In 1857, German settlers left Iowa and headed west to Nebraska to start a new settlement on an island known by French traders as La Grande Isle, which is formed by the Wood River and Platte Rivers. The city’s claim to fame today is it hosts the Nebraska State Fair in August and is on the migratory route for sandhill cranes in the early spring.
Thousands of cranes and millions of other migratory birds use the plains along the Platte river basin to rest and fuel up on the waste grains left over from last years harvest before heading north to their breeding grounds. None of these events coincide with my visit so I do what I normally do, look for something to eat and talk to locals about unique finds.
I stop at a pop-up sweet corn roadside stand for research on another blog subject. While chatting, I inquire about unique Nebraska foods. Immediately, the young corn gal proclaims “The Runza, you gotta try a Runza”. I don’t know what surprises me more, her quick enthusiastic insistence I try a Runza or the fact I have no idea what she is talking about. I watch plenty of Food Network and I have never heard of a Runza. Have you?
Nebraska State Fare
A Runza (also called a bierock, krautburger, fleischkuche, or kraut pirok) originated in Russia during the 1800s and spread to Germany before appearing in the United States. The Germans that settle here bring the recipe with them. The Runza is a yeast dough bread pocket with a filling consisting of beef, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and seasonings. They are baked in various shapes such as a half-moon, rectangle, round, square, or triangle. In Nebraska, the Runza is usually baked in a rectangular shape.
In 1949, a fast food restaurant bearing the Runza name starts in Lincoln, Nebraska. The name is trademarked in the 60’s. Runza stores now nearing 85 are beginning to spread to neighboring states but are prolific in Nebraska.
Give ’em Fairs and Flying Circuses
Fred Schritt was born and raised in Grand Island. I learn of Fred through a chamber of commerce video that highlights his work. He is regarded as one of the community “characters”. This seems like someone I should meet.
As a young boy, he found a love for cars and decide at 14, in the 1940’s, to drop out of school to go into auto bodywork. He eventually opens his own shop and grows it to 6 bays and 18 employees.
Fred discovers he has a knack for building cars not just fixing them. Fred builds some pretty famous cars over the years. Cars, including the Apple Cart and the Purple People Eater. One year he took a couple of very expensive Lincoln’s (real cars) to a car show, along with a little cartoon airplane car he’d built. “Pretty soon everybody was leaning against my Lincoln’s looking at this airplane car” Fred recalls.
I find Fred’s shop at 503 E 4th St. His sculptures fill the lot next to his body shop. The front of the lot is a solid wall while the back is chain link fence I can peer through. It’s Sunday and I see no way into the lot. Though most everything is visible above the wall.
I return on Monday and again things seem pretty walled off and not open to the public. The sign says free viewing. I take that now to mean from the street only.
After further research, I learn that Fred passed away a couple of years ago. As an artist and supporter of the Humane Society, he left an indelible mark in the hearts and souls of Grand Island. I wish I could have met him.