Last January, the venerable chicken and noodle dinner at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church looked to be in trouble.
Fresh blood was needed to help the dwindling Midtown congregation at 13th and Broadway keep the noodles, slaw and pie flowing.
Well, when people hear that church-basement, homemade-noodle dinners are in danger, they rally to the call. The dinner had its strongest year ever last year.
The church even sold out of the carry-out bags of dried noodles, pulling in a profit of $17,000.
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“We ran so completely out last year,” said Cliff Simmons, the chief organizer of the dinner. That included cabbage for the fresh-cut coleslaw. He had to run out to buy some at Dillons – and pay retail.
Some new people also pitched in to help in the mammoth undertaking that amounts to the church’s only fundraiser of the year.
The 69th installment of the dinner will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 24. And that means that, two weeks before, it’s time to make noodles.
When you see how much effort goes into preparing enough noodles to feed 2,500 people, you really begin to appreciate the call for help.
An assembly line of about 30 people worked Saturday in the church basement, white in a snow of flour.
“Today is nothing but noodles,” Simmons’ wife, Donna, said. “They need to dry before we can do anything else, because they take up the whole basement.”
More than 200 dozen eggs – picked up from a Chase farm on Wednesday – were cracked, beaten and added to 800 pounds of Hudson Cream Diamond H flour picked up at the mills in Hudson. (Good flour really makes a difference, Cliff Simmons said.)
The resulting dough then was sliced into squares, pounded down in flour, put into two different machines for flattening, then passed through one of three machines that cut the dough into noodles.
The noodles were then piled on cookie sheets and carried to long lines of tables, where they were spread out on floured tablecloths to dry.
Among the volunteers making noodles were local friends and out-of-town relatives. Four generations of Simmons’ family — down to his 6-month-old great-granddaughter Nora from Arizona — were there Saturday. Retired pastor Roy Nelson and his wife, Karen, drove over from Hutchinson to help.
Church member Ida Wayman will turn the noodles twice Sunday and twice Monday to help them dry completely before they are boxed up Tuesday. Then comes the setting up of the gravy room, the potato room, the slaw room and the pie room later this week.
Some people actually prefer the slaw to the noodles, Cliff Simmons said. A dressing of evaporated milk, Miracle Whip, sugar and vinegar poured over cabbage that is crisp because it’s kept iced down all the time could explain it.
The desserts are made in home kitchens.
“My daughter makes 40 pies. I make 20, and think I’m about worn out,” Donna Simmons said.
On the day of the dinner, which costs $10 (ages 6 and under are free) and includes carry-out, former members come back and help serve tables, “so it’s kind of like a reunion,” said Sharon Lamson, who has been a member since her baptism at 9 months.
“They really are good,” Lamson said of the homemade noodles. She also enjoys the family style in which the meal is served, with people helping themselves.
“You’re sitting with strangers and enjoying a meal. It’s kind of nice.”
And another reason to keep the chicken noodle dinner going? Next year: No. 70.
If You Go
Chicken noodle dinner
What: All-you-can eat homemade chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, bread, dessert, beverages; carry-out available
When: 11 a.m-7 p.m. Jan. 24
Where: St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1356 N. Broadway
How much: $10; ages 6 and under free