Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Discovering gnomes, a vintage cookbook & more at a used book sale May 5, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:19 AM
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AS I DREW OPEN the interior glass door into the Faribo West Mall, the offending odor of a hundred musty, damp basements stung my nostrils, mixing with the distinct aroma of Chinese food.

The moldy smell pulled me like an invisible string, past the Great China Buffet and the pet supply store, toward a vacant storefront, recent home to a variety store and years before that, a bookstore.

I stepped inside the former retail space into a temporary bookstore packed with thousands of books lining tables and shelves. I aimed straight for the Minnesota-authored titles while my husband veered toward the cookbooks.

Books I selected from the “Minnesota table,” albeit Prairie Perpendicular (one of my all-time favorite fiction books) is set in a small North Dakota farming community and written by a North Dakotan.

For 45 minutes we perused the selections, me picking How to Talk Minnesotan, A Visitor’s Guide by Howard Mohr, In Search of Lake Wobegon by Garrison Keillor and Prairie Perpendicular by Marston Moore (a North Dakota writer) from the Minnesota table.

I wasn’t searching for anything specific, only that which might interest me or others. The Minnesota language book will go to the oldest daughter’s boyfriend whom I will meet in a few weeks. He’s a California native, still living there, and likely could use a few tips about hotdish and bars. I’ll earmark page 16 for him in Lesson 3, “Eating In in Minnesota.”

If he wants to borrow Keillor’s book, I suppose I could lend it to him. But then again I don’t want to leave him with the impression that Minnesotans are, well, a bit off-kilter. I mean, if you didn’t know anything about ice fishing, what would you think of a photo of St. Joseph Rod & Gun Club members sitting on overturned buckets and playing cards while fishing on a frozen lake? Yeah, perhaps I best keep that Lake Wobegon book tucked away.

A snippet from the cover of Gnomes written by Wil Huygen and illustrated by Rien Poortvliet.

After discovering those gems, I moved on to the garden books and then the poetry and art and children’s titles. Somewhere in between I found a book about gnomes, complete with humorous stories and art that I just know my gnome-loving floral designer sister will appreciate.

But it was my husband who uncovered the find of the evening, a 1967 Minnesota Valley Cook Book. The 55-page supplement to The New Ulm Journal offers an interesting and amusing glimpse into the past in ads and recipes.

The cover of the 1967 Minnesota Valley Cook Book printed on news print. The cover photo of Mrs. Reuben Mammenga of New Ulm (sorry, no first name given) was taken by Ron Grieser. Mrs. Mammenga won the $5 prize in the pies category for her Chocolate Angel Pie.

I will share more about this 45-year-old southwestern Minnesota cookbook in an upcoming post. Just to pique your interest, did you know that (in 1967) “one of America’s largest department stores is just 11 inches high?” Can you guess which one?

Have you heard of Sauerkraut Cake and Tomato Surprise Cake?

Yes, the entertainment value in this old cookbook rates five stars. So does the Faribault chapter of the American Association of University Women’s annual book sale. Proceeds from the sale go to the AAUW Educational Foundation, local scholarships and community programs.

As I see it, everyone benefits through this book recycling process. Several months ago my 18-year-old son asked, “Mom, when’s that book sale?” He and a friend were at the sale when doors opened Thursday. He came home with a dozen science fiction (including one of his favorites, Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky) and fantasy books and a thermodynamics college textbook. Total cost: $12.

The sale continues from 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday; noon – 5 p.m. Sunday; and from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. May 7-9, next to JC Penney. Hurry in for the best selection. Expect to pay @ $1 per book with newer and mint condition books priced higher.


P.S. Please do not think all of the books at this sale smell musty. They don’t. I try to discreetly do a “sniff test” before purchasing.

HAVE YOU EVER shopped a used book sale? What gems did you find? Share your experiences in a comment on this post.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling