BRANDON — Viki Smith describes her undertaking as the best hard work she does all year.
She faithfully devotes the week of every Novemberfest to pulling pork, slicing ribs and cutting up chicken pieces for the sake of serving them up to folks at the festival with a hankering for barbecue. For the 2016 event she estimates she'll handle 1,400 pounds of meat, all of which she envisions will be smothered in sauces of the buyers' choice.
"I take a week off work," said Smith, who together with a host of others on the Novemberfest food committee want to make certain they satisfy the taste buds of each and every one of the expected 100,000 attendees.
The 47th annual five-day affair kicks off on Wednesday and runs through Sunday (Nov. 20) on the grounds of Nativity Catholic Church and school, located at the southeast corner of State Road 60 and Bryan Road. All proceeds will benefit the school and the church's youth programs.
Smith, a longtime parishioner of the church with grown children who once attended the school, was surrounded by other volunteer helpers as she tended to her task Nov. 12.
Dozens of food prep folks scurried about in the church's social hall, some cooking over stoves in the kitchen and others assembling and packaging their specialties for placement in large coolers to be brought out, thawed and re-heated as needed.
Kelly Cole and Tammy Regan, co-chairs of the Polish fare effort, oversaw a team of about 10 workers as they prepared and packaged cabbage rolls filled with hamburger meat, onions and rice blended together in a Hungarian tomato sauce.
The group also assembled dozens of pans of sweet and sour cabbage consisting of Kielbasa sausage cubes and small chunks of cabbage sautéed in butter, then tossed in a mixture of vinegar and brown sugar.
"That's one of our biggest sellers and we usually sell out," said Cole. "If not, we donate what's left to our church's Monday night food bank."
Pierogies, filled dumplings also of East European origin, are also crowd-pleasers at Novemberfest, noted Regan. But unlike the other Polish favorites prepared on site for the festival, they are pre-purchased from a local vendor.
Ianne Rodriquez served as spokeswoman for her hard-working team of volunteer helpers made up of mainly fellow family members who migrated to the Brandon community from Puerto Rico in 2004.
She and the others painstakingly prepared package after package of empanadas: Latin-American turnovers made by filling flat tortilla-like flour dough pastries with either beef or chicken and carefully folding and sealing them tightly. They were then frozen until being deep fried at the festival.
"We've been doing this for the past three years and it gives us a lot of family time together," said Rodriquez, adding that on Saturday alone they planned to prepare 4,000 empanadas and will make more throughout the week as the need arises.
Virginia Johnson, affectionately known by her Nativity church family as the "dessert lady," was nearby removing the red waxy coating from a recent delivery of box loads of Fuji apples by dunking them briefly in a mixture of hot water and vinegar and readying them for being candied and sold during Novemberfest.
She also took charge of the baking and buying of several other festival favorites that include cheese cakes, funnel cakes, French fried Oreos, cotton candy and Dippin' Dots ice cream, the latter of which numbered 14,000 in sales at last year's event.
"It's a lot of work, but also a lot of fun," said Johnson, who had also enlisted a team of workers to assist her.
Indian and Cuban specialties also are among the under-the- big-top-tent ethnic food booths at the festival. Moreover, attendees can enjoy and assortment of popular American eats such as hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, chicken wings, pizza, popcorn and corn.
In addition, there are Coke products, homemade lemonade, snow cones and coffee to quench the thirst and please the tastes of most folks who turn out for the festival.
"We've got it down to a good system now and our food is better than any other food court in the area," said overall food chairman Sherry Stewart, who for 36 years has been intimately involved in Novemberfest's food preparations.
Her co-chair Vicki Sommer agrees, saying the many months' worth of pre-planning, purchasing and preparing the food items flows like a "well oiled machine."
"We all love each other and it's a fun time," said Sommer, also noting that the majority of volunteers who prepare and man the food booths have done so for at least 15 years.
Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]