Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What would you do with this old bakery in Lamberton? May 31, 2012

The former Sanger’s Bakery in Lamberton, a Minnesota farming community. I’d move the garbage bin in front of the building, replace it with a bench and add pots of vivid flowers.

I’VE PHOTOGRAPHED many an old building in a lot of small towns. My appreciation for history and architecture and for rural life keep drawing me back to Main Street.

One building in particular intrigues me. The former Sanger’s Bakery, a brick stronghold anchoring a corner in downtown Lamberton in southern Redwood County, possesses a sweet, timeless charm that causes it to stand out.

How long has this signage been painted on the front window of Sanger’s?

It’s not necessarily the exterior that catches my eye, although certainly the signage and sweeping arched front window and the fancy details in the brick appeal to me. Rather, it’s the interior which truly captures my interest.

The two times I’ve photographed the exterior, I’ve also paused to press my nose against the windows and peer inside to a snapshot of the past. You would swear the hands on the vintage 7-UP clock have not moved in decades. An old-fashioned candy counter and vintage lunch counter rimmed with stools look like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

A vintage sign suspended from the front of the bakery.

Honestly, you just don’t find places like this anymore. Martin Kuhar opened the bakery in 1928. The Sanger family purchased it in 1946 and eventually Bob, the youngest of Nick and Mary’s six children, bought the business in 1961. He was a 1955 graduate of the baking program at Dunwoody Institute.

All of this I learned on a recent stop at the bakery, where I found Bob’s obituary taped to the front door. He died March 30.

Just days before his death, this long-time baker was serving coffee to his friends. Oh, how I wish I could have been in that coffee klatch, listening to the stories.

I bet Bob would have shared plenty about the place where he served up baked goods, hand-scooped ice cream cones, malts and candy. He baked buns for local schools and churches and crafted wedding cakes. He also sold fresh eggs from his chickens and honey from his bees. He tended a garden.

After reading Bob’s obit, I desired even more to get into the bakery. I jiggled the front door knob, hoping the door might be unlocked. It wasn’t. I’m determined, on my next trip to Lamberton, to get inside the bakery, to share with you this treasure from the past.

In the meantime, owners of this building and Lamberton area residents, I hope you appreciate what you have here. I could easily see this former bakery reopened as an ice cream/sandwich/pie/coffee/gift shop. The location along U.S. Highway 14 only 10 miles from Walnut Grove, childhood home of author Laura Ingalls Wilder, is ideal. The area already draws plenty of tourists during the summer months.

The right owner, with the right ideas, a good business and marketing plan, and adept at using social media could turn this old bakery into a destination.

I can envision the possibilities.

Readers, what do you think? If anyone out there knows anything about plans for the old bakery, submit a comment. Or, if you simply have ideas, I’d like to hear those, too.

A side shot of the former bakery. Just imagine the possibilities for this spacious building. Let’s hear your ideas.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Rewarding academic success May 30, 2012

I’M GOING TO HAVE a proud mama moment today. So please indulge me. But my youngest, my only son, graduates in a few days and I am especially proud of his academic accomplishments.

Last Thursday my husband and I attended Senior Awards Night at Faribault High School where graduating honor students were recognized and scholarships awarded.

Although the guidance office had notified me that Caleb was receiving a scholarship, I didn’t know specifics. Reading through the list of scholarships on the printed program, I couldn’t figure out which one he was getting.

That’s my son, the tall one third from the left, receiving a $1,000 Faribault Falcon Scholarship Fund Scholarship from Marjorie Helmer. (Excuse the photo quality; I shot without flash in a dark auditorium.)

But when Cheryl J. Freund, former school district curriculum director, explained the selection process behind awarding of the $1,000 Faribault Falcon Scholarship Fund Scholarships, I knew. The scholarship recipients, she said, were chosen based on ACT test scores and grade point averages. It mattered not whether you played sports, served your community, participated in theater or anything. The scholarship was solely, unequivocally, for academic achievement.

Thank you, Faribault Falcon Scholarship Fund committee for that sole focus on ACT scores and GPAs. Thank you.

