“The First Year Was A Big Experiment”: 5 Questions With Tracy Dueck

I’ve been friends with Tracy Dueck for 13 years, and in this time I have learned, time and again, that she’s a legendary people-feeder. A few years ago, she began mentioning casually that she had to pack a lot of vereniki into suitcases for the annual trip she takes to Palm Springs with her husband. At some point, they’d begun serving up a Mennonite Feast to other patrons at the Inn they stay at every year. This is quite the undertaking. I had to know more!

1. What inspired you to begin serving these meals? / How long has this annual tradition been going on for?
We were inspired by the daily happy hour that was occurring upon our first stay at the Inn. This Inn is unique: it’s adults only, and in Palm Springs language, that means age 70+. We were welcomed as soon as we arrived at this character-filled Inn in March 2015 and were dubbed “The Kids”. There’s a group of guests that’ve been going for over 15 years, and they all have a tradition of drinks and appies around 4pm everyday poolside. Since we were so welcomed into this tradition, we decided to surprise them the following year with hosting a happy hour of our own, serving the traditional Mennonite food which we grew up with. I LOVE feeding people, so we decided to share our culture with the guests. Since we have a full but small kitchen in our room and a barbecue, it just seemed natural for us to be crazy and fly down with frozen Mennonite food and serve a feast.
This past year we upped the ante and made it a full-on meal with farmer sausage, perogies (fried & boiled — gotta give people options), fried onions, cream gravy, corn, coleslaw, and angel food cake with strawberries and vanilla ice cream for dessert.
March 2016 was our first Mennonite meal at the Inn. We’ve now done it for 3 years in a row now, and hope to continue all the years we head to the Inn.

Fried onions and schmauntfat!

2. How do you get the farmer sausage across the border? How much does your luggage weigh?
The first year we did this feast I was beyond nervous about getting the food across the border and for it to stay frozen; since we fly we don’t have great control of the temperature our luggage encounters. The first year was a big experiment. We packed the farmer sausage and cottage cheese perogies frozen in a styrofoam cooler that fit in our suitcase with ice packs. We were and still are completely honest at Customs about what is packed in our luggage; they don’t care. This past March we upped the ante on what we packed frozen in our luggage: cream gravy in ziplock bags. I wanted to do what I could to cut down on cooking time before serving because it’s normally rather hot in Palm Springs and it’s not hard to work up a sweat getting the feast prepared. Bringing the gravy was a big help to cut down cook time.
Our luggage comes in right around 50 lbs but that’s not all food weight — we also pack all our toiletries and whatever else we can fit into that one suitcase. We are Mennonite after all — don’t want to pay for more checked baggage than necessary.

Shannon cooks the farmer sausage outside on the grill.

3. How many people do you serve?
Each year does vary depending on which guests have stuck around the Inn the day we declare we are feeding everyone, but I’d say between 15-25. And sometimes the guests have friends visiting or the Innkeeper calls a friend to come eat; everyone is welcome and gets fed.

Vereniki!

4. Are these the same people every year? Have they heard of Mennonites before?
There’s a core group that has remained the same, but as they continue to age health has begun to restrict travel. This past year a few were missing, but the new guests get invited to join in. Naturally, the guests from BC have a clear understanding of Mennonites as there are many in that province, but the other guests from different parts of the States always associate Mennonites with Amish, so we try to do our best to explain.

Beautiful buffet!

5. What do they think of the food / what has the feedback been like?
The Inn guests love the food. The cream gravy and farmer sausage are probably the biggest hits because they are the most unique. Most everyone has had some version of perogies before; most likely not cottage cheese though. The Inn guests don’t want to assume the Mennonite feast will occur, but they’re always thrilled when we announce that a certain day during our stay we are cooking for everyone. We always pack up the leftovers and distribute to the other guests.

Cooking up a feast in the heat of Palm Springs!