by Ashlee De Wit
LANSING, Ill. (October 1, 2019) — Mix 190 pounds of flour with 230 pounds of sugar, 29 dozen eggs, 68 quarts of buttermilk, and 150 pounds of raisins. Add in two days and a lot of manpower hours—what do you get? At Lansing Christian School last week, they got a lot of oliebollen.
It’s pronounced OH-lee-BO-len, and it’s sometimes called a Dutch doughnut. Literally translated, the name means “oil balls”—probably why it’s still referred to in its original language. The deep-fried dough is a bit larger than a doughnut hole and coated in sugar. Raisins are typically mixed in—although at the Lansing Christian School (LCS) Fall Festival, you can purchase them plain as well.
The Fall Festival, which was held on September 27 this year, is the biggest event of the year for LCS, and oliebollen is a staple of the evening. Diane Togtman and Missy Krygsheld head up the crew that makes it. They started in 2003, making about 3,700 of these fried treats in their first year. Now they’re up to 5,000 per year.
“I remember it [the Fall Festival] as a kid; it was the best day of the year,” said Togtman, who graduated from LCS and sent her children there. “It’s all together—all generations, all one night.”
The oliebollen process starts two days before the festival, when the dough is made—then it sits in the fridge, allowing the flavors to meld.
Every batch is mixed by hand, and it is not an easy job.
“Everyone gets a 5-gallon bucket, we start at stations and go through the recipe, mixing as we go,” Krygsheld said.
Before Togtman and Krygsheld took over the oliebollen committee, the crew was made up of all women—typically a rotating group of moms with students in the school.
“We added men,” Togtman said. “Adding men to the mix was key.”
Every year, Togtman said, the men in the group talk out new ideas for mixing the batter—usually some kind of power drill or cement-mixing contraption, to make the job easier. “I tell them to toughen up, like the old Dutch ladies who used to do it,” she laughed.
When they started, both Togtman and Krygsheld had children at the school. They’ve all long since graduated, but the women still show up each year.
“We have a really good time,” Krygsheld said. “And we know that it can be tough for schools to get volunteers.”
The crew is mostly made up of regulars: about 10 people who, like Togtman and Krygsheld, keep coming back. After years of working together, they’ve gotten to know each other well. When they reunite each fall, they put in a lot of hard work, and they also have a lot of fun.
They have their own terminology, inside jokes, and matching hot pink t-shirts that claim they’ve had to “bob” for one of the oliebollen to earn the shirt. They sample the product and sing show tunes. They tell stories about the year they mixed the dough in a blackout.
Both Togtman and Krysheld’s fathers have been part of the crew, manning the sugar station together.
“Those two men were just hysterical,” Togtman said.
Krygsheld’s father has since passed away, and the group got together to make oliebollen for the funeral, surprising Krygsheld with their tribute.
The crew members aren’t just tight-knit; they’re also quite skilled. Their time in the Fall Festival kitchen has taught them some tricks and techniques, and having the same group every year keeps the quality of the oliebollen consistent.
On the morning of the festival, they gather in the kitchen, starting around 10:00am. They have a dropper, two cookers, and two “sugar-ers” working at one time.
The dough is scooped from the bowl, scraped on the side to maintain a uniform size, and then dropped into the oil. At just the right moment, it’s moved from the oil to the fry basket and—while it’s still warm—rolled in sugar. Then it’s bagged, six to a bag, and sold.
It’s hard to imagine exactly the magnitude of 5,000 oliebollen until you see it scooped into the bubbling hot oil—one spoonful at a time—from a 5-gallon bucket (one of many). The cooking process takes the team about seven and a half hours.
“We make it until we have nowhere else to go with it,” Togtman said. “We have oliebollen coming out of the rafters.”
The LCS recipe is not a secret, exactly. It’s not advertised, but the crew has shared it with other organizations that asked for it.
“We do often hear that it’s the best,” Krygsheld said.
The key is in the ingredients: they use only high-quality oil for frying and Pleasantview buttermilk, which has a higher fat content than most.
LCS has been using the same oliebollen recipe for decades. It originally belonged to Bette Bossenbroek, who was a music teacher at the school when the fall festival started in 1971.
At the time Bossenbroek shared her recipe, most students at Lansing Christian were of Dutch descent. Today, the school is more diverse. Togtman and Krygsheld have found themselves introducing oliebollen to some of the school’s newer families.
“Once they try it, they like it!” Togtman said.
Those who have been eating LCS oliebollen for years sometimes make the trek back to get some at the Fall Festival.
“Some people drive in from an hour away or more,” Togtman said.
The Fall Festival is over for this year; if you’re thinking about marking it in your calendar for 2020 in order to get some of the region’s best oliebollen, make sure you arrive on time. Sales start at 2:00pm, three hours before the festival officially begins. This year, they sold out at 6:30pm, and even auctioned off the last bag for $120—20 times the going rate.
Lansing Christian School is located at 3660 Randolph St in Lansing, Illinois. Their annual Fall Festival is typically held on the last Friday night of September.