Caleb performed exceptionally well on his college entrance exam and has a near 4.0 GPA.

Freund prefaced awarding of the scholarships by stating: “This is one of the best groups of scholars I’ve seen in my career.”

Now I’d like to take some genetic credit for my son’s intelligence. But since he excels in mathematics and science (my weaknesses) and has to work a bit harder at English (my strength), I cannot claim credit for his academic success. I’ve never been the type of parent to check his homework or read his papers or such—except encourage him and bug him about completing assignments. I’m just not that kind of hands-on homework helping parent. Like he ever needed my help anyway.

I suppose, though, that the emphasis I placed on reading through-out Caleb’s formative years and even today, did factor into his success in school. My teen is a voracious reader—for the enjoyment of reading and for the purpose of learning. He has taught himself so much by reading on his own, not because I told him to read or because he was assigned reading for a class, but because he wanted to learn more.

My son’s also had some engaging and encouraging teachers in the past few years as he’s taken a rigorous course of advanced and college level classes in subjects like physics, calculus, composition, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and more. I expect Caleb will have nearly a year of college credits when he begins classes later this summer at North Dakota State University.

Just last Friday he took a College-Level Examination Program test in chemistry for which he’ll receive four college credits. He was the only student taking the test at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and only the second student to have taken the CLEP chemistry exam there, according to the examiner.

Caleb’s academic achievements and self-initiated pursuits in computer technology also earned him a Presidential Scholarship, an Entrepreneurial Scholarship and entrance to the Honors Program at NDSU. About a third of his college costs will be covered by scholarships. As part of the Entrepreneurial Scholarship, he will work and volunteer in the university’s technology incubator. What an incredible opportunity to learn and to network.

In 2 ½ months, my 18-year-old leaves home to further his education, working toward a degree in computer or electrical engineering. I have no doubt Caleb will continue to approach education as he always has, with enthusiasm and with a strong desire to learn.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Honoring our soldiers at a rural Minnesota cemetery May 29, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:46 AM
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Walking into the Cannon City Cemetery for a Memorial Day program.

CANNON CITY on Memorial Day is about as grassroots Americana as you’ll get.

Here locals and those rooted to this land gather in a country cemetery for an annual observance which began some nine decades ago as “Decoration Day.”

The cemetery entrance.

While a Death March and marching students and lilac wreaths and a school picnic are no longer a part of the observance, it remains firmly patriotic, firmly established as a tradition in unincorporated Cannon City near Faribault.

I came here with my husband on Monday because we’d come here last Memorial Day and were so impressed and moved by the experience that we wanted to attend again.

A snippet of those gathered for Monday’s program, including Jean Pederson, seated left, who recited “In Flanders Fields,” and others who led the program.

It is the simple, unpretentious, down-to-earth patriotic feel of this under-the-trees, between-the-tombstones, informal program that appeals to me.

Here Steve Bonde blasts “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” and 40 voices sing “America, the Beautiful,” “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Don Chester sets up his guitar and music before the program.

You cannot help but feel connected to your fellow Americans and to those who fought for freedom while you stand here, wind whipping song sheets, singing “Let music swell the breeze, ring from all the trees Sweet freedom’s song…”

All eyes are on the American flag.

You cannot help but feel American pride as you place your hand across your heart, turn your eyes toward the American flag flying high above the cemetery gate and recite “The Pledge of Allegiance.”

A star marks a veteran’s grave.

You cannot help but ponder the deep sorrow of families, the sacrifices of so many as the names of soldiers are read: Samuel, Ezekiel, William, Walter…

Kathleen Kanne plays a soulful song by J.S. Bach.

You cannot help but sense the spirits of the dead as 18-year-old Kathleen Kanne slides a bow across her violin in a soul-touching rendition of “Gavotte in G Minor” by J.S. Bach.

And then as Kathleen reads a tribute she’s written, you contemplate the wisdom of her words: “Cannon City Cemetery is a patch of land that lives because of the dead.”

And later, when you talk to this college freshman, you admire her determination to become more involved with the cemetery association after attending the Memorial Day service for the first time in 2011. She was visiting her father’s grave then—he died unexpectedly at age 58—and was impressed enough by the program to return and participate.

You cannot help but appreciate Cannon city native Jean Pederson who presents a history of “In Flanders Fields” before reciting “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow between the crosses row on row…”

One of many soldiers’ graves in this cemetery. Twenty-two Civil War soldiers are buried here.

You cannot help but feel grateful for freedom as Cannon City Township Board member Preston Bauer, on the spot, steps up to read The Gettysburg Address: “…these dead shall not have died in vain.”

You cannot help but place yourself in the shoes of a young soldier at war as Deb Moriarity reads the “Soldier’s Psalm,” Psalm 91: “…He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day…”

Steve Bonde, right in the distance, plays the taps.

Then, as Steve Bonde, stands at the edge of the cemetery next to a tilled field and closes the program with the mournful sounding of taps, you cannot help but feel a deep sense of grief rush over you in remembrance of all who sacrificed themselves for their country, for freedom.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In gratitude to our veterans for protecting our freedom May 28, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:28 PM
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The annual Memorial Day parade proceeds along Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

MY HUSBAND AND I TOOK in the annual Memorial Day parade in Faribault this morning. The parade, as it always does, featured military personnel and horses and old cars and marching bands and a fire truck and kids waving flags.

Flag-waving from an old pick-up truck during the parade.

Typically we sit in the same spot on a street corner so I am assured of a wide open view to photograph the event. But this year, attempting to gain a fresh, photographic perspective on the parade, we opted for another location.

Let’s just say that things did not work out too well for us at that spot.

I’m going to take the high road here, though, and not go into details which would publicly embarrass an individual who already embarrassed himself by shouting across the street at my husband. He later walked across the street and apologized to both of us.

As I ponder that incident, the one positive I can take from the experience is this:

We are blessed to live in a country where freedom of speech is protected.

I wasn’t, of course, thinking this at the time the angry words were fired toward us. But, in retrospect, it seems the appropriate thought to have on this day when we honor those who have fought for freedom.

Several military vehicles were in the parade along with color guards and honored veterans.

Checking out the candy scooped up during the parade.

The Scouts handed out flags to parade attendees like this little girl.

I upped the contrast on this image because I wanted to emphasis the beautiful blanket on that horse.

After the parade…

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thirty entertaining minutes at the swap meet & flea market May 26, 2012

THIRTY MINUTES. That’s all the time my husband and I had to shop at the 13th annual Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Swap Meet & Flea Market this morning before the rain rolled in.

Despite the hurried pace under threatening gray skies, I managed to snap enough photos to present you with a still-life infomercial designed for your amusement, education and entertainment.

An old wind-up toy that caught my eye.

Let’s start in the TOY DEPARTMENT where vintage toys abound.

The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe toy.

Moving on to the CHILDREN’S CLOTHING DEPARTMENT, meet model Mady modeling a fashionable frog hat purchased from a vendor.

Isn’t this 5-year-old simply too cute? Now what’s that fairy tale about kissing frogs and princes and…, oh, never mind, Mady doesn’t need to hear that story yet.

But I bet Howard from Farmington, over in MEN’S APPAREL could tell plenty of stories. He looks like a character. I can see it in his eyes, in the wrinkled folds of his face, in that beer cap he says garners plenty of attention. He’s a retired highway department employee, farmer, bus driver and cattle truck driver. And he once worked at a creamery.

That’s a good lead-in to the DAIRY DEPARTMENT, where I found these vintage milk bottles. Examine the one on the right. The City Dairy in St. Paul sold milk that was “Safe for Baby.” What a novel idea. Then slide your eyes over to the left. What is Velve “D” MILK and Mello “D” Milk for HEALTH?

OK, as long as I’m asking questions, have you ever heard of Heatwole, Minnesota (red button on lower right)? Even I haven’t, and I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about Minnesota communities. It’s apparently one of those ghost towns, located several miles south of Hutchinson. That’s your geography lesson for the day.

Tables and tables and tables of hardware and tools and more.

If you’re in need of tools and such, the swap meet and flea market features a massive HARDWARE SECTION. Men will most definitely savor shopping here. Enough said.

Need a shovel?

If you can’t find it on a table, Howard might have it in the back of his pick-up.

Need a 1915 combine? Yes, this would be one.

For the man who has everything, this 1915 International Harvester combine can be purchased for $800. I know. I know. It’s perhaps a bit difficult to envision this as anything but a heap of scrap metal. But if the right guy comes along…

Three duct tape dressed dolls on a pick-up. Strangest thing you ever saw.

And, finally, as we scurried through the rain toward the car, this pick-up truck pulled into the grass parking lot. Now, what do you make of those duct tape dressed dolls lashed onto that truck?

FYI: The swap meet and flea market continues from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines grounds three miles south of Northfield on Minnesota State Highway 3. A tractor pull is set for 9 a.m. Admission is free. A pretty good deal, I’d say, for all that entertainment.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Memorial Day: Greater love has no man (or woman)… May 25, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:16 AM
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A soldier statue at the Northfield Area Veterans Memorial at Riverside Lions Park in Northfield.

WAR. It is easy to distance ourselves, to forget. Out of sight, out of mind.

But when war becomes personal—when a close loved one is serving his/her country, then the perspective changes. War weaves into lives with threads of fear and uncertainty, with distraction and unease, with life lived always on the cusp of “when the soldier returns home.”

I’ve never lived that life in the present. But I have experienced it in the past, in the afterward of war. My father fought on the front line during the Korean War. Battle forever changed him. How could it not? If you killed someone close enough to see the whites of their eyes, how would you feel? Even if you understood the choice, kill or be killed?

My father, Elvern Kletscher, left, with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

My dad lived with the demons of war—the nightmares, the flashbacks of buddies blown apart on the battlefield, the memories of hunger and cold and the digging into foxholes and a sniper picking off members of his platoon and mortar rounds winging toward him.

There is no glory in war or in violent death on the battlefield.

My dad carried home a July 31, 1953, memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe.

Sonny Nealon, Ray’s best friend in high school, sent me this photo he took of his friend Ray’s gravestone. Ray was killed by a mortar round on June 2, 1953, the day before he was to leave Korea and return home to his wife and six-week-old daughter in Wollbach, Nebraska. My dad witnessed his buddy’s death.

On this Memorial Day weekend, let us remember, not war, but the men and women who served their country. Remember them as individuals—as sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles…

Honor them. Respect them. Thank them for giving of themselves to preserve and protect our freedom.

Long-time Cannon City resident Bob respectfully removes his cowboy hat during the playing of taps at the 2011 Memorial Day service at the Cannon City Cemetery. If you want to experience a simple and moving program in a rural cemetery, attend this one at 2 p.m. Monday at Cannon City (near Faribault).

An in-ground marker honors my father, Elvern Kletscher, a Korean War veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart, for wounds he suffered at Heartbreak Ridge in Korea.

And if they are no longer living, like my dad, honor them by visiting their grave sites or a veterans’ memorial or by attending a Memorial Day service or parade. That is the very least we can do to express our gratitude.

An eagle at the new Veterans Memorial Park in Morristown. The memorial will be dedicated at 3 p.m. Saturday.

TO READ A STORY I wrote about my Dad’s service in Korea, click here. The story was published by Harvest House Publishers in 2005 in the book, God Answers Prayers: Military Edition, edited by Allison Bottke.

HOW WILL YOU HONOR veterans this Memorial Day?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Color my world with flowers May 24, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:21 AM
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Tables packed with colorful flowers fill the Faribault Garden Center.

HOT PINK, royal purple, bold orange, golden yellow, pale peach…seemingly every imaginable hue blankets the greenhouse in a riotous patchwork quilt of blossoms.

I stand there. Blissful. Smiling. Taking it all in.

How can I possibly choose where to aim my camera first, which blossom to dip my nose into, which plant to admire?

Hot pink geraniums initially catch my eye.

It is impossible not to be happy in a place like this, to want to swoop up the old standby geraniums and petunias, to grab packets of dainty, sweet-smelling alyssum, to corral containers of impatiens onto a cart, to choose the crimson bloodroot plant, to want it all, to fill my yard with color and beauty.

A row of hanging baskets filled with begonias stretches across the greenhouse.

A Minnesota winter, albeit a mild one this year, does this to me. Not even the vibrant and bold polyester patchwork quilt that warms me from November to April is enough to satisfy my visual need for color. By May, my soul, my eyes, my very being yearns for nature to color my world.

A colorful King Kong coleus.

A snippet of the vibrant polyester patchwork quilt my paternal grandmother stitched for me so many seasons ago.

More vivid blooms…

The non-descript Faribault Garden Center, where I photographed all of these flowers.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating lutefisk, lefse & all things Norwegian at the Old Trondhjem Church May 23, 2012

Tina & Lena, waiting to perform at Historic Trondhjem Church, rural Lonsdale, Minnesota.

DID YOU HEAR about Ole and Lena’s recent home improvement project?

“We carpeted the bathroom,” says Lena. “We loved it so much we ran it (the carpet) all the way to the house.”

Now, I can appreciate a joke like that. I grew up in a farmhouse without a bathroom, meaning my family used an outhouse.

But when it comes to lutefisk, I’m not quite as informed, being 100 percent German and all.

However, Tina, a full-blooded Norwegian, certainly knows her traditional Norwegian foods. “Lutefisk,” she claims, “is the piece of cod that passes all understanding.”

I’ve eaten lutefisk (cod soaked in lye) once and, excuse me all you Norwegian readers, but I agree with Tina’s assessment.

Lena, aka Annette Hustad, chats with audience members before the performance.

Lutefisk, lefse, hotdish and more were the subjects of jokes and songs shared Sunday afternoon by the comedic duo of Tina & Lena during a Syttende Mai Celebration at the Historic Trondhjem Church. As Tina & Lena sang in their version of “This Land Is Your Land,” Trondhjem land would be “east of Lonsdale, southwest of Webster, west of 35.”

Rebuilt in 1899 with parts of the 1878 church, the second Trondhjem Church sits atop a 100-foot high hill. Listed on the National Register of Historic Sites in Minnesota, this Norwegian church has walls constructed with 24 corners, supposedly to brace it against the strong winds. The building is an architectural mix of Greek Revival and Gothic Revival with elements of the Norwegian stave church. Old Trondhjem is opened for special occasions as the congregation built a new church just up the road in 1988.

Driving down the gravel road just south of the Historic Trondhjem Church. The Trondhjem community includes the townships of Wheatland, Webster, Erin and Forest.

And I would add that the 1899 historic wood frame Trondhjem church is anchored atop a windy, very windy, hill just off Minnesota State Highway 19 and along a gravel road that dips and rises like the rolling waves of a stormy sea. I expect the immigrants who arrived here from Trondhjem, Norway, in the 1860s and 1870s experienced stormy seas before settling among the rolling hills and woods so much like the Motherland.

During restoration of the church, a pressed metal cover on the ceiling was removed to reveal original plaster with stenciling. As you can see, the church is bathed in light from the many windows, even on a rainy day.

Beautiful pews and the original pine floor grace the sanctuary.

The quaint Trondhjem store is tucked into a cupboard in a corner of the fellowship hall, which also includes a mini museum of historical items, photos and artifacts from the Trondhjem area.

That Norwegian heritage and the history of this place, this Trondhjem in Minnesota, brought about 120 people together on Norwegian Constitution Day for the annual meeting of The Trondhjem Preservation Society and that entertainment by Tina & Lena, who have been on the road for 28 years, performing in 20 states.

Their motto seems to be this: “It is bad to suppress laughter because otherwise it goes down and spreads to your hips.”

Tina pulls an audience member into the aisle for an impromptu dance.

Tina directs members of the Trondhjem Community Preservation Society/The Hotdish Hallelujah Chorus.

There was no chance in, well, you know where that Tina & Lena could suppress the laughter of the Trondhjem audience. The long-time friends rocked the church with laughter and song and dance, personalizing their performance to the location. They engaged the audience—singling out individuals for attention, pulling two men into the church aisle to dance and even calling upon Preservation Society members to sing in “The Hotdish Hallelujah Chorus.”

Tina & Lena, who in real life are Sue Edwards of Alexandria and Annette Hustad of Glenwood, sang in the church choir while growing up in Canby in southwestern Minnesota. Just knowing they are from my native prairie endears them to me.

But it is their ability to slip into the roles of Norwegian women—lilting accents and all—and tell good, clean jokes appropriate for all and spin stories and sing and dance and interact with others that endears them to so many. These women, with energy and enthusiasm, exude absolute passion for making people laugh.

And what Minnesotan wouldn’t laugh at this Tina & Lena joke: “Oh, we love hotdish. Hotdish is a wonderful Minnesota food that melts into your Jell-O and runs into your buns.” (For you non-Minnesotans out there, “hotdish” is the same as “casserole.”)

The church/preservation society ladies lay out a delectable spread of Norwegian goodies.

Just a few of the treats in the Norwegian buffet. That’s lefse on the right.

No hotdish, Jell-O or buns were served during the fellowship hour following the performance and annual meeting. But scrumptious Norwegian treats—none of which I can identify by name (except lefse) because, remember, I am German—were laid out on tables in the social hall.

Let me tell you, these descendants of Norwegian immigrants have not forgotten the baking traditions of the homeland.

Trondhjem pastor, the Rev. Howard White, had it right when he earlier prayerfully thanked God for the gifts of memory, laughter, tradition, heritage and new beginnings.

Amen and amen.

FYI: To learn more about Old Trondhjem, Historic Trondhjem Church and the Trondhjem Community Preservation Society, click here.

For more info about Tina & Lena, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Cruisin’ on Central on a Friday night in Faribault May 22, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:44 AM
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Looking south on Central Avenue during the Faribault Car Cruise Night on Friday.

BY THE TIME my husband and I arrived at the first Faribault Car Cruise Night of the season around 9 p.m. Friday, the last remnants of daylight were morphing into a beautiful inky blue sky of darkness.

Illuminated business signs and lighted storefront windows and the flickering motion of a big screen television in a second floor apartment and the spotlight of streetlights provided enough light to view the few remaining vehicles and to snap a few photos.

Music rocked the 400 and 500 blocks of Central Avenue, and beyond, as we wandered.

Hanging out along Central Avenue during Faribault Car Cruise Night.

Love the colors: the green against blue.

While we’d missed most of the cars and most of the crowd and the poker walk, I didn’t particularly care. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate events like this and checking out all the classic cars and trucks. But on this night, my focus was on the deep, rich shades of that inky blue sky.

The dreamsicle car, Peachy, a 1955 Chevy.

Seriously, do you not love that peachy pastel Chevy contrasting with the blue sky?

The contrast of light and dark, of vivid lime green and creamy dreamsicle orange against that bold blue spoke to the artist in me.

Then, as I shot my final photos, headlights shone like beacons and red taillights blurred as, one by one, the last of the vintage antique and collectible cars slipped into the dark of a balmy and windy evening that felt more like summer than spring in Minnesota.

In a blur of taillights, a vintage car exits Central Avenue.

FYI: Faribault Car Cruise Night is held from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. on the third Friday of the month, May – September, in the 400 and 500 blocks of Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault. I’d advise arriving well before 9 p.m. if you’re more interested in the vehicles than in the darkening sky.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Piper pets a pig & more fun at tasty BBQ fest in Faribault May 21, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:48 AM
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One of the humorous signs I spotted on BBQ equipment at the Minnesota in May BBQ & Cheese Festival in Faribault.

FROM TEAM “Drop It Like It’s Hot BBQ” of Little Canada to “The Oinkologists” from Rochester to the “Uff da- That’s Good Barbeque” from Anoka to “Rebel Fire Que’n Company” from Lake City to “The Heat Is On” from North Saint Paul, the creative names of teams competing in the Minnesota in May BBQ & Cheese Festival in Faribault this weekend simply amused me.

Some 63 – 65 teams, depending on who you asked, vied for $10,000 in prizes during the Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned event at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault on Friday and Saturday.

My husband and I each ordered pulled pork sandwiches from two different vendors for a taste-test comparison. Hog Wild BBQ and Grill served up a smoke-flavored, ham-like sandwich (above right) while Daddy O’s BBQ Shack presented a pork roast-like sandwich which I flavored with a North Carolina sauce crafted by Jeff LeBeau from The Depot restaurant in Faribault. We each really liked our distinct sandwiches.  However, the bun from Daddy O’s rated far superior to the one from Hog Wild.

This year the Faribo Drag-On’s car club moved its annual show to the fairgrounds as part of the BBQ fest.

From the tantalizing aroma of grilled and smoked meat to the savory taste of pulled pork sandwiches purchased from vendors to the friendliness of the BBQ teams to the tasty cheese samples served by area cheese makers to the 165 classic cars and trucks in the car show, it was an event that truly impressed my husband and me. You can bet we’ll be back next year for the third time.

Mark Born, who started the Minnesota in May BBQ contest 12 years ago.

Mark Born of team “The Heat Is On” from North Saint Paul has been participating in BBQ contests like this for 15 years and has the hardware to prove just how much he’s advanced from backyard smoking of fish and other meat. He’s a multiple grand champion BBQer in seven states and today competes in upwards of two dozen competitions annually as far away as New York, Florida and Las Vegas.

Not only that, 12 years ago Born started the Minnesota in May BBQ competition which has also been held in Cambridge and Austin. For the past two years, Faribault has hosted the event, this year adding cheese to the fest.

Fest-goers could sample and buy cheeses from Caves of Faribault, Alemar Cheese Company of Mankato and Shepherd’s Way Farms of Nerstrand at the cheese shack.

Judges evaluated 10 entries in the Grilling with Blue Cheese Contest. Each entrant received 9 ounce of St. Pete’s Select blue cheese from Caves of Faribault to use in preparing an entree or side dish.

Entries like this one in the Grilling with Blue Cheese contest were judged on appearance/creativity and taste.

Russ and Marti (no last names given; they’re judges) traveled 1 ½ hours from Forest City, Iowa, to judge their 32nd BBQ contest in seven years. As certified volunteer judges, they evaluate the BBQ entries for taste, tenderness and presentation/appearance. They try, they say, not to be too subjective in judging the foods which are delivered, six to a judge, in plain white Styrofoam boxes. Contestants who try “something too fancy” in presentation risk disqualification, Marti says.

And why does this Iowa couple judge BBQ competitions?

“You can’t buy barbeque like this anywhere in the country,” Marti says, explaining that the competitors use the best meats, the best everything, when they compete.

Talk to the BBQers and you’ll learn that some are competing for the first time while others have been at it for years, even decades. They all smoke/grill an abundance of meats, assuring the just-perfect entry to submit to judges.

A BBQer’s extra beef brisket not entered in the competition.

These folks are serious BBQers, pulling into the competitions with over-sized grills and bags of charcoal and secret BBQ recipes they won’t share.

But they also like to have fun.

The Oinkologists, brothers Andy and Mike Braun from Rochester and Hugo, brought along their “lucky pig.” It was their second competition, but first time using their good luck charm.

This pig, which oinks when you pass by it, rested on the hood of an old pick-up until 2-year-old Piper’s mom showed her daughter the pig. After initially backing away from the mascot for team “Drop It Like It’s Hot BBQ,” little Piper eventually petted her papa’s pretty pet pig. Try saying that three times: Piper petted her papa’s pretty pet pig.

A member of Rebel Fire Que’n Company of Lake City, in her fifth year of competing.

“It’s so kicked back,” my husband judged as we meandered among the BBQers’ tents and campers and BBQ equipment Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.

He’s right. The Minnesota in May BBQ festival rates as fun and kicked back—for both contestants and spectators.

DID YOU ATTEND or participate in the BBQ fest in Faribault this past weekend. If so, what did you think of the event? If you’ve attended/competed in a BBQ fest elsewhere, tell us about it via a comment.

CLICK HERE TO READ an earlier blog post from this weekend’s Minnesota in May BBQ & Cheese Festival in Faribault.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling