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Justin Glawe, Published October 26 2013

Getting the scoop on hotdish secrets

TABOR, Minn. – It’s pretty much the simplest thing you can possibly imagine. Or at least the simplest recipe.

“You just put all kinds of things in a pan and you put it in the oven and you got hotdish,” said Elverne Vanyo as she drove her scooter into the Tabor town hall Friday night.

The 84-year-old was a people’s judge at a hotdish competition at Tabor’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church. The celebrity judges would choose the winner – Cheryl Novak’s Hollow Bean Hotdish.

“The secret is the brown sugar,” Novak said.

There is, however, no apparent secret to creating hotdish. Nor do there appear to be rules. All of the dishes Friday night had meat, some of them had potatoes, a smaller number had vegetables and the others had, well, other. Determining the best hotdish is kind of like putting a dollar in a jukebox and being told to pick the best song.

It’s completely subjective.

“They’re not going to go by me,” Vanyo said as she filled out her people’s choice card. (She put down two of the three dishes she tried. There were 10 total.)

“But every vote counts,” said Vanyo’s niece, Jeanne Novak.

Jeanne tried most of the 10 dishes in small portions on her plate. An informed electorate, after all, is the key to a strong democracy.

A member of Holy Trinity like her aunt, Jeanne said the church tradition is to provide numerous dishes during funerals. But there were no bereaved or deceased at Friday night’s event.

“The joke in Tabor is, ‘Next time there’s a funeral, I’m just going to come and eat,’ ” she said.

Vanyo is small, sharp and independent. She still lives on the land her parents used to farm. Polio, the disease she contracted in 1947, made her scooter a requirement a few years back. She packs it into the back of her van when she drives into town, which is usually to play the organ or perform other volunteer duties at the church.

“You’re always kept busy when you volunteer,” she said.

She likes the church. She likes hotdish.

But, “I don’t like winter,” she said.

She likes her life. She likes Tabor, her hometown.

“I think the people here are nice.”

Simple enough.