Monday, August 01, 2011

Guest Blog: Ray & The Potato Pancake Dinner

Our old buddy Ray Beimel worked at the annual St. Marys Historical Society Potato Pancake Dinner and sent this report. The dinner is held every summer at the Sportsman's Club and I've attended both as a guest and a volunteer. Enjoy:

This event happens on the last Friday of July. It's been going on for 35 years. I have never really described it in a story. Here's what it's about.
    First thing you do is pay for your ticket. Sally has been doing this job for years and patiently explains how things work to the newcomers.

     This being St. Marys, most people go right to the bar and get a drink. This year both Straub and Peter Straub Special Dark were served. Back in the days when I was the bartender (I have been demoted to dishwasher) people would ask why we didn't have any but the locally brewed beer. I would tell them that when 'dolph Coors and Auggie Busch opened breweries in St. Marys, I could dispense their beers. But until that happened, we were going with the local boys' product.
     Inside the kitchen it is all organized chaos. Potatoes are given a rinse and then quartered. This used to be done with knives but now we have a device for that. The quartered spuds then go into the grinder. The chief grinder is Leo "Pickles" Rigard who is well to the north side of 90. His helper dumping the tater's is Jerry Olson. The grounds are caught in a colander and allowed to drain for a while. We have found that too much water slows down the cooking and makes for a greasier product.
    Once ground the potatoes are mixed with flour, egg, onion, salt, pepper, and baking soda. Here the master mixer Dick Friedl is showing apprentice mixer Mark Wendel how to do it.
   The mixing process is manual because no machine duplicates the folding and swirling action of a good pair of hands.
     In the old days these were cooked in lard but now we use high quality canola oil, heated to nearly the flash point. The pancakes are turned once in their journey from raw end to cooked end of the big griddles. We had a new crew of cooks this time, the daughters and granddaughters of Bill Bauer, the driving force behind all this. They stood over the hot grease until they had cooked at least a thousand. The finished cakes go onto a grate and are allowed to drain before being served.
    The potato pancakes are served with a variety of sides. The options are syrup, cottage cheese, stewed tomatoes, creamed corn, applesauce, and apple butter. That's my Mom in the foreground, making sure we don't run out of anything.
     Besides the pancakes and sides, there is a fruit buffet with grapes, nectarines, peaches, apples, watermelon, and cantelope.
     The guests eat at the tables under the big picnic pavilion at the St. Marys Sportsmen's Club. There is a lot of mingling and talking going on as well. Some people only see other once a year at this event.

    Bill Bauer has a good system about buying food and in good years, we never run out of anything. The Society owns all of the cookware so we are not dependent on anyone for utensils, dishes, or any other stuff. This is not a fundraiser. The price is set to just cover expenses. We do it for fun and judging from the feedback we get, the guests always enjoy themselves. The girls got a lot of compliments. People tried to thank me for the event but I told them I am just the scullery knave and directed them to others.
    The cleanup is a big chore but everyone pitches in and by 9:30, the truck and trailer is loaded and everything gets back to the rooms. It's a fun event with an unusual food being served. The only downside is that coming in late July, it marks the beginning of the end of summer.
    I hope you enjoy the tale. I was using my low cost beater camera and I have not learned all of it's eccentricities hence the low quality of the images. I will get the hang of it sometime.

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