Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In the kitchen preparing for a German dinner November 15, 2011

Barb Young preps food in the Trinity Lutheran Church/Faribault Lutheran School kitchen for Cannon Valley Lutheran High School's German dinner.

THESE DINNERS DON’T happen without lots of willing hands and hours and hours and hours of volunteers working together.

We’re talking church, school and community dinners here, and specifically Cannon Valley Lutheran High School’s second annual German Fest of Thanks and Praise.

This past weekend I got a behind-the-scenes, before-dinner peek at the effort that went into preparing a German meal for more than 200 diners. Cooking isn’t my forte, meaning I admire folks like Arlen and Suzanne Krause who always seem to be in the kitchen whenever CVLHS, based in Morristown, hosts a fundraising dinner. The Krauses love to cook and they know how to cook. I’ve suggested more than once that they open a catering business or restaurant.

Arlen Krause prepares ethnic food for the German Fest dinner.

Saturday evening, while assisting my friend Mike Young, the CVLHS volunteer development director, and my husband Randy with setting up tables and chairs for the German dinner, I occasionally popped into the kitchen to photograph progress there. The Krauses and Barb Young, who’s married to Mike, were busy mixing and stirring and slicing in the two hours I was there; they’d started around noon and labored until 9 p.m. and were back again the next morning. And I know they’d also been prepping food earlier in the week.

Beef awaited slicing and complete transformation into tender and savory sauerbraten.

The feeding-multitudes recipe for delectable bread pudding.

Bread cubes, mounded high in bowls, were baked into bread pudding.

Pans of raisin-topped bread pudding cooled on the kitchen counter Saturday evening.

Fortunately, the kitchen crew trio didn’t mind my scooting around the counters, camera in tow. I tried to stay out of their way and not ask too many questions or overstay my welcome.

But staying out of the kitchen proved challenging given the tantalizing scent of gravy bubbling in roasters, the sweet Grandma’s kitchen aroma of bread pudding baking in the oven and the pungent, nose-stinging scent of vinegar poured onto cabbage.

By the magic addition of vinegar, the cabbage color changed from blue gray to purple in the foreground. I was witness to a science experiment and cooking class rolled into one.

I am 100 percent German, after all, and perhaps my German genes were naturally drawn to these food smells of the Motherland. Either that or I was awfully hungry given the supper hour. Probably both. Homemade caramel corn, strategically placed on the serving counter, cut the hunger edge.

Vinegar, sugar and butter—lots and lots and lots of butter—were key ingredients in the ethnic foods I saw prepared. I could hardly wait to taste the complete meal Sunday evening following the German worship service.

Let me tell you, the German dinner rated as absolutely fabulous. Tender sauerbraten (savory beef and gravy) atop spaetzle (like mini dumplings); dense bratwurst mixed with sauerkraut; tangy, bacon-laced German potato salad as good as I’ve ever eaten; the perfect blend of sweet and sour in the jolt-of-color red cabbage; a nip of pepper in the tiny rounds of pfefferneusse (cookies); and to-die-for, heavenly bread pudding smothered in a buttery, sugary sauce.

The German meal: sauerbraten and spaetzle on the left, German potato salad, sweet and sour red cabbage, dinner roll and sauerkraut and brats.

CVLHS volunteer cooks and bakers—and I know more were involved than Arlen, Suzanne and Barb—thanks for one outstanding ethnic meal.

As long as I’m extending appreciation, I’d like to express a broader thanks to all those folks out there who labor behind the scenes at church, school and community dinners. I’ve been to a handful or more of these dinners this year and I have, every time, been beyond impressed with the quality of the food and the hard work that clearly is invested in such events. Well done.

CVLHS students served the German meal to attendees.

Diners enjoy the ethnic meal at the second annual CVLHS German Fest.

Kristin Sellentine, a Trinity Lutheran Church member and active in community theater, greeted guests as Katie Luther, wife of Reformist Martin Luther. Her costume hearkens from her days of acting at the Renaissance Festival.

CVLHS Development Director Mike Young, a designer at Erickson Furniture in Faribault and a floral designer, transformed the Trinity gym into a beautiful dining experience with his creative talents.

Prior to the dinner, German Fest attendees gathered in the Trinity sanctuary for a service of thanks and praise, including a performance by the CVLHS Tone Chime Choir. Hymns and prayers spoken and sung in German and English, and other musical selections, were also part of the 45-minute service.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling