By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
RIVERSIDE — Seventeen-hundred eggs. Seventy-five pounds of flour. Twenty volunteers. Hundreds of rounds of flattened dough drying over newspaper. Why go through all the trouble of making egg noodles by hand when you can just buy them at the store?
“They don’t do it right,” said Margie Sweeting, co-owner of Jerry and Margie’s Catering and a member of St. Mary Parish-Riverside. “They use the whole egg, we use just the yolks. When you taste our noodles, you’ll know,” she insisted. “They are the best,” parishioner Mary Watkinson chimed in. “Plus it’s the camaraderie,” added parishioner Dee Simon. She doesn’t often get to spend an entire day socializing with her friends from church.
Each year, members of St. Mary’s get together at Jerry and Margie’s Catering in rural Riverside to make noodles for the parish’s Labor Day festival. Noodle-making is a common tradition for parishes in southeast Iowa, with roots in Czech and German cuisine. In Riverside, noodle making is a tradition 30 years strong.
Margie and her husband of 46 years, Jerry, donate the ingredients and the space in their catering headquarters. “I want to be a good Catholic,” Margie quipped. But she is adamant that the help from parishioners is really what makes the noodle-making possible.
This year, volunteers arrived at Jerry and Margie’s Catering at about 7:30 a.m. Aug. 22. First they put flour into a mixer and added enough egg yolks to form a ball of dough before kneading it and rolling it out. They placed the dough on a newspaper-covered rack where it hung for about an hour until it lost its stickiness but was still pliable. The ladies rolled the dough into logs and cut noodles into strips. Jerry Sweeting placed the cut noodles on a metal tray and flash froze them. Finally, he placed the frozen noodles into bags, which will be taken to the church on Labor Day to be cooked in chicken broth.
After the noodle making is finished, usually mid-afternoon, the Sweetings treat the volunteers to a homemade meal. That provides added motivation for volunteers, Watkinson said with a chuckle.
The parish’s pastor, Father David Brownfield, has been helping parishioners make noodles since he was assigned to Riverside about five years ago.
However, his personal noodle-making experiences date back to childhood when he helped his Czech grandmother make noodles. He preferred to leave the dough-mixing, rolling and cutting to the “experts” who have the process “down to perfection.” His task is to monitor the drying dough. “I know what a dry noodle feels like,” he said. “The noodles here are divine. I can’t make ‘em like Grandma or these ladies, but I can eat ‘em,” he joked. He’s happy to help out. Proceeds from the Labor Day dinner will be used for maintenance work on the parish’s 110-year-old church.
Another of his parishes, St. Joseph in Wellman, planned to have their own noodle-making day about a week after St. Mary’s. “It’s not a lost art,” Fr. Brownfield said.
“Our noodles aren’t perfect, but that’s how you know they’re homemade,” Margie said.