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Going Dutch In Churchill


By John and Durrae Johanek, Authors of Montana Folks

In 1980 when Cornelia Flikkema closed her Churchill, Montana, coffee shop known for its Dutch specialties, the local school asked her to host a fundraising supper. She optimistically prepared food for 400 people—600 showed up. Today, you’ll likely stand in line with at least a thousand other dinner guests at the Manhattan Christian School each March. This is the annual Dutch Dinner—the social event of the year in this predominantly Dutch town about 20 miles west of Bozeman.

Although the last Friday in March in snowy Montana seems like a strange time to host a major event, in farming towns like Churchill there’s good reason. It’s near the beginning of the planting season in prime potato country—any later and there would be no volunteers. And it’s the volunteers who make the dinner a success by donating time and the majority of the food. Even the local retirement home gets into the act by peeling the tons of potatoes that go into stamppot—the Dutch delicacy that’s the heart of the feast.

One might think that for a dinner party this size you’d need a dining room the size of a gymnasium, and that’s exactly where it’s held. The meal is served cafeteria style at four stations, each offering a different specialty. The main course, stamppot, is four globs of mashed potatoes flavored with kale, rutabaga, cabbage, and carrots. But to do it up right, you need to douse your spud piles with a ladle full of bacon fat and bits from the nearby crockpots.

Is that exploding arteries you hear? It’s tough to tell over the thunder of wooden shoes pounding the hardwood stage as the school’s klompen dancers perform in full Dutch attire. One year there were no klompen dancers—yikes—but public outcry brought them back.

Before the butter-drenched klont settles, loosen your belt and waddle over to the dessert table if you dare. Desserts are à la carte and with good reason—you won’t be able to stop at just one. Take a seat on the bleachers, enjoy the crowd, and notice how few people are actually overweight.

In more than 25 years the menu hasn’t changed, but nobody is complaining. The supper still draws folks from throughout Montana plus quite a few out-of-staters. Still, the organizers sometimes wonder if the supper will remain popular. Will attendance slump? Will people get tired of the same menu? Yeah, right—like the thought of snert doesn’t make you salivate.


Directions: South of Interstate 90 at the Manhattan exit, in Churchill.

For more information: 406-282-7261; last Friday of March; 4:00 to 7:30 p.m.


The Johaneks’ second book Montana Folks is available at Amazon.com.


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