EVANSVILLE – Unpack your Lederhosen and limber up for the chicken dance, Evansville, and get ready to feast on kraut balls and pig knuckles.
It’s Volksfest time.
Every year, the first weekend in August sees more than 8,000 people head to the Germania Maennerchor on Fulton Avenue to get their fill of bratwurst, pig knuckles, German potato salad and those beloved kraut balls.
Volksfest began in 1934, but World War II caused it to be shelved from 1941 until 1962. (A member told the Evansville Courier in 1992 that “no one wanted to play German anymore” during those years.)
It’s happened every year since, except for 2020 (thanks, COVID).
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There’s so much to enjoy about the festival, from the polkas to the chicken dance to the Alphorns, but the center of the show is undoubtedly the food.
OKAY. The beer, too.
Harold Griese is 90 years old and still going strong as media chairman for the Germania Maennerchor, and he shared some information on those special recipes.
Germania’s bratwurst recipe came from Evansville butcher Engelhard “Butch” Sunkel.
“Butch was an old butcher who came over from Germany,” Griese said. “I have owned the White Front Grocery on Delaware and Baker. It was a German neighborhood — everybody swept their walks and kept everything clean like they always do. I worked there when I was a kid. He’d get me on Saturday and say in his broken English ‘I want you to work tomorrow, forget church,’ and we’d go in to clean. I scrubbed the floor in the sausage kitchen, it was white, and I kept it immaculate. Farm Boy makes it for us now using that same recipe.”
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The brats, all 2,000 pounds of them, are first cooked in a huge vat, then browned on Butch Sunkel’s old grill, then packed in foil-lined coolers to steam until they’re brought in to be served on the line.
“We have to start ordering knuckles as soon as the fest is over to build up enough of a supply for the next year,” Griese said.
Since more than 1,500 pounds are served and there are only four knuckles per pig, that makes sense. For those not familiar, a pig knuckle is basically the same thing as a ham hock, but they are not smoked.
“The pig knuckles are really an art and they are the hardest thing to cook,” Griese said. “They come fresh, and we bring them in salt, sugar and acid, and it sits there for two weeks or more. It’s the old recipes the guys have always used. We put them in the big watts and heat it just to where you see the first bubbles come up to cook them slow. You have to turn them with the wooden paddle and you really have to know how to do it. We start at 4 am in the morning to get them ready for lunch.”
german potato salad
The women of the club make the German Potato salad, starting with 1,000 pounds of potatoes, all of them hand-peeled and sliced.
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“It’s funny to see them make it the potato salad because the new ones come in and they watch the old ones, and each one’s got their little peeler. The old ones are all watching everyone to make sure the right stuff is going in and they’re real particular.”
One entire day is spent frying bacon for the German potato salad. It has a sweet and sour dressing with celery and red peppers and is served cool.
The white beans are made with dry beans soaked overnight and long-cooked with ham and a little something extra.
“The beans go in the big vats. Then they put some of the juice from cooking the pig knuckles in there,” Griese confided.
Last but far from least, these golden nuggets are made with a secret recipe that originally came from a German club in Louisville.
They are a more recent addition to the Volksfest menu, coming on in the early 2000s. The balls incorporate a mixture of crumbled sausage, cream cheese and sauerkraut with spices and flavorings. This mixture is hand-rolled rolled into balls, breaded and deep fried to serve hot. The volunteers at Germania make about 14,000 of them for Volksfest, and almost twice that many for the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival booth in October.
Germania Maennerchor Volksfest
- When: 11 am, Thursday, Aug. 4 – 11 pm, Saturday Aug. 6, opening daily at 11 am for lunch
- Cost: $5 admission after 4 pm Food and beer separate.
- Where: Germania Maennerchor, 916 Fulton Ave.; 812-422-1915.
Contact Aimee Blume at firstname.lastname@example.org