For the last nine years, parishioners and volunteers have been coming together in Gannon Hall to turn pounds of dough into fresh noodles. The noodles are for the Knights of Columbus’ fundraising beef and noodle dinner. According to Jim Weigand, it is all a little hazy as to when they began the beef and noodle dinner.
Weigand first brought the idea up at a retiree luncheon about a decade ago. He said, “'I'm going to start this beef and noodles dinner.” He was walking everybody through the logistics over a game of bingo. The beef, he was going to get from his son-in-law. The labor would come from volunteers. The noodles he said would be brought from Hy-Vee. According to Weigand, this was fine for everyone. Everyone but Phyllis Nau.
“Why in the world are you going to buy noodles,” Weigand remembered Nau said to him. “We'll make noodles. Or don't you like homemade noodles?”
Homemade noodles were special to Nau. She was the local expert.
“The noodles were really all Phyllis,” said Laura Anderson, a volunteer organizer. “It was her specialty. The dough had to be just so. It may need more this or it may need more that. (The dough) may be too thick or too thin. It may be too wet or too dry to go through the noodle cutter. She knew what she was doing, and she kept us all in line.”
Phyllis Nau died at the age of 97 on December 9. But just months before, she got her daughter to wheel her in from Sunnybrook Retirement Home to lead the noodle effort, same as every year before. Though she couldn’t knead and roll the dough with the other volunteers, she was still there to do her quality test.
Volunteers that knew her said she was an intense presence. She knew what she was looking for in the dough. Last year, she sat in her wheelchair and people would hand her a ball of dough about the size of a cheeseburger. Nau would take it in her hands and begin her quality test.
“She’d squeeze it and turn it and squeeze it and turn it,” said Eric Blair, a volunteer. “If it wasn’t right, she let you know it. She would say, ‘Needs more water.’ She wouldn’t waste a lot of words. When she said it, you knew she was right. And you know what? Our noodles always came out right.”
The recipe is pretty simple. The noodle team began work Sunday by separating the yolks from 75 dozen eggs. On Tuesday, they mixed together some water, flour and salt, then kneaded the resulting dough. That dough was rolled thin, hung up to dry, flattened with a pasta machine, cut into thin fettuccine noodles and then left to dry on a table overnight. In the morning, the noodles will be placed in plastic tubs and frozen until a few days before the dinner.
“It's very time consuming, but it is also very rewarding,” Blair said. “You come to the beef and noodle dinner and try it, you won't want to eat anything out of a box again.”
At the dinner, people will pay what they can for the meal.
“Some people pay $1,” Blair said. “Some pay $100.”
The money raised goes to fund the Knights of Columbus’ Thanksgiving meal drive. The drive donates these meals to families and people in need through organizations like Muscatine Center for Social Action, the Jesus Mission and United Way.
“The beauty of it all to me is that the meals go to a lot of people that are down on their luck,” Blair said. “And a year later, two years later, they remember it and they don't need it anymore. They say, 'Give it to someone who needs it more because we are doing better.'”
“What better feeling can you have than saying I helped someone when they were down,” Blair said. “I picked them up and now they are willing to do the same for someone else.”
The beef and noodle dinner is by donation. It will take place on Nov. 5 at 4 p.m. in the SS. Mary and Mathias Catholic School.