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Never Enough Knoephla

Some Advice From the Folks who Frequent Doc's Cafe in Enderlin: Wednesday's the day, be Nice to Bonnie and Don't be Late, Since There's ...

Gilmour, Deneen. "Never Enough Knoephla." Forum, 16 March 1971.


Students from Enderlin High School were first to discover the knoephla soup at Doc's Cafe. They now reserve a table Wednesdays, Knoephla Soup Day, at Doc's.

Enderlin, N.D. - Alfred Dockter swings open the door of Doc's Cafe.

It's a quarter past noon, shortly after the 12 o'clock whistle unleashes the lunch rush.

Before Alfred can shed his green cap, someone in the kitchen hollers to him.

"Get back here and get your hands in the dishpan."

Moving more side to side than heel to toe, his blue-and-white-bibbed body hightails it back to the kitchen.

This is Wednesday, Knoephla Soup Day. Hungry customers have already sucked up so much soup that the cafe's out of clean bowls.

Alfred just drove down from his Goodrich, N.D., home. He'd rather slide into a booth than bend over the wash basin. But his daughter-in-law, Bonnie, has stirred up another stampede.

His wife, Pearlene, can't keep up with the deluge of dirty dishes. So Alfred becomes the fourth Dockter drafted into the kitchen brigade today. And he better swish those suds swiftly because this stampede won't let up until the soup's gone.

Fortunately for Alfred, who's in the mood to chat, the soup won't last long. Bonnie cooked up a couple kettles the size of Enderlin's water tower. But lately customers lap it up faster than waitresses can trot it to tables.

If Alfred doesn't like this "get to work" welcome, he can blame his son, Daryl, who married Bonnie, arguably the best young German cook in North Dakota.

Her family recipe has turned this town on to knoephla soup.

Bonnie is guarded about her recipe. But she is willing to list the ingredients: knoephlas (a type of dumpling), milk, cream, water and "my spices."

Daryl Dockter tries to keep up with demand for his wife's soup.

Last Wednesday hungry hordes sucked up about 12 gallons in just over an hour. Customers who showed up after 12:30 went away disappointed.

Enderlin's high school students - who started the craze in September when they discovered Bonnie's soup - know the secret is to show up early.

Cody Nelson, a senior, isn't shy about taking credit for alerting the whole town to the soup. "Me and Earl (Clay Erdmann) started coming down here and we started advertising it. All the grown-ups come now too."

A pack of about 15 students reserves the long center table at Doc's every Wednesday at 11:30. The boys order two bowls from the outset. "We'll take a tardy slip just so we can eat two bowls," says Erdmann.

"A few people, who aren't very bright, is all that's left in the (school) lunchroom," says Seth Janz. "The cooks at school always give me and Earl crap because we eat up here on Wednesdays. So the cooks at school tried to make knoephla soup one day."

Erdmann can't say how the school's soup compares to Bonnie's. "The school cooks made it on a Wednesday. We didn't try it. We ate up here."

Rachel Langer can testify, though. "The soup at school is nothing compared to this."

"If you're lucky, you can get leftovers on Thursday," says Erdmann, "but usually not because we eat it all."

The soup's reputation resulted in the Dockter's teen-age twins, Stacey and Stuart, being nicknamed "Knoephla" at school.

By 11:55 the kids have disappeared. Retirees and working people take their place.

Great-grandmother Gjerdis Green savors the noon meal with her friends Clarice Syverson and Agnes Kaber. Although Enderlin was settled by roughly half Germans, knoephla soup was unknown until the Dockters bought the cafe in September.

Alfred Dockter, the cook's father-in-law, washes dishes.

"I don't think anybody around here ever made it at home," said Agnes. "This is the first we ever tasted it, when they bought the cafe."

"Whole milk is what makes it good," says Gjerdis. "And the seasoning is perfect. It was mouth to mouth, everybody telling their neighbor how good it is ... that's what brings the crowd."

Ardeen Sveum learned of the soup craze from her bridge club buddies. She was raised on good German cooking but Wednesday provided her first taste of knoephla soup. Her husband, Ozzie, pure Norwegian, opted out. "I'll have lutefisk and lefse," he says.

The Dockters moved to Enderlin last summer from Turtle Lake. Bonnie was assistant cook at Bev's Cafe there and Daryl was public works superintendent. They had wanted to buy their own cafe for a long time.

Pearlene, who once operated the Goodrich cafe, has pretty much moved to Enderlin, too. She does most of the scratch baking - pies, rolls and cookies - for the cafe.

For the soup, Bonnie lets taste-testers guide her work. Forty to 45 cups of flour go into the knoephla dough. "When I'm just about done making the dough, Daryl and the waitresses taste it," she says. "If it's not right, they say so."

"You can buy spaetzle (which some restaurants use instead of handmade knoephlas) from food services and the salesmen say it tastes like homemade. But to me it don't," says Bonnie. "If you advertise you're selling homemade soup, then it should be homemade."

"They came and tried to sell us that stuff but they don't try anymore," says Daryl.

Bonnie and Daryl have no idea how many bowls of soup they served on Wednesday. "We were too busy to count," they said.

They have noticed, though, that Knoephla Soup Day is still growing. So far they haven't added staff. "We just move faster," she says.

And they tether Alfred to his post at the kitchen sink.

Reprinted by permission of The Forum.

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