Have you a clue what it takes to feed an estimated 250 people a complete turkey dinner with all the trimmings of dressing, mashed potatoes, salads, rolls and desserts?
Do you know what it takes to make 125 jars of various sizes of homemade horseradish?
To begin the dinner, Donna Reynolds of Mullen, Neb., agreed to oversee the small army of volunteers and do the delegating, the purchasing and such to make the day successful. Donna purchased nine 20-pound turkeys and split them between volunteers to roast.
Mary Lou Harding also donated and roasted two more, and hindquarters were also donated by Donna and Nadene Andersen, bringing the number of turkeys to 12.
Eighty pounds of potatoes were also split between the volunteers to peel and cook.
Two ladies in their mid 80s each make two five-quart pails of turkey dressing, at least.
The volunteers bring 25 salads, as well as 33 pies, cakes and other desserts.
Aside from the turkeys, six gallons of corn and close to 20 dozen rolls, tea, coffee and table service are the only purchased ingredients for this annual meal held in the Seneca, Neb., auditorium for 70 years.
“We lose track of how many gallons of water, iced tea and coffee we go through”, said Lavina Sevier, 83 years young. “My late husband, Bus, and I moved to Seneca in 1965, the dinner was going strong then as well.”
“My grandmother and mother were involved in making it happen long before I became involved,” stated Nadene, two years older than her friend, Lavina. “We have lost the minutes of those early years.”
So you see why 70 years is easily the number of years this annual tradition put on as the major fundraiser for the Seneca United Church of Christ, Women’s Fellowship has occurred.
The volunteers who carry out this annual tradition on the last Sunday in October number less than 20, add to the dinner a bazaar, where donated items are up for sale, and that makes for a very busy day for the little band of dedicated parishioners who come from all over the area.
The bazaar’s most prominent sale item is the jars of homemade horseradish. This year, the 125 jars are the most ever made by the group, and all jars sold. To make this culinary treasure, took approximate 100 pounds of raw horseradish brought in on the designated day a couple weeks prior to the dinner, to Lavina’s home on the west edge of Seneca.
The old wives tale is that one must not harvest the plant unless the month ends in “r.”
The horseradish is gathered from plant stands in Seneca, Mullen and from the Pat and Wanda Simonson ranch north of Seneca.
“Our stand was planted by Jim Miller after we were married in 1974,” stated Wanda.
After lunch, Lavina, Nadene and Wanda stand at the sink and begin cleaning and cutting up the horseradish stalks so the electric grinder, brought by Rick Licking, does not overheat.
The volunteers have dwindled as several had to return to their paying jobs.
2 p.m, all the horseradish has been peeled, when Rick is ready to begin grinding. If you have not been around horseradish when it is ground, the smell penetrates the nostrils like nothing else — if you have clogged sinuses, you won’t after. Rick makes sure he stands where the wind is beneficial of taking most of the pungent smell away.
Linda Martin — retired Thomas County UCC minister, of which Seneca was one of the three churches she pastored — and her brother, Steve, have come all the way from Ogallala, Neb., to assist in the making of the horseradish
“I have retired from the ministry, but not from this social event,” she said.
She also comes the day of to assist in the dinner. She and Tami Taylor, too, use the wind to their advantage, as they begin adding vinegar, salt and sugar to the ground horseradish.
“Measuring of ingredients are done by estimating and taste testing.”
The ladies do not like horseradish per say but know what makes it just right before starting to pack it in the jars.
Usually the whole process is done in one day, but this year, Wanda and Nadene take some of what did not get done by dusk to finish up using Wanda’s food processor the next day.
Lavina also kept some and hand grounded the horseradish, just as her mom did years ago.
Sunday, Oct. 27, people were waiting for the doors to open.
Counting the volunteers, 251 people enjoyed the food, the sales and just getting to visit with people — some only seen on this day in the small village of Seneca, Neb.
For about three hours, Seneca’s population explodes almost five times over. ❖