IDEAL TOWNSHIP -- Ideal Township farmer Elmer Schultz knows good sweet corn when he sees it.
And the corn-on-the-cob served up at the 28th annual Ideal Beef Feed Wednesday, picked only hours earlier from Schultz's cornfield three miles away, was pretty darn good this season.
"Just about perfect," he said with a smile as he enjoyed his third helping of hot buttered corn. "I thought a couple of weeks ago it wasn't going to be ready. But it turned out pretty good."
As he has for 28 years, Schultz donates half of his six-acre corn crop to the annual fund-raiser, which raises money for the Ideal Fire Department. He was a member of the Ideal Town Board of Supervisors for 25 years and was on the board when it started the volunteer fire department 29 years ago. The following year, Schultz donated fresh sweet corn for the first beef feed and for the first couple of years, he also donated the roasted beef, for the event. He and his wife Luella, in addition to farming, have owned and operated Tip Top Resort in Ideal Township for the past 50 years. He turns 84 on Sept. 11.
"I just wanted to help the fire department," said Schultz. His son, Ron, has been an Ideal firefighter for the past 29 years while son Bruce, a 28-year veteran of the department, serves as Ideal fire chief. Schutz's grandson, Ryan, also is an Ideal firefighter.
When you're responsible for producing enough fresh corn to serve the 2,200 to 2,400 people who attend the Ideal Beef Feed, it can be an ongoing worry all summer whether the crop will turn out well. Last year beef feed organizers had to buy corn to make sure they had enough because the cool weather last summer didn't produce enough for the large, hungry crowd.
Schultz's cornfield, which is next to Crow Wing County Road 16 about three miles from the town hall, has its own irrigation system so he was able to water the corn during the recent heat wave. But the corn was slow to start growing this year and that, combined with the heat, made him concerned about the beef feed. But the hot summer days gave way to recent rainfall, giving his now 10-foot cornstalks the boost they needed to produce a good harvest for the beef feed.
"He was nervous five days ago," said Schultz's daughter, Lonna Andolshek, Crosslake.
"He's always worried about it," said son and Ideal Fire Chief Bruce Schultz with a smile as he tended to the roast beef at Wednesday's feed.
The Ideal Beef Feed, organizers said, is more than a fund-raiser. It's a community event always held the second Wednesday in August.
More than 2,000 people enjoyed fresh corn and roast beef Wednesday night at the 28th annual Ideal Beef Feed at the Ideal Town Hall. The event raises funds for the Ideal Fire Department.
In addition to all-you-can-eat corn, which was picked and shucked by Sentence-to-Serve crews and other volunteers hours before, the menu includes all-you-can-eat watermelon, as well as coleslaw, lemonade, buns and, of course, roast beef. The fire department was given a bakery oven from a former Nisswa bakery four years ago, which allows organizers to cook 500 pounds of roast beef at one time. The oven is housed in its own trailer, painted yellow with flashing lights like the rest of the Ideal fire trucks, with "Ideal Fire Department Cooker No. 1" written along the side.
The beef came from Reed's Market in Crosslake, but the secret to the department's well-loved slow-cooked roast beef is in the seasonings, a recipe passed down to firefighter Dan Chisholm, who has served on the department for 24 years. Firefighters started cooking the beef at 5:30 a.m. before the beef feed began at 4 p.m. They served 1,800 pounds of beef.
What does it take?
For the past 28 years, the Ideal Volunteer Fire Department has hosted its annual Ideal Beef Feed.
Here's a glimpse at how much food it takes to feed the fire department's hungry 2,200 to 2,400 supporters who attend the annual fund-raiser:
About 800 to 900 dozen ears of corn, donated by Ideal Township farmer Elmer Schultz.
Nearly one ton of beef, or 1,800 pounds.
7,080 pats of butter for buns and about 30 gallons of melted butter for corn.
Chisholm said he won't divulge the secret recipe, not even to other members of the fire department. He plans to retire within a few years and joked Wednesday he's not sure who to pass down the recipe to since it's unlikely any other firefighters can keep a secret.
"It guarantees my job," said Chisholm, of being the keeper of the recipe.
Many beef feed patrons stand along the sidelines and watch the firefighters work fast to feed the crowd. They use large nets to pull the fresh corn out of the large water tanks. The event seats 900 people, and children of firefighters and other young volunteers travel quickly from table to table, delivering fresh corn and watermelon.
"Everybody says you can't serve 2,400 people in four hours, but we do it in less time," said Bruce Schultz. "We've got it down to a science."
Rich Harris, a former volunteer firefighter with the Ideal Fire Department, used a large net Wednesday to scoop corn-on-the-cob out of the fire department's water tanks at the Ideal Beef Feed.
"It's become such a community event," said Tom Johnson, a lieutenant with the fire department. "People schedule their trips up here during the beef feed at the local resorts. It's become part of Ideal's culture."
Johnson said it has never rained during the beef feed.
"God loves firefighters," he explained.
Twice in 28 years Ideal firefighters have received a fire call during the beef feed. Both were false alarms. Johnson said they have a small group of firefighters located in positions where they have easy access to the trucks. While Crosslake and Pequot Lakes fire departments are not officially on standby, they are ready to move if they hear the Ideal Fire Department receive a call, said Johnson.
"But we are prepared for it," he said.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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