Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Dante’s inferno” chili & more in a Minnesota church basement February 18, 2014

Trinity Lutheran Church, Medford, Minnesota.

Trinity Lutheran Church, Medford, Minnesota.

THE SPICY SCENT OF CHILI wafted up the stairs as I entered the church late Sunday afternoon for Trinity Lutheran, Medford’s, second annual Chili Cook-Off.

A sign directs diners to the church basement.

A sign directs diners to the church basement.

I shed my winter coat, got instructions on the chili sampling process and then headed downstairs to taste, and judge, 30 homemade chilis. Twas a nearly impossible task given the numbers and the home-cooked goodness.

Trinity's basement was packed.

Dining in the church basement.

I’ve found church basement food events to be, with only one exception, superb dining experiences.

Randy and I dined with friends from our church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault.

Randy and I dined with friends from our church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault.

Here, in the fellowship of friends, I spooned chili into numbered plastic cups, ate and then attempted to choose my favorites. I had five tickets to cast five votes.

The first 12 of 30 chilies sampled.

The first 12 of 30 chilies sampled.

Some I quickly eliminated as too bland or too salty or too ordinary.

Diners spoon chili into cups.

Diners spoon chili into cups.

I was looking for something savory and different.

So many varieties to taste.

So many varieties to taste.

In one chili I detected a hint of cinnamon.

Crockpots of chili were set up on tables on opposite ends of the basement.

Crockpots of chili were set up on tables on opposite ends of the basement.

Many, as you would expect, tasted of tomato in varying degrees of intensity.

Each diner got five tickets with which to cast votes.

Lines formed to spoon up the chili.

Chocolate overwhelmed one. An attempt, perhaps, to woo the female vote?

Eighteen more chilis to try, including the (green) avocado one in the second row from the bottom.

Eighteen more chilis to try, including the (green) avocado one in the second row from the bottom.

A chili laced with chunks of avocado won my favor, while my husband, seeing the green veggies, wouldn’t even try it. His loss.

Numbered cups were stacked by the appropriately numbered chili.

Numbered cups were stacked by the appropriately numbered chili. Diners placed tickets in the boxes to vote. Kari Yule’s chili, number 17, took the trophy. And, yes, I voted for Kari’s chili, among four others.

Of one chili, number 25, the opinion seemed unanimous. This chili packed some wicked heat, so hot I motioned for Randy to refill my water glass and, after a few gulps, to “please pass the crackers.”

A list of those who made chili.

A list of those who made chili.

Afterward I would find the chili sign-up sheet upstairs in the church narthex with “Dante’s Inferno” on the list.

A trophy and first and second place medals were awarded.

A trophy and first and second place medals were awarded.

In the end, Kari Yule claimed the trophy while Amy Grayson took second and Randy Lemke (with help from niece Brandi) came in third.

A line forms near the church kitchen.

A line forms near the church kitchen.

All were winners in my eyes—especially us 120 diners.

Trinity's youth count the votes.

Trinity’s youth count the votes.

Trinity youth also earned $803 through a free will offering for the 2016 Lutheran Church Missouri Synod National Youth Gathering in New Orleans.

I'm not sure how much, if any, chili little Lauren ate. But she was there with her parents, Pastor Mark Biebighauser and his wife, Joni.

I’m not sure how much, if any, chili little Lauren ate. But she was there with her parents, Pastor Mark Biebighauser and his wife, Joni.

What a great event. If you haven’t attended a chili cook-off or partaken of food in a church basement, do. You’ll find delicious food, good company and, typically, will assist in funding a worthy cause.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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