MUSCATINE, Iowa – The pungent aroma of sauerkraut mixed with bits of savory roasted pork will fill the halls of Zion Lutheran Church Thursday as it has every year on the day of the church’s annual Sauerkraut Supper.

Mingle that with the scent of roast pork basted in apple juice and the sight of slices of homemade pie just waiting to be chosen, and you have the recipe for a proven fundraiser that has become a Muscatine tradition.

Are you hungry yet?

Organizers of the popular event at the church at 6th and Sycamore Streets are ready for as many as 400 diners to begin coming through the doors at 4 p.m. today. Tickets are $9 for adults and $4 for children 10-years-old and under. Tickets may be purchased from the church office or at the door. Carry-outs are available, with a ticket. Closing time is 6:30 p.m.

Planning for the supper is pretty much down to a science, church members Stacey Ramos, Mike Carter and Sheryl Mercer acknowledged during an interview Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Carter, who is property committee chairman at the church, picked up more than 300 pounds of fresh ham at Reason’s Locker Service, in Buffalo Prairie, Ill. When asked, he quickly recited how he prepares them. The meat, with onions, carrots, celery, pepper and sage added, is divided up among 16 roasters for most of the day and then refrigerated overnight.

Thursday morning the meat is sliced, put back in the roasters and basted with apple juice. The crusty trimmings sliced from the cooked pork go into the sauerkraut for an extra-special touch of flavor.

Diners are treated to a family-style meal of sauerkraut and pork, mashed potatoes, noodles, green beans with bacon, applesauce, rolls, beverage and their choice of homemade pie. Tables are set with real plates and silverware and the food servers are quick to refill bowls of food that will quickly empty. Church members are donating 75 homemade pies for dessert.

But while the food may be the star of the show, the dinner has a deeper meaning for the church and the estimated 60 to 80 congregation members who help with everything from seating guests to serving food to cleaning up.

“It’s important for the life of the church because it brings the community in,” said Ramos. “We get phone calls every year before we even advertise from people wanting to know if we are having the sauerkraut dinner this year.”

Getting help from church members is not a problem.

“I’ve had very few people that I’ve called who ever said ‘no’ to helping out,” she said. “I appreciate everyone who helps.”

Carter said the dishwashing job was considerably lightened a few years ago when the church purchased a larger size dishwasher with some of the proceeds from a Sauerkraut Supper. But there’s still a lot of cleanup to do.

“It’s just amazing when the party’s over just how quickly everything is cleaned up,” he said.

Mercer says while there are some “hectic spells” during the supper, “we don’t mess with the system. It works. I just like the way everyone works together.”

While the event in its current form began in 1993, it actually had its origins decades before that, in a sauerkraut supper held at the old Zion School at the same location. In those pre-air-conditioning days, the aroma of simmering sauerkraut wafted out through the open windows to the downtown area, bringing in customers, Ramos said.

The event was discontinued at some point, but when Ramos’ parents – Charles and Phyllis Hoffman – moved to Muscatine, they suggested starting it up again as they had been involved in a similar event at their church in Clinton, Iowa. It’s been going strong ever since.

Funds raised by the supper and the sale of 13 handmade quilts and the church’s cookbook will benefit charities in the community and beyond. Last year, proceeds went toward the church’s utilities, the Pastor’s Fund, Jesus Mission and the University of Iowa Campus Ministry. Leftover food from the supper is delivered to MCSA.

While the event is marked by a friendly din of conversation, clattering dishes and accompanying piano music, Ramos remembers one supper that was considerably more quiet.

It was September 11, 2001.

And while church members decided that the supper would go on as the nation grappled with the tragedy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was pretty somber, Ramos said.

Proceeds from that supper went to help those affected by the attacks, she said.