Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A super soup competition March 14, 2011

AT HIS DAY JOB, Steve sells cars. On the side, he raises chickens on his small Minnesota acreage. He’d like to add a few pigs and cows, but he’s not versed in raising those critters.

He’s an expert gardener, though, who cans his produce. He appreciates the taste of home-grown vegetables and those farm-raised chickens.

Steve also loves to cook.

Sunday night I met Steve and sampled some of his cooking at Cannon Valley Lutheran High School’s first-ever “Soup-er Bowl” in Morristown. Loaded with hefty chunks of chicken, thick homemade noodles, carrots, celery, onion and garlic, Steve’s creamy chicken noodle soup earned him a second place finish among the 10 soups entered in the cooking competition. He deserved it. I don’t typically like chicken noodle soup, but I loved Steve’s.

I asked for the secret to the cream base. A stick of butter and half-and-half combined with the juices of his home-grown chicken, additional chicken stock, bay leaves and other spices created a savory broth. By the way, Steve appears to be the kind of guy who would rather share cooking tips than keep them secret.

Steve's chicken noodle soup is in the top left corner of this photo. The winning soup, taco chili, is next to it on the right. The other soups here are corn chowder, Mulligan stew and (I think) cheeseburger.

I don’t know how the other nine competing cooks—except the youngest cook, eighth grader Louis—felt about revealing their recipes. Louis left the recipe for his fiery green chili on a table for diners to pick up. Let me tell you, when I tasted his chili laced with hot jalapenos, I gulped lemonade.

Taco chili won the 2011 “Soup-er Bowl” trophy from among entries like Mulligan stew, cheesy wild rice, corn chowder, ultimate cheeseburger, a second chicken noodle soup and Steve’s chicken noodle soup.

The "Soup-er Bowl" trophy, awarded this year for the taco chili.

This whole idea of a “Soup-er Bowl” was the brainchild of my friend Mike, who volunteers as CVLHS acting development director. Mike is one of those guys who is always giving back to the community. He remains a strong supporter of the Lutheran high school even though his eldest son graduated from there several years ago.

Wanting to connect the congregations that are part of an association supporting CVLHS, Mike came up with the soup competition. Last weekend five of the member churches held local contests with the two top winners from each church advancing to yesterday’s finale.

Soup and chili samples were placed onto vintage metal trays for each diner.

Unfortunately, I was out of town last weekend, or I would have entered a soup. Mike has already invited me to participate next year. But after tasting all of the excellent soups and chilis on Sunday, I’m hesitant to vie against so many great cooks. I might simply remain a taster.

I love soups. Each year for the past seven, my sister Lanae has hosted an autumn soup party at her Waseca home. While she doesn’t award a trophy for the best soup, the winners are really us, the invited guests. Last year we could choose from 17 homemade soups spread out on tables in her and husband Dale’s garage. Click here to read all about her 2010 soup party.

When I heard about the CVLHS “Soup-er Bowl” gathering, I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to eat soup and support the school. For $5, diners got small samplings of each soup or chili, breads and sweet treats, along with beverages.

The party was not only a fundraiser for the school but, more importantly, an evening of fellowship, organizer Mike said.

Diners packed tables in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church fellowship hall to taste 10 soups and chilis and then vote for their favorite at the CVLHS "Soup-er Bowl" party.

He’s right. I met car salesman/chicken farmer/chef Steve when I sat at the same table as him. Now my name is on Steve’s list to contact when his chickens are ready for butchering next summer. I can already taste that delicious chicken noodle soup…

By the time I went through the line, the vintage trays had all been used, so seven soups and chilis were crammed onto an oval plate. I later picked up the remaining three to sample. My sister also uses vintage trays at her party.

HERE’S THE RECIPE for Green Chili from eighth grader Louis:

Green Chili

Brown hamburger. Separate hamburger from juice and let juice sit.

Sauté celery, white and green onions, jalapenos, cilantro, green peppers, black pepper and hamburger juice.

Put hamburger and vegetables in pan and add green tomatoes and stir until finished.

NOTE: Louis did not list specific ingredient amounts, so I guess you need to figure that out for yourself.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Part II: One hour to pack, a flood survivor’s story

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today I bring you the second in a series of stories from a survivor of the flood five months ago in Hammond, Minnesota. Tina Marlowe and her family were forced from their home on September 24, 2010.

