Firefighters serve meatballs at Dickens Village Festival
GARRISON—The Garrison volunteer city and rural fire departments (GFD) do more than deal with fires and emergencies.
For more than four decades, the fire department has centered its major fundraising around a secret buffalo Swedish meatball recipe, first created for the annual February Buffalo Feed and Dance. “We’ve been blessed through the years with guys that like to cook,” admitted GFD Chief Bruce Schreiner.
When Garrison’s Dickens Village Festival began in 1994, the firefighters joined an array of non-profit organizations as street food vendors for another fundraising opportunity. They sell food on the street for the three weekends of the festival in November and December. They don Victorian-era garb and make buffalo Swedish meatballs.
In recent years, the firefighters have also started pickling Lake Sakakawea walleye in 16-ounce jars. Schreiner admits it’s difficult to say which is more popular because pickled walleye is something different, “I think with the walleye, it’s just the uniqueness of it and to be honest, it’s just so much better than pickled herring.”
While they sell pickled walleye throughout the year, their buffalo Swedish meatballs are only available during the Dickens Village Festival and the February Buffalo Feed. Schreiner estimates they sell about 350 to 400 jars of pickled walleye and go through about 150 to 200 pounds of buffalo meat for meatballs during the festival.
Typically, street food connoisseurs get at least five meatballs per serving at the festival, which Schreiner describes are roughly about the size of a ping-pong or golf ball. “Everybody just enjoys their meatballs,” he added.
The hugely popular buffalo meatball recipe remains a secret. Only a select few firefighters know what it is. Schreiner said his late father, Cletus, late Fire Chief Don Huettl, and fellow firefighter Wade Graeber were instrumental in creating the first buffalo roast and Swedish meatballs fundraising event and also instilled in him the desire to serve in the department.
Schreiner has been Fire Chief since 1993 and is one of many Garrison area firefighters involved with cooking and serving at the Dickens Village Festival since its beginning. “I’ve always enjoyed the whole festival. It’s one of those events that’s so different from everything else…it’s like a street fair in November and December,” he added.
The tradition of making buffalo Swedish meatballs and pickled walleye – along with other food-related fundraisers like the fire department’s walleye fish fry or pancake breakfast – helps the volunteer organization raise money. However, Schreiner said it benefits the department in another way, “We work very hard when we’re in an emergency situation. This is a way to work together and have camaraderie and teamwork without the stress.”
Look for the Garrison Fire Department cart outside of the North Dakota Firefighter’s Museum during the final weekend of Garrison’s Dickens Village Festival Dec. 10 and 11. Street food vendors begin at 4:30 p.m. and serve until their food runs out.
For a full list of events and activities, visit the Dickens Village Festival’s website.