Freeman, South Dakota recently celebrated the 57th annual Schmeckfest.
The longstanding tradition began in 1959, when the Freeman Junior College Women’s Auxiliary planned a dinner featuring traditional cuisines of the Mennonite communities in the area — the Swiss, Low Germans, and Hutters. The event was wildly popular and became an annual festival, eventually incorporating demonstrations of traditional Mennonite cuisine and crafts, concerts and musical theater, lectures and presentations on Mennonite culture and — what started it all — the dinners.
“Schmeckfest brings the community together, helps raise money for Freeman Academy, and provides a way for us to pass traditions and values down to the next generation,” says Vernetta Waltner, who serves on the executive committee for the event and as a Development Director at Freeman Academy.
Demonstrations include sausage-making, where Mark Tschetter operated the meat grinder…
and added the special spice mix.
Les Rensink operated the sausage stuffing machine.
After sausages were stuffed, some were placed in the smoker.
Traditional New Year’s cookies were fried and and then dipped in sugar
June Pullman (second from left) is known as Queen of the Cheese Pockets, themselves also known as shootenkrapflen, which is itself a Mennonite update on the traditional name of varaniky. They're made with a stuffing of dry curd cottage cheese, fried onions and bread crumbs, rolled in dough then boiled and fried. Jennifer Tschetter (second from right) was keeping up with on the job training in the art. “I married into this neck of the woods, and I really appreciate the heritage so I’m trying to learn it.” She was in the right place with help from June, Maria Ries (left) and Gertie Graber (right).
Adeline Friesen and her daughter, Carolyn Waltner, demonstrated traditional noodle-making.
Julian Broadland operated the pfeffernusse machine. The miniature cookies, flavored with anise, have a unique shape and taste.
Jade Koerner made fruit pockets.
Susan Schrag showed a rapt audience how to make poppy seed rolls.
At the Heritage Hall Museum, there were demonstrations in yarn spinning, using dyed corriedale wool and alpaca, by Allen Schmidt; basket-weaving with willow by Vicki Graber, and hands-on ropemaking for the younger crowd.
Whether you have never encountered the Mennonite cultures of South Dakota or you can make shootenkrapflen in your sleep, there are less enlightening ways you could spend a weekend. If you missed this year's Schmeckfest, number 58 is a pretty safe bet for next year.