FREEMAN — A year after thousands of hungry people converged on Freeman for the first South Dakota Chislic Festival, organizers and vendors were preparing Friday for the next phase of an event that celebrates the regional traditional dish.
“It’s been going very, very well. Everything is falling into place like we want it to,” said Andrea Baer, vice-president of the South Dakota Chislic Festival Board and head coordinator for the vendors participating in the event.
The event will take place all day Saturday at the Prairie Arboretum complex on the south side of Freeman.
The first festival took place in July last year in Freeman, and the town and organizers were overwhelmed by the massive influx of people from around the region who arrived at the festival grounds, eager to get a taste of the local delicacy. While many left that festival hungry, Baer said the decision to move the festival from the city ballpark complex on the north side of town to the Prairie Arboretum on the campus of Freeman Academy on the south side of town should help accommodate the thousands expected to attend this year.
That’s just one part of what should make this year’s festival a success, she said.
“We listened and studied all the feedback we got last year. We took all the suggestions, had several town hall meetings to see what the town thought and what neighboring communities thought we should do and we put as many of those items into place as we could,” Baer said. “We then found this beautiful, great new venue on the edge of town that we’re loving working with. They’re giving us the space to grow and it will be a much more comfortable space for everybody.”
Chislic is generally defined as meat-on-a-stick, and while that meat has often traditionally been mutton, the definition has expanded over time to include many different kinds, including lamb, goat, beef and venison. A wide variety will be available Saturday.
Dan Stapleton, with Stapleton Concessions of the Lake Madison area, was on site Friday morning setting up his gear for the festival. His booth will be selling a number of items, including cheese curds and funnel cakes.
Of course, chislic will be on the menu, as well. He’ll be selling lamb chislic at the festival and will be running five cookers to keep up with demand. He expects to have nine people working in the booth and to have plenty of chislic to go around.
“We never want to run out,” Stapleton said. “If we run out, you’ll know it was a good turnout.”
Stapleton, a retired veteran, said he travels to similar events throughout the summer into September, but this is his first time taking part in the South Dakota Chislic Festival.
As for his choice of lamb chislic? That’s simple, he said.
“I like the tender stuff,” he said.
Nearby, Collin Waltner, Freeman, was setting up his booth with his sons, Caden and Rett. Waltner, who grew up with chislic as a Freeman native, was a volunteer at the first festival last year and saw first-hand the massive number of people that showed up for chislic.
“I was a volunteer last year driving a golf cart back and forth from the parking lot,” Waltner said. “And I couldn’t get near the parking lot.”
This year he decided to be a vendor and bring something a little different: goat chislic.
“In asking around, a number of people in Sioux Falls and Tripp told me that goat chislic is the good chislic and mutton chislic is the everyday chislic,” Waltner said.
He also raises goats with his family, so marrying the two seemed like a natural fit, he said. He’ll also be incorporating a special family dry rub in the recipe.
Like many others, he’ll be deep-frying his chislic in order to keep orders flowing quickly.
“That way I can do a dozen in 15 seconds,” Waltner said.
Members of his family will be working with him in the booth, and while they have prepared for a large crowd, judging by the attendance last year, he doesn’t expect he’ll still be serving at the end of the day Saturday.
“The best case scenario is we’ll make it halfway through Saturday if it’s constant,” Waltner said.
The South Dakota Chislic Festival Board will also have its own booth serving chislic this year, provided by The Chislic House, a local restaurant that opened this summer in Freeman. The venue specializes in chislic of all kinds, but will be focusing on mutton chislic this weekend.
“The South Dakota Chislic Festival Board will have its own booth this year, and The Chislic House is providing 1,000 dozen sticks of chislic. It has all been butchered, hand cut, stuck and packaged by Prairie-to-Plate Enterprises and The Chislic House,” Baer said.
Baer said the festival has 55 12-feet by 12-feet spaces for food vendors, and some vendors bought two or three spaces to set up their operation. There are at least another 20 non-food vendors expected to be on the premises Saturday as well, she said.
And there will be more to do than just eat chislic. A 10K, 5K and 1-mile walk/run will take place in the morning, the Heritage Hall Museum will be open to the public, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament will be held, a history on chislic by Ian Tuttle will be presented and a number of activities will take place in downtown Freeman. Live music is on the agenda, as well.
There will be something for everyone, Baer said, and she expects a good crowd will turn up.
“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback, and the feedback this year is that we’re (going to be close to last year’s attendance numbers),” she said. “There is nothing better than the sense of community in this farming area with local producers, local vendors, local providers and great entertainment for the afternoon and evening.”
A full schedule for the festival can be found at sdchislicfestival.com.