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May 9, 2013
One of my jobs here at South Dakota Magazine is to call people to verify dates, time and activities for the events you see in each issue’s Traveler section and in our online calendar. It’s fun to talk to people and learn what’s happening around South Dakota, but every now and then, an event puzzles me. For example, do you know how to race minnows? The concept was new to me, but it’s one of the activities at the Rhubarb Festival up in Leola. So I asked Leola’s City Finance Officer, Candice Kappes, what a minnow race was. Her response? “They race minnows.”
Ok, but HOW? Minnows can’t run. You can’t mark them the same way you’d mark a turtle or a plastic duck, and I have no idea how you’d make a racecourse in a tank of water. Turns out Candice has never seen the races either, so she’s going to check them out at the festival on June 1 and let me know how it works.
When I called folks in Huron to find out about Turkey Races, I came across another stumper. I wasn’t puzzled by the races themselves — they’re simple, goofy fun designed to raise money for local causes. Two-person teams, often wearing costumes, coax live racing turkeys from the local Hutterite colony across the finish line. The group with the fastest turkey wins a $1000 nest egg. There are other activities, too — Ringer the Ringneck Pheasant and other local characters compete in a mascot race. The land ski races are similar in awkwardness to the classic sack race — four-person teams strap their feet to two 2x4s and see how far they get.
But the part that puzzled me was the fowl balls. “I’ve never heard of those before — are they some kind of turkey meatball?” I asked. There a brief moment of hemming and hawing on the other end of the line. Turns out fowl balls are the avian equivalent of Rocky Mountain oysters. Aha!
John Hott, Plant Manager of Dakota Provisions, introduced Huron to the testicular tradition. They’re known as turkey fries back in his home state of West Virginia, but acquired the “fowl ball” moniker at Sioux Falls Stadium, where they were once served during Canaries baseball games.
Hott’s ball-handling method is simple: “We cut them into bite-sized pieces about the size of a piece of popcorn chicken, then bread them and deep fry them.” Hott uses a hot and spicy Cajun seasoning to give the nut meats some pizzazz. Then they go in the deep fryer. Wait until the balls bob to the surface, then cook for another ten minutes or so. “I like to go off of the color. You want to make sure they’re a nice golden-brown color,” Hott advises. “Once they start floating, you’d think they’d be done, but obviously you don’t want to bite into a raw testicle.”
The fowl ballers are offering a new product this year. In honor of the Huron Baseball Association, recipient of this year’s race proceeds, they’ll be serving bats — smoked turkey drumsticks injected with Cajun seasoning — along with the balls. Ask for ‘em at the fowl ball stand at Turkey Races in downtown Huron on Friday, May 17.