Serving turkey dinners for nearly 8 decades
BY DENISE M. BARAN-UNLAND Correspondent October 21, 2013 7:08PM
Jan and Bob Agazzi work the carryout area at the annual turkey dinner at St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church in Joliet. The dinner has been a fall tradition for nearly 80 years. | Supplied photo
If you go ...
What: Annual Turkey Dinner & Holiday Bazaar
When: noon to 1:30 p.m. and 4 to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24. Bazaar is from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Where: St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church, 310 N. Broadway St., Joliet
Menu: Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, cranberries, rolls, beverage and pie.
Tickets: $10 for adults. $6 for children ages 4 to 12. Free for children under age 3. Carryouts available. Available in advance or at the door. Admission to the bazaar is free.
Call: 815-722-3567, Ext. 301
Through the years
The history of the St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church turkey dinner:
1929: The first dinner was a chicken dinner and the ticket price was 75 cents.
1934: The dinner’s profit was $96.56.
1955: A Christmas bazaar became an added feature.
1958: The dinner was now held in the full size gym of the new school and dinner preparations were conducted in the school’s commercial kitchen: four ovens with stovetop burners, two convection ovens, two commercial size refrigerator/freezers and a dishwasher.
1981: Members of the congregation began coordinating the dinner as a fundraiser for the church and day school. Previously, the church’s Ladies Aid of St. Peter had overseen the entire event. Now that group only runs the bazaar.
1999: The turkey dinner now included a lunch option.
Updated: November 23, 2013 6:08AM
Each fall for nearly 80 years, the Joliet area community has been gobbling up the turkey prepared by members of St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church in Joliet. This year’s event on Thursday will be no different, make no bones about it.
As of last week, Larry Rudland of Joliet, who’s helped with the dinner for more than 15 years, and currently oversees turkey preparations, already had bought 850 pounds of turkey — 28 Toms and 44 breasts — in anticipation of a crowd.
Rudland can think of only one reason the church will sell nearly 800 dinners that day and raise close to $6,000. He himself pre-sells about 300 of those tickets every year, repeat customers, every one, Rudland said.
“One car dealership in town buys 134 dinners for carry-out,” Rudland said. “Everyone knows how to cook a turkey and how we cook it is no different from anyone else. It’s what we do afterward that makes a difference.”
All turkeys are cooked in the church’s commercial ovens on the Monday and Tuesday preceding the dinner. After seasoning the birds with salt and pepper, Rudland pops the uncovered turkeys into the oven for 2 1/2 hours at 350 degrees.
After about 90 minutes, or when the skin is nicely browned, Rudland covers them. Throughout the cooking process, Rudland frequently bastes the birds with pan juices.
When the turkeys are done, Rudland slices them, saving both the skin and the resulting broth from the bottom of the roaster.
On Thursday, Rudland pours the reserved broth over the meat and tops it with the skin before reheating.
“When we serve it, the turkey’s as moist as if we’d just pulled it out of the oven,” Rudland said. “I think that’s why our turkey is so good.”
About 40 members of the congregation help with this event along with monetary donations to help curb the cost of expenses, said Karyl Holmstrom, planning & publicity chairman, with many people in the community reserving the date on their calendars.
“The Joliet Noon Lions have been conducting their October monthly meeting and enjoying the dinner in our cafeteria for at least 31 years,” Holmstrom said.
Volunteers also typically prepare 17 commercial size pans of dressing and 100 pies, apple and pumpkin. Everything is wrapped up by 9 p.m. Thursday, Holmstrom said.
A member of St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church since 1932, Eunice Frenk of Joliet remembers when the women peeled potatoes by hand and served only 100 dinners because that’s all the old dining room could hold.
Because she taught Spanish for 31 years at Joliet Township High School, Frenk could never help at the turkey dinner until after school, so oftentimes Frenk was part of the cleanup crew.
Even at 85, Frenk, whose father and brother were both pastors (Rev. Erdmann Frenk from 1932-1970 and Rev. Martin Frenk from 1947-1975) still helps by wrapping up silverware and setting the tables. Frenk, too, is not surprised at the popularity of the turkey dinner.
“Everything is flavorful and savory,” Frenk said. “It’s delicious meal at a fabulous price.”