Oodles of Noodles

Hoffman, Susan. "Oodles of Noodles." Daily Republic, 19 March 2002.

FREEMAN, SD - Anyone who has ever cooked a batch of pasta knows how hard it can be to come up with exactly the right amount of noodles.

But members of the Freeman Academy Women's Auxiliary have learned after many years of noodle-making for the annual Schmeckfest celebration that there is no such thing as too many noodles - especially when the noodles are homemade.

"We never have enough," said Arlyss Brockmueller, a member of the Auxiliary and one of seven women on the noodle committee.

Schmeckfest, set for April 4-6, is Freeman's annual fundraiser for the Freeman Academy. Schmeckfest is a celebration of ethnic food, traditional crafts and music celebrating the cultures of the three ethnic groups that settled the Freeman area - the Hutterites, Low Germans and Schweitzer Mennonites.

"The Freeman Academy Auxiliary has organized and produced this festival for 44 years," said Marlan Kaufman, president of Freeman Academy. "The funds that come from Schmeckfest help to fund the general budget of the school."

This year's Schmeckfest will feature evening meals, as well as the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Carousel," which will be presented Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, and during a special afternoon matinee on Sunday, April 7.

Approximately 26 Auxiliary members spent Monday making noodles to sell in the Schmeckfest Country Kitchen. Noodle soup also is served during the Schmeckfest's family-style evening meals.

"These are strictly to sell," Brockmueller said. "There are other people who are assigned to make homemade noodles for the meal."

Each evening during Schmeckfest, approximately 1,000 people dine in the basement of Pioneer Hall on the Academy campus. "They serve a thousand guests every night for three nights," Kaufman said. "We're probably looking at close to 5,000 people that would be here in a three-day period."

Auxiliary members usually devote two or three days prior to Schmeckfest to making noodles to sell. It takes about 230 pounds of flour and three cases of eggs to make the noodles.

The Auxiliary hopes to have at least 300 pounds of noodles ready to sell.

The noodles are packaged in one-pound bags. Demand for the noodles is so high that patrons are only allowed to purchase 5 pounds per person. "It takes so terribly many noodles to make a pound," Brockmueller said. "There's no weight to noodles. They dry and there's nothing there."

The process of making noodles involves several steps. First, the dough is mixed in a giant, commercial mixer, then kneaded to just the right texture and rolled out into thin strips, which are laid out to dry.

After just the right amount of time, the dough is ready to be cut. "If they're (the strips of dough) too dry, it doesn't work very well. They break and they don't go through very well. If they're too wet, they stick," said Gertie Graber.

The cut noodles are then laid out on tables where they are gently turned after a period of time. The noodles must be allowed to dry for a couple of days so they don't get moldy when placed in plastic bags to be sold.

In addition to the homemade noodles, the Country Kitchen features a variety of German treats for sale. "(It's) all local home-grown and home-prepared items," Kaufman said. "They have little things called fruit pockets, kuchen, poppyseed rolls, cheese pockets."

The entire Academy campus is transformed during Schmeckfest into a bustling venue for demonstrations ranging from soap making, to weaving, to stories told by local historians.

The quality of the musical production often rivals that of those put on by troupes of traveling professionals, according to Kaufman. "It's just an amazing pool of talent that's in this area," he said.

A small percentage of the money raised during Schmeckfest is also used by the Auxiliary to upgrade and maintain the school's kitchen in Pioneer Hall. The Auxiliary also donated money to assist with the hall's lobby renovation that is currently being completed. "They're considering a new sound system and new stage curtains," Kaufman said.

Those planning to attend Schmeckfest are advised that the evening meals and musical often sell out. "The evening meal is by advanced tickets only," Kaufman said. "The meal tickets are sold out for Friday and Saturday and very few are left for Thursday."

There are a few general admission tickets available for the musical. "All reserved seats for the musical are sold out on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There are a few remaining for the Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.," he said.

Kaufman said Schmeckfest is a great example of community spirit.

And even though many of the volunteers who help organize the festival are getting on in years, it's still worth every day spent making noodles, cheese buttons, or homemade sausage.

"It's still pretty good," Brockmueller said. "There may be a different story in five to 10 years from now. I feel as long as that many ladies are willing to come, it's worth the effort."

Reprinted with permission of The Daily Republic.

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