A fundraising feastAnnual Autumn Sampler luncheon hosted for 17th time
Taste by taste, spoonful by spoonful, guests at a fundraising luncheon ate their way through 48 dishes Saturday at Worthington’s First United Methodist Church, taking careful note of the ones they enjoyed the most to perhaps re-create in their own kitchens.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Taste by taste, spoonful by spoonful, guests at a fundraising luncheon ate their way through 48 dishes Saturday at Worthington’s First United Methodist Church, taking careful note of the ones they enjoyed the most to perhaps re-create in their own kitchens.
PEO Chapter EJ’s Autumn Sampler luncheon has been a local tradition for 17 years, raising funds for PEO projects while giving attendees a chance to try some new fare and glean a wide selection of recipes. This year’s theme was “Season’s Sentiments” with the tables decorated individually to fit with the theme.
The foods were served buffet-style, in three courses: appetizers and salads; main dishes and vegetables; and desserts. As they proceeded through the buffet line, the guests were asked to take just a spoonful of each dish and encouraged to place the spoonfuls clockwise around their plate to correspond with the recipes as they appear in the provided cookbooklet. In addition, punch, tiny portions of two soups and a small plate of breads awaited the guests at their table, along with coffee and water.
The concept was introduced to the PEO group in the early 1990s, when the chapter was just getting off the ground.
“My sister-in-law, Julie Scurr, was a member of the Beta Sigma Phi organization in Mount Pleasant, Iowa,” explained EJ member Le Lucht. “… They came up with this idea of a tasting-type thing that they called a Harvest Sampler. They had it for four years, then their group got too small. But she suggested it to us, because it had been so successful for them.”
With Scurr’s direction, the local PEO group was able to implement the idea in Worthington in 1992. Although Scurr has never been able to attend the Worthington event, she continues to contribute input in the form of recipes.
“She is my role model,” said Lucht with obvious admiration. “She’s diabetic and has gone blind, but has gone on to get two master’s degrees and was responsible for implementing the hospice program in the Iowa prison system. She’s consequently lost a leg and has had two kidney transplants and needs another one, but she’s the most positive person you’ll ever meet.”
One of the keys to a tasting luncheon that Scurr shared was to sell a set number of tickets — “no more than you can handle comfortably,” noted Lucht. “We want it to be a wonderful experience for our guests as well.”
Because the ticket numbers are limited to 144, they are kept at a premium. For this year’s event, women came not only from the immediate area, but also Blue Earth, Lake Crystal, Willmar, Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, S.D.
“We have never struggled to sell the tickets,” Lucht said. “It’s usually a struggle to find tickets.”
The Autumn Sampler has almost become a year-round affair in terms of planning, noted EJ President Julie Nystrom, but it enables the PEO chapter to do all its fundraising in one big bang.
“We’re already planning for next year,” she said.
After a well-deserved two-month hiatus, the members will meet to determine a theme for next year. In the spring, they begin to try out new recipes, gathering for their own sample party to determine which ones will make the cut.
“People have learned through the course of making their recipes which ones are easier to do in quantities,” said Lucht. “We have some people who are renowned for making certain types of dishes, but we also try to mix it up. One year you may make a soup, the next year a dessert.”
On the day of the event, members may need to get up extra early — Lucht was out of bed at 4:30 a.m. Saturday — in order to assemble their dishes and do the other last-minute preparations.
“But we’ve got it down to a system, so everyone knows what they’re supposed to do.” Lucht said.
When the PEO members aren’t occupied with searching out new recipes for the luncheon, some of them contribute to the event in other ways.
“Different members make things to sell,” Nystrom said, referring to an array of handcrafted items including aprons, purses and scarves.
All the money raised by the event goes to PEO educational projects.
“PEO supports higher education for women,” said Nystrom as she welcomed the crowd. “What we do here today gives women a chance to improve themselves.”
Soon the room was abuzz with chatter, laughter and the sounds of forks scraping up the last bits of goodness from plates. The tasters made careful note of the recipes they liked best, marking the pages in the books with a star, or as the women from Lake Crystal did, giving each recipe a letter grade — A through D. This Parmesan Onion Bake, a recipe from the kitchen of PEO member Beth Iverson, received a grade of A+.
Parmesan Onion Bake
In a large skillet, sauté 6 medium onions and 1 cup diced celery in 3 tablespoons butter until tender; drain and set aside.
In a saucepan, melt 5 tablespoons butter; stir in ¼ cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper until smooth. Gradually stir in 1½ cups milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Pour over vegetables; toss to coat.
Pour into an ungreased two-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese and ½ cup chopped pecans. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until heated through.