outing to the sale, cousins caught up on news, and old friends reacquainted while they waited in line. Actually, it was amazing how quickly we moved into the building. Even though it took us twenty to thirty minutes to reach the food, it didn’t seem that long with all the cheerful people around us. Clear skies and 70˚ temps helped make it a pleasant evening as well.

Once inside the building we could see why everything moved so smoothly. We quickly went through the buffet and were directed toward seating. Various church groups took turns serving. A large youth group from Lone Tree Mennonite Church waited on us.All items served à la carteFood Glorious Food:  Low German meals were designed to fuel hard-working farmers and laborers. Think carbs! My mouth watered in anticipation. I planned to have: Verenika (pronounced: “va-‘ren-i-ka. That’s not quite correct. It’s the Americanization of the word).

Verenike, probably the most popular menu choice, is a noodle dumpling stuffed with dry curd cottage cheese. It is boiled, then lightly fried and served with creamy ham gravy. (Think Low German version of a ravioli with alfredo sauce—only better!)

Thank goodness they gave generous servings of the gravy. Ham gravy is my favorite beverage.

My tray contained a plate of two verenike (slathered with gravy), sausage, and strawberry-rhubarb pie. At the sale, hardly anyone can eat more than three vereniky—especially when all the other treats are available, too. Photo below: Cherry and Pluma (prune/raisin) Moos (Pudding) in front, plus a multitude of pie selections for dessert.

0408161804If you’re wondering why I’ve spelled verenike and verenika and even vareniky, Low German is not a written dialect. Therefore, you’ll find different spellings of many of the traditional foods—often dependent upon regional variances in the dialect. (Hopefully by giving all of the spellings I’ve seen, I’ve included everyone and not offended anyone.)

The Low German dialect spoken by the Mennonites was their original language from the lowlands around the Netherlands. It has some commonality with Flemish. Church services were originally conducted in the Dutch language, but as they fled persecution across Europe and into parts of what are now considered Poland or Lithuania (areas once referred to as Prussia), their services were changed to German. The traditional German language (sometimes called High German among Mennonites) was saved for church and school. Low German was spoken at home and with their neighbors.

Portselkje or New Year’s Cookies or Portselkie or Portzeln or Porselke or…? (I’m not certain how many spellings are possible.) Let’s stick with New Year’s Cookies. The line for these delightful morsels was not quite as long and in some cases not quite as patient as Feeding of the Multitude. We waited an hour for our two dozen while they were being freshly prepared.

New Year’s cookies are more like doughnuts than cookies—although traditional recipes are dotted with a few raisins for extra richness. Tablespoonfuls of the spongy yeast batter are dropped into hot fat. After being deep-fried, these yummy fritter-like doughnuts are served glazed or sugared. They taste best freshly made. If given the opportunity to taste them fresh, you might be willing to stand in line for an hour, too.

Travel Tip
Have a small meal for lunch and a light afternoon snack (if necessary) so you’ll have room for the delicious Low German food. If you have small children, consider getting in line early to keep their tummies (and attitudes) soothed. Feeding of the Multitude began serving at 4:00 p.m. Friday and at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday in Cottonwood Court. Meal service was available in another location, too. If you prefer traditional American fare (such as hamburgers and barbecued chicken), they were available in other venues.

Travel Light Humor
Overheard: A young boy, escorted by his parents, was given a brief introduction to how borscht was prepared for the multitudes. Outside the cook shack, a man held up a huge plastic bag. He said, “See this? That’s where the possum goes before we add it to the borscht.”

That’s a joke people. No possums were harmed in the making of borscht. The bag was actually used to mix all the herbs and spices for giant vats of the soup. For the record, borscht is usually made with chicken.

Several times we heard good-natured debates over whose family recipe was best of this or that food. An elderly retired Mennonite pastor told me, “This was good, but not as good as my Mom’s. THAT was the real thing.”

So ended Day 1 of this benefit for the Mennonite Central Committee’s disaster relief program.

Until next time…Travel Light,
© 2016 SuZan Klassen

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