We pick up where we left off in my last post with the family fleeing their tiny community as floodwaters rose, engulfing their home.


A flooded portion of Bridge Street (Wabasha County Road 6) on the west side of the Zumbro River in Hammond, photographed at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, September 24, 2010. The river was still rapidly rising. Photo by Susie Buck.


Ordered to evacuate, the family drove to a friend’s house in nearby Rochester and then booked a hotel room. After the river crested later that day, they returned to Hammond where the National Guard was blocking every entrance into town.

“We were told that the water had not subsided, our town was not safe, we would not be allowed back in that day, and ‘you really do not want to see what was happening to your town,’” Tina says.

But that didn’t stop Tina’s fiancé, Micheal Mann, who grabbed the family’s 35 mm camera, dogged the guard, and hiked the cemetery hill and down again as close as he could get to photograph their house.

He reported back that the water had risen, broken the bank at the bend behind their house and that the river was “flowing” down their street.


The intersection of Wabasha County Road 11 and Second Avenue in Hammond, photographed by Susie Buck at 7:45 a.m. on Friday, September 24, 2010, from her neighbor's yard. Waters are rising from the storm sewer onto the road and yards. The black Blazer is leaving Hammond on the only route out of town. By the time Susie was told to evacuate around 8:30 a.m., the route was too flooded for cars to drive through. She lost her 2008 Chevrolet Malibu in the flood.


On Saturday, the family was allowed back into their house for one hour to grab essentials and rescue their pets. I’ll allow Tina to tell you about those 60 minutes.

“When we got in we tried to grab our cat, Tigger, but he was totally freaked out. He ran to his usual hiding spot—the basement. Still full of water (with only about four steps visible), the cat hit the water hard and immediately started crying as you heard the pitter patter of his paws desperately trying to swim. Then suddenly I heard nothing. Devastated and in shock, I just watched the cat drown.

But, we only had an hour, so I had no choice but to direct my attention to the issue at hand—all the clothing, dry food, animal food, medicine, and affects that I could carry. Stuffing duffle bag after duffle bag, we were in survivor mode.

Much to our surprise, in the midst of concentrating and sobbing, there was a riotous yelp from the basement and what looked to be a large, wet rat came dashing up from the basement. Crying in relief, we caught Tigger and dried him off. Somehow he had survived his swim.

Unfortunately when we were evacuated Friday, it was chores day. Amongst other things, the fish bowl had not gotten cleaned and he subsequently died on Monday despite my efforts to keep feeding him. Hammond had no clean water and I could not bring him with us.


This photo taken by Jenny Hoffman on the morning of Saturday, September 25, 2010, shows the entrance to the basement in Susie Buck's house. Susie's basement was flooded and water rose 8 - 15 inches into her main floor. The white tote was sitting on the basement floor before the flood, but rose with the floodwaters. Three days later, when the waters receded, the tote settled back onto the basement floor. The books inside were dry. Susie lives across the street from Tina Marlowe and her family.


In the light of the situation, we quickly decided that my 16-year-old would have to quit volleyball. Not knowing what was going to be happening from day to day, or where we would live from day to day I just couldn’t even begin to figure it all out. Her friend’s mother volunteered to let Cassie live with her temporarily so she could finish out the season. Knowing how important it is to try and keep their lives as normal as possible, I agreed.

I also called the bus barn and arranged to have Christian (her 7-year-old son) picked up at the closest bus stop to Rochester and I drove my kids to that stop every day so that they could continue to go to Plainview-Elgin-Millville. On top of the nightmare we were living, I did not want to change their schools.

We lived in three different hotels until November, when we found a landlord who was willing to rent us a house on a month-to-month lease, with pets. That is an impossible task, and thank God Julie came along. It was a huge relief to move into that house in Rochester, where we stayed until we moved back home.

I cannot begin to tell you how stressful it is to live in a one-room hotel with four people, and only two burners and a microwave to cook with.”

MINNESOTA PRAIRIE ROOTS readers, I will continue to bring you Tina’s story in future posts. Please check back.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling