Friday evening at Lenten supper at the Hays VFW Post 9076, Twila Logsdon, Hays, took the Heinz malt vinegar and sprinkled a dash on the noodles and beans on her plate.
“It gives it just a little bit of a bite,” said Logsdon, who grew up on a farm around Hoxie, where her family followed the Catholic rule of no meat on Fridays.
This Friday, she was with her friend Jane Wikoff, Hays, at the VFW, 2106 Vine St.
“The two of us come out once a Lent and have noodles and beans,” Logsdon said. “This is a German thing. I grew up with noodles and beans.”
Wikoff, who isn’t a Catholic, grew up near Alma, Nebr. She’d never eaten the dish before moving to Hays. “I really like them,” says Wikoff, taking a bite. “At first I thought, ‘Noodles and beans?’”
The VFW’s Lenten supper has been served the last six or seven years on every Friday during Lent, says Dale Schmidt, kitchen manager at the veterans club. Schmidt leads preparation with a crew of a dozen or so volunteers.
While ‘no meat’ is a Catholic thing, Schmidt says Protestants, Methodists and anybody else is always welcome.
The Lenten menu features seafood and some Volga German staples: beer battered fried cod, shrimp, noodles and beans, and grebble.
“We’re about the only one in the area that does it every Friday,” said Schmidt, who attended St. Joseph’s grade school as a youngster, then graduated Thomas More Prep in 1978.
With 30 pounds of beans, eight loaves of sandwich bread and 40 bags of “TommySues” Homemade Noodles, Schmidt’s kitchen at the VFW on Friday afternoon was getting food ready for a couple hundred people who might show up Friday evening.
“How many bags of noodles did we get?” asked one of his helpers, Ron Dreher.
“40,” said Schmidt.
The great white northern beans soaked overnight, and by 2 p.m. were boiling on the stove in three giant pots. Dreher, retired owner of Dreher Guttering, used a huge spoon to give them an occasional stir.
“This is a fine noodle we use for the fried noodles,” said Schmidt, who says he learned to cook from his mom, Bernadette Schmidt, Hays, and his grandma, Mathilda Schmidt, La Crosse.
“Fried noodles, that’s a German treat. If you know anybody German they make fried noodles,” he said. “You boil your noodles, take them and throw them on that flat top, mix them with fried breads and onions, and serve it up. You don’t want to over-fry them or you just get crispy sticks.”
Grebble, for those who don’t know, starts out as a dinner roll, is allowed to rise, then rolled out flat, deep fried, sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with syrup, he explains.
“It’s a German sopapilla,” Schmidt laughs, but he will correct someone who mispronounces the sugary treat. Schmidt acknowledges he can speak German, but explains it’s not that simple; growing up as the child of one parent from Liebenthal and one parent from Schoenchen, he heard many family debates about the correct way to pronounce plenty of German words.
Schmidt has volunteered at the VFW for about 20 years, helping with post fundraisers. Sometimes it’s bierock prep for Oktoberfest, or cooking for wedding receptions and anniversaries, but also funeral dinners, and making food for the monthly Stag & Stagette, and monthly Stars and Stripes Breakfast.
“Money,” Schmidt says. “To keep the doors open. Anyway we can make a dollar.”
He loves to cook.
“Look at my size,” Schmidt says, patting his belly. “I like to eat, I don’t starve myself.”
Schmidt, Dreher and another volunteer, Travis Macke, methodically keep the processes in the kitchen moving on Friday afternoon. Everything’s got its sequence, Schmidt explains.
“We’ve been doing this so long,” he said, “we’ve got it down.”
Dreher laughs and adds, “We don’t do anything wrong around here, we’re men, we’re perfect.”
Asked if Dreher and Macke are his two best volunteers, Schmidt characterizes them as the first two to show up.
“That’s the best ones,” says Dreher, “the ones that show up.”
Schmidt says weather has a lot to do with how many customers show up for Lenten supper. This Friday evening was pleasantly balmy after a week of cold, high winds. The past few years the VFW has averaged about 250 diners each night. Schmidt says at $8.95, customers get a good meal at a good price.
The food has to be ready by 5 p.m. That’s when the first customers start arriving, and sometimes even earlier. When they arrive, they sit where they like and a waitress takes their order. Various combinations are available for the $8.95 a plate, with grebble $1 extra. As a private club, the VFW has alcoholic beverages available for purchase.
“You walk in, sit down, and drink four or five drinks with your meal and then you leave,” Schmidt said. “That’s ideal.”
Schmidt says the VFW’s Lenten supper is the best around, “because of the love we put into our cooking.”
Eating her noodles and beans Friday evening, Logsdon said the VFW’s are a little different from the way her mother’s tasted, but that’s OK. She and Wikoff like them, and continue coming.
“We’ve been doing this for quite awhile, it’s just a nice reminder,” Logsdon said. But she only has the dish once a year. “I have never made noodles and beans. Ever. Not one time.”
Schmidt has his own philosophy.
“if you like to eat it,” he said, “you learn to make it.”