The Michiana Mennonite Relief Sale is a way for Mennonites and Amish in northern Indiana contribute to needs around the world.
Several dozen of these sales popped up around North America. I don’t think any of them are as good as the one in Goshen Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25 and 26.
That’s my bias. It comes from growing up at the relief sale here and going to the relief sale here.
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My parents were volunteers at the event back in the 1970s. They sold fresh produce off a hay wagon in the front of the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds. On Friday nights, people would bring extra food from their gardens. My parents and other volunteers would price the squash, ground cherries and other items. On Saturday mornings, the produce went on sale.
So did the other items at the sale. The small stuffed animals that predated Beanie Babies (I might still have that hand-sewn frog filled with popcorn), pies, cheese and sausage. What you could get Friday nights of the annual event was food you could eat on the spot, like a pork sandwich.
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The sale has changed. The Friday night open house sells more than it did because we’re not all farmers anymore and getting up at 6 a.m. just to buy something doesn’t make sense on Relief Sale Saturday.
The Saturday sale starts at 7 a.m. this year. The Run for Relief, a 5K that justifies some of the eating to come, is at 8 a.m.
The quilt auction at the relief sale is a big deal. It has amazing handiwork. But I go for the food every year. After nearly 40 years of going to this event (I missed a few along the way), here’s what I get every year without fail:
- Whole hog sandwich. Back before pulled pork was something every restaurant had, farmers would donate hogs and Clinton Frame Mennonite Church would roast them for the relief sale. The smoked pork is simple and good. I don’t need sauce on it. I just want the sandwich. The sausage and onion sandwich is good too, but not as good.
- Cheese. Berkey Avenue Mennonite Church youth cut hunks of cheese, bag them and weigh them. It’s not fancy cheese. It’s stuff like Baby Swiss and mild cheddar. I buy more than I should, though I’ve gotten more disciplined over the years.
- Sausage. Mishler’s Packing turns some of those donated hogs into sausage. The smoked sausage, fresh sausage links and bulk sausage (uncased) are things I load up on every year and freeze. They become breakfast, soup and fodder for the grill later on. You can also get real lard from Mishler’s at the relief sale. I still have some in my fridge and won’t be buying any this year.
- Apple fritters. Good folks from Yellow Creek Mennonite Church cut apples into rings, dip it in batter, fry it and hit it with powdered sugar. It’s sweet and best when eaten hot. I love them and this is the only time of the year I go out of my way for them.
- Molasses cookies. It can be made with sorghum, but I want a dark brown cookie with a bit of sugar. I’ll spend an inordinate amount of time standing over the baked goods to pick the right package. I take home a dozen. They’re usually gone sooner than I care to admit.
Some of the offerings in more recent years, such as Indian food and haystacks, are great. Lots of people line up for them, as well as pancakes and sausage. But they don’t make my top five. Because when it’s part of your tradition and you associate these foods with a beloved fall event, it’s what you do. And what you love.