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St. Agnes of Sigel's potato soup is part of South Dakota's soup kitchen tradition.
St. Agnes of Sigel's potato soup is part of South Dakota's soup kitchen tradition.

Potato Soup for the Soul

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the January/February 2010 issue of  South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call 800-456-5117. 

Soup suppers are popular fundraisers for churches and other organizations in South Dakota. A bowl of hot soup on a cold day warms body and soul. But it’s not just the food that attracts people; the aura of fellowship and community also beckons.

Such events are often called soup kitchens in southeast South Dakota. One of the oldest is held every fall at St. Agnes of Sigel, a small Catholic parish of 40 families near Utica. The tradition started as a chicken dinner in the 1950s before the parish hall even had plumbing. “Water was hauled to the back door by a water truck,” said longtime member Catharine Hunhoff. “When we needed hot water we had to heat it.”

The chicken dinner, called a bazaar, took considerable preparation. “Everybody brought six or seven fried chickens, potatoes, pies and salads,” she said. Besides sharing a fried chicken dinner and real mashed potatoes, parishioners and guests played bingo and other games and shopped at tables of homemade baked goods and fancy work. “We made some money back then, but it was done more as a social event,” Hunhoff said. Gradually, interest died out and in 1984 the chicken dinner became a soup kitchen.

The members of Sigel’s Altar Society organize the fall soup event, but everyone in the parish works together to make it a success. “The men help just as much as the women,” said Hunhoff. Even the children help by cleaning tables, running errands and operating a cake walk. 

The menu includes potato, chicken noodle and chili soups, taverns, hot dogs, chili dogs, homemade pies and desserts. A system has developed through the years. Parishioners meet at dawn at the parish hall to brown hamburger and peel potatoes. Thirteen Altar Society members bring a gallon of chicken broth and the deboned meat from two chickens for the chicken noodle soup. The remaining Society members make a monetary donation for the chili supplies. One Society lady grinds the carrots and celery for the chicken and potato soup. Hunhoff chops the onions — several bags of them. “Some people don’t like the job, but it doesn’t bother me.”

The recipes for the soup supper, many contributed by older church members, are kept in a special recipe box in the parish hall. “They may have been revised some over the years,” said Hunhoff. “Especially the chili and taverns since everybody has a different idea of what tastes better.”

As many as 300 people attend. “People like to come and visit, said Hunhoff. “They see people they don’t get to see often.” Charlie Wagner attends every year even though he moved to Yankton in 1974. “I go to see old neighbors,” he said. “I always find it warm and welcoming.” 


Sigel Potato Soup

Recipe by Mary Ann Kathol

8 cups diced potatoes
4 cups water
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 teaspoons chicken stock base
3 cups milk
2 cups thickening agent (recipe to follow)
1/2 cup butter or margarine 

Cook potatoes, onion, celery, carrots, pepper and chicken stock base in water until vegetables are tender. Mash to desired consistency. Add milk and blend well. Then stir in thickening agent and butter or margarine. Continue to stir over low heat until thickened.


Thickening Agent:

4 cups powdered milk
1 cup flour
1 stick softened butter or margarine

Blend well with whisk. Extra thickening agent can be frozen for later use.



08:44 am - Thu, November 1 2012
Linda said:
I like to add some pieces of left over of my husband's favorite soups.
01:04 pm - Thu, November 1 2012
Barbara said:
What would be a vegetarian version substitute for the 2 teaspoons chicken stock base?
01:53 pm - Thu, November 1 2012
Laura said:
Barbara - I've never found a vegetarian bouillion/soup base option I was that crazy about, so I'd probably substitute mushroom broth or homemade vegetable stock for some/all of the water.

Anyone else have other ideas?

I have vague memories of soup kitchens and other events in my country church's basement when I was a kid -- all that good food, and my old church lady friends bustling around the big black stove. Very good times.
11:40 am - Thu, November 8 2012

For the vegetarian, I would skip any bullion or base and not worry about a veg substitute. There is plenty enough flavorful ingredients, you will not miss the bullion.

Those using the chicken stock, it will be faint background flavor, which overall is barely discernible.

10:22 pm - Wed, March 13 2013
Kent said:
Re vegetarianism:I lived in Walla Walla in southeast Washington where there's a large Adventist population. Because Adventists are vegetarian, Andy's Market there has a lot of vegetarian foods, including a vegetarian chicken seasoning. As an omnivore, I didn't expect to see a product for vegetarians to use on what I presume to be real chicken. Maybe it was intended for Chiquen, Tofurkey, Befe, etc.Anyway, I'm sure vegetarian chicken bouillon is out there. I'm new to Rapid City and haven't toured the rest of the state yet, so I don't know where to start looking. Maybe an Adventist pastor or congregant would know. Meanwhile, you can pay $500 for airfare to fly to their market, get $10 dollars of bouillon (plus tax), then pay another $500 to fly back. That pastor referral is my only serious suggestion, unless Andy's or the manufacturer can do mail order like at (which I highly recommend).
11:37 am - Tue, January 14 2014
Bonnie Frank said:
There is a Vegetarian Soup Base in the market. Walmart has it also. This includes Beef, Chicken, and Ham. I use it all the time. It is in a jar and has to be refrigerated after opening.

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