Making verenika for the annual Mennonite Relief Sale
The Kansas State Fair isn’t the only food-friendly event that draws people by the thousands to the fairgrounds in Hutchinson.
Every spring for the past 51 years, the buildings that in the fall are overflowing with chicken and noodles, funnel cakes and Pronto Pups have people lined up to get a taste of what an organizer calls “Russian, German and Swiss Mennonite home-cooked ethnic delights” — things like German sausage, verenike with gravy, borscht soup, cherry moos, zwieback, New Year’s cookies and bohne beroggi — a pinto-bean stuffed dough pocket covered with sweet white sauce.
When the food lines open at 4 p.m. on Friday each year at the Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale, the lines are always long, said Jerry Toews, one of the organizers of the sale who serves on its board.
“A lot of it is about the food,” Toews said. “We feed a tremendous amount of people. We have around 20,000 people in attendance.”
In fact, the annual two-day sale, which is Friday and Saturday, is the second biggest event put on at the fairgrounds each year, he said, smaller only than the Kansas State Fair itself.
To prepare for the hungry masses, volunteers spend weeks fixing and then hauling food to the fairgrounds. They make about 20,000 verenika, which are dumplings filled with a cottage cheese mixture then steamed and fried before being topped with ham gravy. They prepare 6,000 Swiss bohne beroggi. And they make at least 33,000 New Year’s cookies, which aren’t cookies at all but rather balls of fried dough, similar to doughnuts.
Food is available at buildings throughout the sale, but the main dining attractions are two “feeding of the multitudes” German buffets set up inside the fairgrounds’ main food court, Cottonwood Court. They happen from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday and from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday.
Though food is a big attraction, it’s not the only attraction at the event, which is put on by more than 1,000 volunteers from Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and Amish congregations around the state.
It also features several auctions, including one of vehicles that Toews accepts from donors and lovingly restores each year. This year, he’s particularly excited about a 1949 John Deer Model AO tractor donated by a man from California who died in January. There’s also a 1951 Bullet Nose Studebaker Champion that has only 39,000 miles on it. It was donated by a couple from Newton, and it has original everything — even floor mats.
The event also includes a quilt auction, an auction for kids, activities for kids, and a 5K race.