One thing that is never lacking at the Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale is food! Here is a sampling of what you will find and what has gone into bringing them to you:
In the days and months leading up to the sale, there is much that goes on in the background from preparing donations to ordering supplies for the event. Also, volunteers gather in the weeks before the sale to prepare the Bohne Beroggi, warm pastries with a sweet paste inside and a thin drizzle outside, and Verenika, cottage cheese dumplingsa with ham gravy on top .
Borscht has a very long history. Before mechanical refrigeration, root vegetables were a staple that could reliably last over the long winter, before spring crops were harvested. Beets and potatoes are basic to the 'soup history' of many cultures. While "Mennonite Borscht" at the Kansas MCC Sale has been served without beets, it is available at Cottonwood Court for the Saturday noon "Feeding of the Multitude:"
This German buffet in Cottonwood Court typically serves between 6,000 and 10,000 people, and features such morsels as Verenika, Bohne Beroggi, Borscht soup, Cherry and Plum Moos, Zwiebach bread, and home-made pie.
Scroll down for more about this great buffet!
One of the best part of baking cookies is being able to eat one fresh from the oven. At the Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale, everyone has the opportunity to delight in freshly baked cookies without all the work.
Stop by the Domestic Arts building and delight your senses with the smell of freshly baked cookies, prepared Friday and Saturday. Come and purchase one or a dozen Whoopie Pies, Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, Snickerdoodles or Molasses cookies.
Cookies are also available for purchase in the Meadowlark Building.
There is an array of homemade treats available at the Baked Foods booth in the Meadowlark building. Each year individuals and church groups prepare and bake items such as zwieback, home-made noodles, bread, pies, cinnamon rolls, peppernuts, angel food cakes, and poppy seed rolls.
For more details on what is being sold where, and when the various meals and barbecues are starting, see the Schedule and Directory.
Whether it's the handmade quilts, the carefully crafted wood items, or the antique cars or tractors that draw people to the MCC Sale, the experience wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable without food. And much of the food takes on an ethnic character, which many people appreciate, annually returning for another sampling. Others sale guests may need a little explanation of what they could choose to fill their plates.
Some of the specialty foods can be found in the buffet line, known as "Feeding the Multitude," -- served Friday evening and Saturday noon in Cottonwood Court -- and in the Domestic Arts Building. Other ethnic foods are offered along with a variety of other baked foods in the Meadowlark Building, with New Year's cookies offered in other buildings as well.
Perhaps the most sought after offering in the buffet line is verenike, a cottage cheese-filled pasta dumpling served with rich ham gravy. Its origin is South Russia (the Ukraine) where Mennonites took up residence when fleeing persecution in the Netherlands and Switzerland in the late 1700s. Arriving in Kansas in 1877, the Mennonites brought with them their culinary preferences and expertise. Since the Kansas sale began 40-some years ago, approximately a week before the sale volunteers gather annually at Hillsboro to make many thousands of verenike to offer guests at the sale.
Also of Russian origin is the soup known as borscht, offered in the food line. Although there are variations to the ingredients in borscht, the soup served at the sale contains mainly cabbage, with carrots, potatoes, onions and chunks of beef added. Actually it's the Low German version of borscht. Area Mennonites of Swiss origin are better acquainted with soup known as "beet borscht," using beets and navy beans instead of cabbage.
Mennonites of Swiss origin have another contribution to the food line, bringing with them their "bohne beroggi," made in Moundridge before the sale. Although the end product is very sweet, it is considered a main dish (but could easily serve as dessert). Pinto beans are cooked the day before beroggi production, then mashed and sweetened. Early the next morning sweet yeast dough is prepared, shaped into buns, and filled with the mashed beans and baked. The bohne beroggi are served on sale day with a very sweet cream sauce.
In high demand at the baked foods area in the Meadowlark Building are the small double-decker buns, called "zwieback" which may well have originated in Holland, even before the Mennonite migration to Russia. A generation ago the Saturday baking of zwieback in a Low German home (in Kansas), in preparation for Sunday's faspa (late afternoon snack), was typical--almost required. They were always served at weddings, funerals, and holiday meals. Today, many who do not claim Low German heritage have also become skilled at baking zwieback, and choose them as part of special meals. Cooks still pride themselves in achieving the art of creating zwieback whose top story does not topple during baking, while also producing a softer bun than the original.
Also in the baked foods area sale guests will find a specialty item unique to Mennonites of Swiss origin primarily from the Moundridge and Pretty Prairie areas. It appears that the mak kuchen (or poppy seed roll) were of Russian origin, perhaps being part of cooking tradition in Volhynia, where the Swiss group settled. To make a quality poppy seed roll requires great skill. Cooks much prefer home grown poppy which they may grow in their own gardens. Following time-consuming hand harvesting, the seed is washed and hung on the wash-line in cloth bags to dry, then stored in glass jars. On baking day the seed is run through a grinder, similar to a coffee grinder, mixed with nearly equal amounts of sugar and cream, and cooked. The experienced poppy seed roll maker rolls out her favorite sweet dough into a very thin layer, which is spread with the poppy seed filling. It is rolled up as a jelly roll and baked in the oven. Sale guests may purchase a slice to eat on the spot or buy the delicacy as a whole roll. The supply at the sale is quickly exhausted.
Available in most buildings at the fairgrounds are the ever popular "New Year's Cookies." The origin of the New Year's Cookie (or Portselkje) is unclear, but according to Norma Jost Voth in her book, Mennonite Foods & Folkways from South Russia, Mennonites gave their Russian neighbors Portselkie when they came and sang for them on New Year's Day. The "cookies" were a symbol of affluence and luxury and carried with them the wish for an abundant year.
They are made from a spongy yeast batter with raisins and dropped by spoon-fulls into hot deep fat. The dough puffs up, tumbles over, and fries to a golden brown. The "cookies" are then rolled in sugar or glazed. A huge volunteer force at the fairgrounds assures that the many thousands of New Year's cookies made there are delivered fresh to sale guests throughout the sale.
It seems almost ironic that a number of the tasty foods which attract folks to the Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale food lines today had their origin in South Russia. It was the desperate condition of Mennonite relatives and their neighbors in this very same part of the world in the early 1920s which prompted the first distributions of food sent by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The formation of this committee brought together the efforts of a number of ennonite groups still working together today to promote MCC relief sales, contribute funds, and in turn relieve human suffering in areas throughout the world.