Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Offering my two cents, as a Redwood County native, on the Great Grape Salad Controversy November 20, 2014

NOW THAT THE LUTHERANS and my native Redwood County, MN., have been drawn into the New York Times Great Grape Salad Controversy, I feel obliged to also join the discussion.

Thanksgiving Day dinner at my house with family.

Thanksgiving Day dinner at my house with family several years ago included these foods. To the left you’ll see a nearly empty bowl of a lettuce salad. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Here’s the background, just in case you’ve had your head stuck in a snowbank the past several days and are unaware of the Times article. Writer David Tanis chose a food to represent each of the 50 states (plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico) on the Thanksgiving dinner table. For Minnesota, he selected Grape Salad. That choice has resulted in a backlash from Minnesotans unhappy, and that’s putting it mildly, with the selection.

The only grapes you will find sitting out at my house for Thanksgiving are these grapes in a bowl of vintage fake fruit I got from my mom in September. I'd guess they are vintage 1950s or 1960s.

The only grapes you will find sitting out at my house for Thanksgiving are these grapes in a bowl of vintage fake fruit I got from my mom in September. I’d guess they are vintage 1950s or 1960s.

If you have lived in Minnesota your entire life, like me, your immediate reaction probably mimicked mine: “What is Grape Salad?”

It is, according to the Times published recipe, a combination of grapes, sour cream and brown sugar.

A selected page of salad recipes published in The Cook's Special, published in 1973 by St. John's Lutheran Church, Vesta, MN. That's my mom's

A selected page of salad recipes in The Cook’s Special, published in 1973 by St. John’s Lutheran Church, Vesta, MN. That’s my mom’s Orange JELLO Salad

Tanis shares on his Facebook page that the recipe was a staple in 1950s and 1960s Minnesota Lutheran cookbooks and was even published in the Redwood Falls Gazette. Hmmm. But I’ve never heard of Grape Salad, let alone tasted it and I grew up in the 50s and 60s on a crop and dairy farm 20 miles west of Redwood Falls near Vesta, where I attended St. John’s Lutheran Church. The Gazette arrived in our rural mailbox each week.

My friend Kristin made peach Jell-O in a pan.

Several years ago my friend Kristin prepared peach-filled Jell-O for Family Game Night at the Lutheran church I attend in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The go-to salad during my youth was Jell-O, specifically red strawberry Jell-O laced with bananas and maybe topped with whipped topping, but not usually. Jell-O was served only on special occasions, like a holiday or on the midnight lunch table at extended family birthday and anniversary celebrations. The last time I ate Jell-O was a few weeks ago while on a pre-colonoscopy diet. Otherwise it’s been years since gelatin touched my lips.

As for grapes, they were a rare treat in my childhood home due to lack of availability and cost. And when Mom did buy grapes for her six children and farmer husband, the fruit was devoured in an instant. I remember stuffing grapes into my mouth so fast that I would nearly choke. But if I didn’t, I wouldn’t get many and I loved grapes. Still do.

A few of the salad bar choices, including a tangy rhubarb square in the upper right of this photo.

A few of the salad bar options at a 2011 soup and salad luncheon at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

So for Tanis to choose Grape Salad as representative of Minnesota for Thanksgiving dinner 2014, or even Thanksgiving dinner 1960, seems, well, not at all Minnesotan.

What food would you select to represent Minnesota?

Even though (most) Minnesotans believe the Times writer got it totally wrong with his Grape Salad choice, this whole controversy serves some good, too. The spotlight is shining on our state. What a great time to showcase Minnesota foods and our uniqueness. Specifically, I hope tourism folks in my native Redwood County realize this opportunity and run with it in a creative and humorous way.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A quick tour of the impressive Pierce County, Wisconsin, courthouse

The stately Pierce County Courthouse in Ellsworth, Wisconsin.

The stately Pierce County Courthouse in Ellsworth, Wisconsin.

IT’S AN IMPRESSIVE BUILDING defining a hilltop in the center of Ellsworth, The Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin.

This beautiful stone sculpture rises above the front courthouse entry. Anyone know anything about the sculpture?

This beautiful stone sculpture rises above the front courthouse entry. Anyone know anything about the sculpture?

Stately columns, a dome, stone sculptures and a certain sense of strength mark the Pierce County Courthouse constructed in 1905 at a cost of $85,000.

After picking up coveted cheese curds at Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, my husband and I returned to the courthouse we’d passed along Main Street en route to the creamery during an early October visit. We both appreciate old architecture and the courthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, seemed a must-see.

Up close details of the upper exterior.

Up close details of the upper exterior.

Designed in the Beaux Arts Style of architecture by St. Paul architects Buecher & Orth, this massive structure presents a powerful presence, seemingly fitting for a place that serves as the center of county government and houses the courts. A jail was built adjacent to the courthouse and completed in 1968.

Rotunda murals depict the area's natural beauty.

Rotunda murals depict the area’s natural beauty.

Public space along the impressive stairway.

Public seating along the stairway landing.

Details on the stairs credit the source of the work.

Details on the stairs credit the source of the work.

Look at that beautiful floor.

Look at that beautiful floor.

The law, in the form of a deputy sheriff, showed up when we self-toured the public space of the courthouse. I don’t know if he was dispatched to check out “the woman with the camera” and her companion or he simply happened upon us. But I sensed that we were being watched. And I suppose that’s OK in today’s world.

Looking down from the rotunda.

Looking down from the rotunda.

Our tour proved brief given the public space is small and I wasn’t about to enter the courtroom, although I was tempted.

Beautiful railings, although my husband questioned whether this was meant to be the color.

Beautiful railings, although my husband questioned whether the color is original or mimics the original.

Interestingly enough, the Pierce County, Wisconsin, courthouse has a twin courthouse in Rugby in Pierce County, North Dakota. Same architect. Same style. Built in 1908 and also on the National Register of Historic Places.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling