Fr. Michael Vuky
Fr. Michael Vuky
VERBOORT — There will be no slew of cheerful diners chatting, no rounds of bingo or beer garden joviality. But the most important ingredients of the annual Verboort Sausage Festival — tasty, traditional fare and the hard work and fellowship of volunteers — will remain.

“My hope is that people will still come out for great sausage, a great meal and a worthy cause,” said Carol Funk, principal of Visitation School here.

The rural Visitation community is the spiritual hub for descendants of Dutch Catholic immigrants, and its fall gathering, filling approximately 10,000 bellies last year, is the school’s largest fundraiser.

Because of the pandemic, the 86th annual sit-down feast at the parish is canceled, but Saturday, Nov. 7, there will be steaming to-go meals that feature sausage and include sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, macaroni salad, applesauce, and apple pie. Bulk orders of sausage, kraut and homemade baked goods are being sold online and can be picked up Nov. 5 and 6. The bulk items also will be available to purchase Saturday.

“I’m grateful we can salvage some of it and hopefully make some money for the school,” said Dean Hermance, a longtime parishioner and chairman of this year’s festival.

He’s good-natured about it, but Hermance certainly didn’t expect to be organizing the massive event during a pandemic. “It’s been a little crazy,” he said, adding it’s a labor of love.

“I love the smokehouse, the tradition and how the whole community gathers for a focused goal,” he said. “There’s all this fellowship that happens around the dinner and the events leading up to it.”

A number of prep-related events are still taking place, with volunteers wearing masks and gloves and following other public health protocol.

First there are apples to peel and cook for applesauce, then there’s sauerkraut to ferment. Most years a truck full of cabbage arrives on the parish grounds, and kids enthusiastically roll the leafy rounds down a shoot. Volunteers then chop, shred and pack them into 55 50-gallon barrels.

Father Michael Vuky, pastor of Visitation Parish, said that while the sausage “is a must,” he’s privileged to sample it year-round. For him the sauerkraut is the greatest festival treat. “After its been brined there’s nothing better than sampling the first batch and tasting that saltiness and having that crunch,” he said.

Using essentially the same recipe for the past 86 years, the sausages are smoked with vine maple wood, which adds a sweetness to the smoky flavor.

The current plan is to make the same amount of meat as in past years, around 14 tons. “There’s a risk that some will go unsold, but we really don’t want to run out,” Hermance said.

For the last nine years, Father Vuky has worked in the smokehouse as one of the more than 500 volunteers who typically help make the fall gathering such a draw.

“I will miss standing next to my team, Marybeth and Abby Puncochar, selling the bags of sausage and managing the cashier with all the hustle and bustle that comes with it,” said the priest.

“It is like a big party and everyone is so excited to be on the campus and having a good time,” added Funk.

“My prayer is that despite not being able to publicly gather in a large group, we still experience the joy, the smiles and the camaraderie that make this event so special — as it takes an entire community to pull it off,” said Father Vuky.