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By Staff | Apr 2, 2010

I understand exactly no German, so when I first heard the word “Schmeckfest” I assumed it involved a bunch of people smacking each other.

That wasn’t even close, although some smacking is involved. Lip smacking, that is.

Every spring since the Eisenhower Administration, the town of Freeman, S.D., has held Schmeckfest as a way to celebrate its local German food and culture. Especially the food.

Curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to attend this Schmeckfest event and learn more about it. Being totally ignorant of German culture, I figured I could use some assistance with putting things into context.

My wife’s grandparents spoke German, but she understands about as much of that language as I do. So we brought along Gary and Judy, who are friends of ours.

Gary is a half Lebanese, half Lutheran former farm boy who lived in Germany for two years, courtesy of the U.S. Army. Judy, his wife, is a very nice person who also happens to have a lifetime of experience in the fine art of gustation.

The four of us arrived at Freeman and went directly to the town’s museum.

That’s just the sort of wild and crazy people we are.

The museum is packed with interesting artifacts that range from ancient American Indian utensils to Indian motorcycles.

They also had an old Chevy that was very similar to a car my great-uncle Stanley owned. What does it mean when you bump into a childhood memory at a museum?

We next went to watch the sausage-making demonstration. As we entered the sausage-making area, the fragrance of fresh sausage broke over us in a delicious wave. We agreed that this was our kind of aromatherapy.

A delicacy called New Year’s Cookies were also being made in that area. My wife took one nibble of the tasty treat and nearly wept. “This so reminds me of my grandma,” she said. This is a statement that would be heard often throughout the day.

We next repaired to a gymnasium that had been converted into a marketplace filled with German stuff. Much of it was – surprise! – food.

But I also wanted to check out a presentation wherein a trio of men demonstrated three disparate German dialects by telling the tale of The Three Little Pigs.

I was able to dope out a few scattered words. For instance, I distinctly heard the word “wolf” which I assume meant “wolf”. There was also a word that sounded like “blowzen” which I surmised meant “whoosh!”

My lack of comprehension did little to diminish the pleasure of watching seasoned storytellers enthusiastically plying their trade.

Soon it was time for the main event, namely, the big evening meal. I was schmecking my lips in anticipation.

We went to the dining hall and were seated in a sea of long tables. Serving was family style; numerous bowls of food appeared and were passed down the table with brisk German efficiency.

One of the menu items was – brace yourself – sauerkraut. I have never been a fan of fermented cabbage, but thought, when in Rome … In this case, when at Schmeckfest …

The sauerkraut was wonderfully good. Perhaps all the kraut I had heretofore consumed had been an industrial product, while the stuff at Schmeckfest was the real deal – genuine, homemade sauerkraut. Gary agreed that it was the best sauerkraut he’d had since his sojourn in Germany.

And so it went with the evening’s fare. Each dish that passed under our noses was better than the last.

The kuchen was as rich as Bill Gates; the chokecherry preserves were so good, a tiny spoonful on a dinner roll could make your eyes roll back into your head.

The meal caused my wife to recall how, as a little girl, she helped her grandma prepare huge platters of sandwiches and towers of cakes and acres of cookies. They would call the men in from field and the crew proceeded to make short work of the delectables. And that was just the forenoon lunch. Dinner, or the noontime meal, was an even larger production.

We stuffed ourselves silly with heaping helpings of humble yet scrumptious homemade victuals. A brigade of grandmas began to clear the tables in their brisk, efficient German manner. A smattering of guys helped, but they stood out like a zebra in a herd of horses.

As we prepared to leave we noticed a single, glaring Schmeckfest shortfall: our bellies were so full, we found it difficult to haul ourselves up out of our chairs.

So my suggestion for improving Schmeckfest would be to provide handcarts, powered by strapping young men, to convey overstuffed diners out of the dining hall.

After all, it would make everything run so much more briskly and efficiently.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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