Verboort Sausage Festival, Verboort, Oregon:
In a nutshell: Each year, the first Saturday of November through rain or shine, cars filled with hungry, thirsty festival attendees converge on the town, through the mud, dressed in their wellies and rain gear, ready to stand in line for tickets, visit the beer garden, play games with the kids and eat a boat load of sausage and plates of mashed potatoes, green beans, sauerkraut, apple sauce, rolls and hot coffee. The feeling of the event is quaint, but well-organized. Friendly and efficient. People are happy and the food is good. This is not a foodie event, but this is an event any foodie could and should appreciate. The living history of a town founded by several Dutch families, and a community that comes together to show their best selves, to host a hungry crowd and raise money for the community school.
The Details: Every year, the Verboort Sausage Dinner falls on the first Saturday in November in Verboort, Oregon. This rural town and community in the Tualatin Valley, just a few miles from Portland, was founded in 1876 by several Dutch families. Among the families were the Verboorts, (and according to oregonlive.com) Evers, VanDehey, Vandecouvering, Van Grunseven, VanDyke, Van Dervelden, and Van Akens.
My connection to this lovely community is through my cousins Wes and Linda Van Dyke, who hosted my family on a rainy Saturday in the Fall of 2016. Wes is a descendant of the VanDyke founding family. Linda shared, “The way we understand it, the dinner started out as a chicken dinner, and one year Wes’s Grandmother suggested sausage, and it stuck.” In fact, Wes and his brothers still make the sausage on his property in an old-school smoke house using the original recipe and techniques. He showed me the vintage sausage stuffer his family used for many years, and the smoke house, pictured below
Having a founding family member on that very charmingly drizzly day had its perks. Firstly, our caravan was waved to a few “wink wink” parking spots. If you’re like me, you appreciate a good parking situation. The festival is popular and lasts only one day…rain or shine so parking in a small lot for a big event…well, I’m still talking about it so I guess, prepare to chill in the car while you await a spot. This is a theme for the day. Chill while you wait, you see. Something we should all get better at doing. Another tip from the cousins: dress for the weather. This isn’t a fashion show. Rain, mud, a bit of chilly air and the promise of a solid farm-country sausage dinner? That combo works for me. So…perhaps a nudge of advice for a day like this from me would be slow down and enjoy life unplugged.
Alrighty, back to our adventure. Once parked, we quickly procured tickets, which by a very structured system guaranteed us a spot in line. But first to the beer garden! With a round up of beers to fuel us, we waited and watched for our ticket number group to be called. This varies by the size of the crowd at any given time of day. Don’t ask me to recite the rules about tickets. It is only complex from the perspective of those who run the show. All I knew was look at a whiteboard once in awhile and compare with my ticket…or follow my herd, as it were once the beers were flowing.
The beer garden walls featured framed photos of the early years of the event, including one photo of a VanDyke serving up plates way back when. The small community is tight-knit by nature, as we discovered that just about every other person in the room was a cousin to Wes, or knew him somehow.
The dinner is a fundraiser for The Visitation School (a stone’s throw from the beer garden and church) where Wes and Linda’s kids attended elementary school. In fact, families of the kids attending the school and the kids make up a lion’s share of the volunteers running this whole operation. Originally, the event began in order to raise funds to re-build the church that had burned to the ground. Linda recalls working the dinner every year and being responsible for baking a non-trivial number of pies for the attendees.
We waited about two beers worth before our numbers were called to indicate we were welcome to saunter to “the line” for dinner.
As we trekked over to Visitation Church (also founded by the aforementioned families) Dining Hall, the line of cars awaiting the drive-through meals left us gasping. The kind volunteers not only serve hundreds of sit-down diners, but they package and make the meals available for drive-through customers. If you’re not impressed yet, think of how you would arrange to feed up to ten thousand hungry people throughout the course of a day. But then, they’ve been doing this since 1934, so they’ve ironed out any wrinkles in pulling it all off.
All that and there are games for kids, handicrafts for sale, a quilt raffle, homemade candy, a bake sale and more to do while you wait for your number to be called.
Standing in line, you begin to get a glimpse of the inside of the dining hall, which is packed with long lines of plastic-lined tables, each with cute painted wood shoes filled with tulips. Oh…and plenty of mustard. Once you get through the first set of doors, you behold the enormity of this event. Young girls in Dutch costumes buzz around tables with armloads of full plates going down and empties being whisked quickly away. As seats open up, more volunteers gather groups to fit in the empty spaces.
On to the food! We’ve waited long enough!
Once seated, those volunteers waste no time in getting a plate in front of you along with a hot cup of coffee to shake the shivers from being out in the rain. The vine maple wood-smoked sausage is no longer made in the original smoke house due to FDA regulations, but the recipe is the same and the flavor was in there! The new smoke house facility seems to be keeping up with the quality quite nicely. Overheard by the volunteer staff, apparently they made about, oh you know, thirty thousand pounds of it.
Speaking of the volunteers, my cousin Linda said, “Those who work on dinner are those who belong to Verboort Visitation Catholic Church in Verboort. Also, parents of children who attend the Visitation Catholic School, of course all kids from 4th – 8th grade, and any volunteers in or outside of community.” The volunteers do an amazing job. I asked Linda about what changes have happened over the years and she told me, “It use to be that each family was to make and donate 9 pot holders, make 9 lemon meringue, and 9 apple pies. Make 5 cakes for the cake walk, and donate any homemade candies, pies, cookies, dessert bars for the bake goods booth. Now everything is made in commercial kitchen.” Can you imagine making eighteen pies, five cakes and nine potholders for anything in your community? This astounds and impresses me almost as much as the immense amount of sausage that is made for one single day.
One last remembrance of how things have changed over the years is the costumes, “All kids and help were required to wear the Dutch hat and apron if female. A lot of families wore the real wooden shoes or clump, and were told to wear those. Nowadays a few wear the costume but mainly everyone just wears school attire when serving.” Today the costumes are different, but the charm of the wood shoe decorations, the friendly volunteer staff, and the menu remain the same.
As the meal goes on, the volunteers bring around large trays of sausage and they will give you as much as you can eat, so come hungry! But do save room for a slice of homemade lemon meringue or Gravenstein apple pie.
It is magic to see the homespun hospitality that we Americans (who came from another place to enjoy this great freedom and democracy) have begun to forget. You won’t see a corporate sponsor logo at this event, and that is rare these days. So in true Verboort spirit, open your doors and set a place at your table for a friend or a stranger. Sharing our bounty is simple grace and a lovely reminder of the joy one can find at the table.
Thank you to the wonderful people of Verboort, and to my cousins Linda and Wes for bringing us with you to share this experience. I’ll be back!
The Pertinent Info for Planning (according to the official website):
Key Start Times
- 9 am Bulk Food Sales
- 10am Ticket Sales
- 10am Booths, Bazaar & Country Store
- 11am Drive Thru Dinner & Bingo
- 11am Dining Hall
- noon Beer Garden
- $16 Adults
- $15 Seniors (62+)
- $8 Children (6-12)
- Children under 5, free
- $16 Dinners to Go
- $6/lb Bulk Sausage
- Bulk Sauerkraut
- cash & checks accepted
- ATM on site
Points of Interest
- Quilt Raffle
- Fancy Work
- Plant Booth
- Beer Garden
- Bake Sale
- Potholder Game
- Homemade Candy
- Country Store
Further Reading and Information About The Verboort Dinner and community: