Sauerkraut. The very word, brings to mind pungent thoughts, smells and memories. Overpowering aromas of zesty, naturally fermented cabbage – called “sour cabbage” – empowers strong reactions.
Either you love sauerkraut or you don’t.
The German-Russians who founded the town of Wishek embraced sauerkraut, holding it close to their collective hearts, so much so, that Wishek has become the self-proclaimed “Sauerkraut Capital of the World.” Every second Wednesday of October, the townspeople celebrate “Sauerkraut Day” – the day when all who come to Wishek get treated to a meal of sauerkraut with wieners and mashed potatoes. A sauerkraut feast served for free.
Wishek’s Sauerkraut Day began way back in 1925, a promotional affair of the local Commercial Club to entice shoppers. Wishek’s businessmen invited all the people from “Logan, McIntosh, and Emmons counties” to enjoy the “free sauerkraut, wieners, sandwiches, and coffee.”
It was a sweet sauerkraut success from the start, serving the cabbage delight to about 1,000 people. The unique celebration flourished through ensuing decades.
It was on this date, in 1948, that Ken Wright, a reporter for the Bismarck Tribune, wrote a story about 4,000 people attending that year.
Even though it was a rainy day, spirits were not dampened. Wishek’s Jubilee Band kicked off the day’s events with a rousing concert. Hungry visitors filed into the Wishek Auditorium, the commodious community building constructed in WPA days from local field-stones to make unwaveringly sturdy foundation walls. In that spacious auditorium, guests ate up “several barrels of sauerkraut, 500 pounds of wieners and hundreds of pounds of spare ribs.”
Events like foot races, three-legged races, and a Tug-of-War added to the fun. The team from the north side of Wishek won the Tug-of-War.
There was a nail-driving contest and a soda pop drinking contest, but the real highlight was the pie-eating competition, won, appropriately, by Victor Moench.
What is Sauerkraut Day all about? As resident Ella Beitelspacher (1920-2006) said in 1989: “I love the meal. I love the smell of sauerkraut. I’m German.”
Conversely, Harold Heupel of Eureka, South Dakota admitted, “I don’t really like the smell myself – I don’t eat sauerkraut at home, but I’ll eat it here.”
Sauerkraut Day continues annually in Wishek, the “Sauerkraut Capital of North Dakota and the World,” on the second Wednesday of October.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department
Ken Wright, “4,000 Eat ‘Kraut at Wishek Fete,” Bismarck Tribune, October 7, 1948, p. 1; “Rain No Damper on Wishek Sauerkraut Day Contests,” Bismarck Tribune, October 7, 1948, p. 14.
“Wishek Schedules Sauerkraut Day,” Bismarck Tribune, October 2, 1948, p. 3.
“Wishek Plans For Kraut Day,” Bismarck Tribune, September 29, 1927, p. 2.
“N.D. Grocer Brags About Bologna,” Argus-Leader [Sioux Falls, SD], April 27, 2003, p. 76.
“History of the Wishek Civic Center,” Wishek Home Page, http://wishek-nd.squarespace.com/, accessed on September 4, 2019.
“Aroma Spells Sauerkraut Day, [AP]” Daily Sentinel [Grand Junction, CO], October 13, 1989, p. 2.