PEOTONE – People either love gooseberries or they hate them.
At least, that’s the experience Leatrice Johnson of Monee has had. But apparently Johnson’s gooseberry pies, prepared with gooseberries straight from her farm, have a few fans at Immanuel United Church of Christ’s annual beef dinner, this year on Saturday.
“I have no idea what they taste like,” said Marie Sallee, one of the dinner’s coordinators. “They’re always gone.”
Sallee said the Peotone church started offering the beef dinner at least 30 years ago, long before Sallee helped organize it. In addition to Johnson’s gooseberry pies, the dinner, which attracts about 800 people, boasts several other unique features.
One is a homemade marinade for the 550 pounds of trimmed top round. The meat is cut into five-pound roasts, wrapped in foil, and cooked more than 300 pounds of charcoal, Sallee said. Marinade ingredients include garlic, onions, olive oil, red wine and cider vinegar and “the regular kind” of Hawaiian Punch.
Men tend the beef from the time it arrives early in the morning until the dinner ends, Sallee said, regardless of the weather.
“One year we had a big rainstorm,” Sallee said, “so we did it on the south side of the atrium. The building is open but there is a roof on top. They were able to put the big charcoal grills there.”
A second feature is homemade mashed potatoes prepared from 350 hand-peeled pounds of potatoes and flavored with butter, sour cream and cream cheese, said Shirley Younker of Peotone, president of the church’s women’s fellowship.
The third feature is the variety of desserts, all homemade, with cherry pie and apple pie being most popular, Younker said. Patrons preferring sugar-free desserts, including pies and refrigerator desserts, will find them at this dinner, Younker said.
Separate from the desserts that accompany the dinner is a bake sale. Proceeds benefit the church’s scholarship fund and church improvements, Sallee said. In its early years, the women’s fellowship served the dinner at the church but it soon moved to the Will County Fairgrounds.
“We can only accommodate – at the most – 125 in our fellowship hall,” Sallee said.
In the months before the dinner, members of the church’s Sunday school raise money through the sales of baked goods and religious items to treat some very special guests: Veterans from Manteno Veterans Home.
“It’s a way for them to come out and enjoy some fellowship with each other,” Sallee said.
Although the dinner’s flier promises, “No one goes hungry,” fellowship is the dinner’s hallmark, Younker said.
“It brings members of our church together for a fun day,” Younker said. “We make gravy; we cut fruit. Everyone works. It shows what we can do when we put our minds and hearts together.”
OUTBOX - please break these recipes out into their own box
Gooseberry Pie with No-Fail Meringue
Made with gooseberries from bushes on Latrice Johnson’s farm, where Johnson’s mother picked gooseberries to make gooseberry jam. Johnson’s grandfather, a horticulturist, had planted those bushes when he was 20, after coming to the United States from Denmark.
The meringue, Johnson said, is “not runny” like other meringues. For best results, Johnson said, use brown eggs as their whites “beat up better.
2 cups gooseberries
½ cup water
1 cup sugar
¼ cup flour
1 9-inch baked pie shell
1 T. cornstarch
½ cup hot water
3 egg whites (eggs at room temperature)
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
6 T. sugar
½ tsp. almond flavoring
Cook berries in water until they pop. Mix other ingredients, add to gooseberries, cook until thickened and pour into pie shell. Moisten corn starch with small amount of water; add hot water. Boil until thick and clear; cool. Whip egg whites with cream of tartar and salt. Gradually add sugar to whites and beat until soft mounds appear when beaters are lifted. Beat cool cornstarch slightly with mixer. Add egg whites with almond flavoring and beat until smoothly blended. Makes a high meringue that does not shrink. Spread meringue over pie, making sure meringue reaches edges. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Yield: 1 gooseberry pie
Immanuel United Church of Christ’s Signature Mashed Potatoes
In a word, said contributor Shirley Younker of Peotone: “Yummy.”
5 lb. potatoes
2 3 oz. packages cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. salt (may need to add more)
1/4 tsp. pepper (may want to add more)
2 T. melted butter (I use more)
Just mash potatoes and add remaining ingredients until desired consistency is reached. After preparing them for the first time, it will be easy to adjust measurements to preferred taste. Yield: 8 cups or 12 servings
If You Go
What: Annual Beef Dinner
When: 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Will County Fairgrounds (south end of the Peotone atrium), Peotone
Etc: Roast beef, homemade mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, green beans, fruit salad, cole slaw, coffee, tea, milk, lemonade, homemade desserts (including sugar-free options) and bake sale. Carry-outs available.
Tickets: $10 adults, $5 children 6 to 12. Age 5 and under are free.
Know more: Visit www.peotoneimmanuel.org or call 708-258-6966