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Volunteers make thousands of verenika

Staff writer

When Lois Janzen of Goessel talks about ordering nearly 2,000 pounds of cottage cheese, she’s not plotting to corner the market for herself,

It takes that much cottage cheese for Janzen and about 200 other volunteers to make 20,000 verenika, which they did Tuesday at the Marion County Fairgrounds for the Mennonite Relief Sale that begins Friday in Hutchinson.

Verenika, a dumpling-like dough pocket stuffed with a mix of dry whey, eggs, and spices, is a traditional favorite in Mennonite cuisine.

Janzen has prepared the verenika filling for 33 years, coming up with a low-tech solution to dealing with excess whey in cottage cheese.

“We got this idea to put it in a bag, like a 25-pound bag like sugar or flour used to come in,” she said. “We bought a new mop bucket, and we squeezed it.”

The volunteers working with the dough also came up with a time-saving idea.

“Somebody made some cookie cutters the size we wanted from ductwork, and they riveted handles on so it’s just like a cookie cutter,” Janzen said.

Rolling out the dough used to be done by hand with rolling pins, but now pizza dough rollers make the process easier and faster.

The massive verenika-making event returned to Hillsboro for its 47th year, after the Breadbasket Restaurant and Bakery in Newton took on the production last year.

Verda Albrecht of Hillsboro, who was on what she called the “old” organizing committee for 20 years, said they passed off the event to the restaurant because it was becoming difficult for the committee to handle it.

“Two years ago, most of our committee had been on that long,” she said. “We were getting old, we had health problems, and our younger member moved away. We were relieved. We talked to people and thought it went well.”

Enough thought an outside source shouldn’t take over the activity that a new committee formed to organize this year’s production, Albrecht said.

“Several of the couples that stepped up for this year, their parents had been involved with the sale a long time ago,” Albrecht said.

Janzen said the activity started at Eden Mennonite Church in Moundridge, but today uses two buildings at the fairgrounds and involves volunteers from 15 area churches.

Making 20,000 verenika in one day requires focus, but people come in good spirits, knowing they are volunteering for a good cause. They keep the atmosphere light, and stay on track by periodically comparing this year’s production to prior years.

“Everybody’s just joyful and happy and we’re having a great time,” Janzen said.

Albrecht said verenika is important to the relief sale not only for the money raised by selling it, but for attracting people to the event.

“Some years we wouldn’t make enough and we’d run out by noon, and people were disappointed because they came for the verenika,” she said.

The relief sale, sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee, is Friday and Saturday at the state fairgrounds in Hutchinson. A list of events and sale items is available online at http://kansas.mccsale.org.

Last modified April 15, 2015

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