Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Experiencing a Northfield, Minnesota apple orchard October 23, 2019

 

THE CARNIVAL SCENT of donuts permeated the autumn air as I stepped from the van in the gravel parking lot of Fireside Orchard & Gardens. For years I’ve wanted to visit this Northfield area orchard and try the fresh-from-the-fryer apple cinnamon donuts. Apples were secondary to this first-ever visit.

 

Numerous rose gardens grace the property.

 

While many of the roses were no longer blooming, I found enough to dip my nose into.

 

Walking toward the retail store, I spotted this sign.

 

After stopping to smell a few roses in the frontyard rose garden, I aimed straight for the retail store and the source of that sugary cinnamon scent. The place was busy with people buying bags of apples, cups of apple cider, fudge, caramel apples and those donuts that couldn’t come off the fryer conveyor fast enough. Fireside also offers a lot more foods, including bacon ketchup (not made on-site).

 

Most of the apple trees we saw, but not all, were picked clean of fruit.

 

I figured I better sample a few apples first. I tried SnowSweet and Sugar Bee, both new apples to me, and the familiar Honey Crisp. Hands down, Honey Crisp remains my favorite apple, developed right here in Minnesota.

 

There are lots of apple varieties filling these coolers.

 

I watched donuts roll off the fryer.

 

The hardworking young employee.

 

By the time I’d finished my third apple slice, Randy had already purchased a half dozen of those coveted donuts. We headed out the back door, right behind the kid pushing a cart holding a crate of apples. His job seemed that of keeping apples in stock as I watched him several times hustle between nearby storage building and retail store.

 

A pond centers the grounds.

 

Ornamental berries pop color into the landscape.

 

An overview of the pond looking toward the orchard.

 

This place was abuzz with people enjoying a beautiful fall Sunday afternoon in rural Minnesota. Fireside is a truly welcoming place with assorted sitting areas, yard games and property open to wandering—from orchard to rose gardens.

 

Pumpkins aplenty…

 

Apples aplenty…

 

Gourds aplenty…

 

Pumpkins and gourds for sale add to the seasonal appeal.

 

I considered for a moment asking Randy to take a picture of me by the tractor.

 

Two parked vintage tractors present fun rural photo ops. This is just a relaxing family-friendly and dog-friendly place that is family-run.

 

The barn style building design is especially welcoming with covered open air spaces.

 

Within a half hour drive of the south metro, just 1.5 miles east of Interstate 35 along Minnesota State Highway 19, Fireside Orchard is conveniently-located, easy to find. A fun and beautiful place to visit.

 

A note posted inside the retail store from a grateful teacher.

 

As for those apple cinnamon donuts, they were a tad greasy, just as one would expect from a fair-type food. I’m certain I’ll return to Fireside. I love orchards like this that realize folks today want more than just a place to buy apples. They want an experience.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite apple orchard? If yes, tell me why it’s your favorite.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Another option for shopping local: the Faribault Winter Farmer’s Market December 15, 2016

Bluebird Cakery in historic downtown Faribault is decorated for the holidays.

Bluebird Cakery in historic downtown Faribault is decorated for the holidays.

UPDATE, 1:50 PM Friday: Because of the winter storm, the Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market will be closed on Saturday. Instead, the market will be open from noon to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, December 21.

LOCALLY-GROWN/MADE has been trending for awhile. