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Plans underway for first-ever South Dakota Chislic Festival

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Event coming to Freeman's Main Street the evening of Saturday, July 28

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Plans for Freeman to host what will be the first-ever South Dakota Chislic Festival this summer received the support of city officials as the Freeman City Council met Monday, May 21.

The idea for a chislic festival comes from Joshua Hofer, who is Freeman’s development and marketing coordinator and has been discussing the concept with a handful of community representatives in recent weeks. The event is a partnership between the Freeman Community Development Corporation and the Heritage Hall Museum and Archives. 

In a news story released Tuesday, Hofer said the festival will take place on Freeman’s Main Street on July 28 from 4 p.m. to dusk and revolve around a judged chislic competition, with top-ranked chislic recipes receiving cash prizes and trophies. The event will also feature craft beer from across the state, as well as a variety of other activities.

Hofer came to the city Monday to request permission to close several blocks of Main Street to enable making the festival a downtown event. While the council was supportive, there was considerable discussion about logistics, the council OK’d closing Main between the north side of Fourth Street north to the north edge of the property that was the site of the Schamber building, now owned by the FCDC. The city also approved closing short portions of Third Street immediately east and west of Main; the alleys between Main and Juniper and Main and Poplar will remain open.

Hofer’s interest in promoting chislic got a boost earlier this year when the South Dakota Legislature passed Senate Bill 96 this week, designating chislic the official state “nosh,” an old German word meaning “snack.” 

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Stace Nelson, represents Hutchinson County and was inspired to take up the chislic cause after the popularity of a story about chislic in the Dec. 31, 2017 Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

That article noted, “the little town of Freeman in Hutchinson County, population 1,306, is considered the chislic capital of America. It’s the center of what’s sometimes called the “Chislic Circle.” 

Councilor John Munkvold was among city officials voicing support for the project Monday night.

“This brings people to town,” he said. “It’s good to see people putting on events to make this town better.”

Chislic, for the non-initiated, is bite-sized chunks of sheep meat on wooden skewers, deep-fat fried or grilled. While details of the origins are sketchy, there is general agreement that chislic can be traced to Hutchinson County, which saw a wave of Germans-from-Russia immigrants in the 1870s. Commonly believed historical accounts suggest that Russian immigrant businessman John Hoellwarth introduced it in Freeman.

An article in South Dakota Magazine in the summer of 2005 and authored by Rich Preheim, who grew up in Marion, offers a bit of historical perspective.

“The Hoellwarths arrived in Hutchinson County in the 1870s from the Crimea of southern Russia, a region where “shashlyk,” cubes of skewered beef, lamb or pork, were grilled over an open fire. Chislic probably evolved from shashlyk, according to Darra Goldstein, editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture and food editor of Russian Life magazine. But she and other food experts are not familiar with the South Dakota version.”

In that same article, Preheim writes, “Open a map of South Dakota, place the point of a protractor on Freeman, on U.S. Highway 81 a couple of inches north of Yankton, and draw a circle with a radius representing about 30 miles. That is the Chislic Circle, the home of a culinary curiosity.

“For decades a mainstay at cafes, bars, fairs and celebrations, it historically has been enhanced only by salt or garlic salt and served with saltines and, if you are so inclined, washed down with a cold beer. Recent years have seen the introduction of chislic in various marinades and with various sauces.”

Hofer’s efforts to establish the South Dakota Chislic Festival in Freeman blend the appeal of chislic as a local delicacy and its historic roots here. 

“The South Dakota Chislic Festival is a fantastic example of placemaking and catalyzation of story to inspire community and economic development,” said Hofer. “The legend of chislic in South Dakota is strong, and being positioned at the epicenter of that activity, we couldn’t be more excited to bring chislic to the world.”

Hofer said more details about the chislic festival will be announced in the weeks to come.