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

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39 Responses to “Offering my two cents, as a Redwood County native, on the Great Grape Salad Controversy”

  1. Judith Says:

    Hi Audrey – I love to promote foods and recipes that are “Minnesotan.” One of those is a wild rice salad that includes grapes, though I would never think that would be a primary representation of Minnesota foods. Tater Tot hotdish, it what many people think of first as a Minnesota food. I have that covered as well as Spam recipes (a made in Minnesota food) lefse (and lutefisk!) and so many more foods that I’ve loved over the years.

  2. The only grapes I ate growing up were in the can of fruit cocktail – ewwww! Jell-O was for special occasions and sometimes had fruit in it or marshmallows on top, I do not equate MN with grape salad and never heard of it either. MN is such a diverse food community. Thanks for sharing since my head has been in the snow bank on this – Happy Day 🙂

  3. lanae Says:

    If you are looking for a Thanksgiving dish I would say stuffing. It might be sage stuffing or my favorite with apples, prunes and raisins which most people would not like (right Joanne?) For the rest of the year hands down hotdish. My daughter would come home from school and ask what was for supper, if I said hotdish then she knew I made the recipe up otherwise I would name the hotdish. Ex–tator tot,
    goulash, hamburger rice. So my question is did this man even ask 10 people who live in Minnesota what the Minnesota food might be. Guess he didn’t do his homework very well. As for the recipe in the Gazzette it was a new recipe they were trying to get us to eat did it work, nope.
    To get you all going how about sauerkraut, horseradish, head cheese, blood sausage, canned beef, these are foods we helped to make as kids in the 60’s and 70’s and it’s why we still get together to do horseradish and tomato juice.
    That’s my two cents worth
    Love you sister

  4. I’ve never had Grape Salad or Pear Kuchen but I did find recipes for grape salad and kuchen in all of those recipes that I typed out earlier in the year.

  5. Beth Ann Says:

    I have been following a lot of Minnesotan’s takes on this on Facebook and it is funny, isn’t it??? It made me giggle. Some of the other states had just as interesting dishes and Iowa’s was Thanksgiving Cookies which I had never heard of. Maybe because I have only lived here 7 years???? 🙂

  6. treadlemusic Says:

    I never heard of such a “concoction” until I got married and DH’s mom made it as a dessert!!! I was hooked the first time I had it…..Yum! BUT to have it chosen as THE MN salad…….really??? Red gelatin with mini-marshmallows (or any of the Lutheran church basement/funeral salads) would have been what 1st came to my mind!!!! Where do they get such notions???? LOL! ‘Nuf said……….

  7. hotlyspiced Says:

    I don’t like the sound of that grape salad; it sounds more like a bizarre dessert so what a shame Minnesota has been saddled with this salad. I’d love to see what dishes you do cook up for Thanksgiving. Now back to my blog… Icing sugar is what I think you call powdered sugar? And dessicated coconut is very finely grated coconut – the finest available, unlike shredded! xx

  8. Jackie Says:

    Grape salad…uff da, never heard of such a thing. I tend to think of green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole as staples on my Thanksgiving menu

  9. jenieats Says:

    I found your post thanks to Beth! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Grape Salad. It’s great to hear from someone actually from Redwood County.

  10. bev walker Says:

    I was asked to bring a grape salad to a potluck last weekend so I went online and found a recipe. It was very easy to make and was very good!! I hadn’t heard of a grape salad prior to that either.

  11. You are absolutely right that this puts Minnesota in the news! But the recipe is totally silly as a Minnesota staple. Should have been some kind of hot dish!

  12. DeLores Johnson Says:

    I make Grape Salad every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Everyone in the family loves it and the grandchildren argue over who will get the last little bit in the bowl. My recipe is: Red or Green Seedless Grapes, 1 Cup brown sugar, 8 oz. sour cream, 8 oz. Cool Whip. Mix the dressing and then add the grapes. I double the recipe. Delicious.

  13. Not from here Says:

    According to my Minnesota born and bred friend, she had it several times as a child and it is in fact a recipe in a 1978 cookbook for tailgating put together to benefit the Minnesota Kicks (former pro soccer league).

  14. Marilyn Says:

    Look what you’ve done: Now I’m hankering for some of Mom’s good ol’ strawberry jello with banana slices and mini marshmallows on top. Back in the olden days jello could be a salad or a dessert for our 4H Foods requirements. Sunshine Salad (with shredded carrots and crushed canned pineapple) was a favourite of mine. But there is a variation of that with halved red grapes included. Wow!

  15. Hi Audrey. Writing to you from Virginia where I found this post when researching the “Grape Salad” furor. Loved this post and when I was a girl in Minnesota, there was never grape salad anywhere near my Grandma’s house. The New York Times got it seriously wrong on your state!


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