Volunteers of all ages from all walks of life — city employees, farmers, retirees, research scientists, homemakers, and a few school children — gathered Tuesday morning at the Marion County Fairgrounds in Hillsboro to make verenike. Workers interrupted their normal routines and came from churches across central Kansas to mix, slice, shape, stuff, pinch, and pack the tasty treats.
Verenike is one of the most popular items available on the state fairgrounds in Hutchinson during the annual Mennonite Central Committee sale to be held on Friday and Saturday this year. It is a pastry-type pocket filled with cottage cheese and boiled or fried. It can be served plan or covered with syrup or ham gravy, and it is often accompanied by other Mennonite ethnic foods like sausage or pluma moss (cherry or plum pudding).
“Our goal is to make 20,000 verenike,” said Zane Unrau of rural Hillsboro and a member of Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church said.
The MCC sale is an annual fundraising event that includes quilt auctions, sales of donated antique cars, tractors, and other farm equipment, plants, and other items, as well as ethnic Mennonite food.
“I’ve never actually eaten verenike at the sale,” said Dale Dalke, Hillsboro resident and member of Ebenfeld Church. “I just like to help make them here.”
Dalke and Joel Suderman, rural Hillsboro farmer and an Ebenfeld member, said they worked together three or four years already, mixing the dough with the large industrial sized appliance for the verenike.
“We put in oil, flour, eggs,” Suderman said. “We don’t need to taste it, they tell us down the line if it is too sticky and needs more flour. That is about the only change we make to the recipe.”
After Dalke and Suderman mixed the dough, they scooped it into five-gallon buckets and sent it on down the line.
Unrau, next in the verenike assembly process, shaped the dough into large loaves and sliced off wheels that could then be passed through a roller.
“I can get about 10 slices per loaf, and then they cut about 10 circles per wheel, so there might be about 100 verenike from each batch here,” Unrau said.
Volunteers cut the thinly rolled dough in circle shapes, others filled it with cottage cheese, and still more volunteers seated at tables folded and pinched the edges together.
Runners took trays of the completed pockets to packers who carefully placed layers of verenike on brackets and sent the covered boxes onto a refrigerated truck that waited outside.
Cottage cheese scooper Deryll Amstutz of rural Hillsboro said the whole thing was a well-organized process.
“Every once and a while you will hear someone call out for more dough at the tables,” he said. “But it all goes smoothly. We pretty much know what we are doing.”
Profit from all items sold at the MCC sale is contributed to stop hunger worldwide.
“We make things that taste good simply so others can eat,” Amstutz said.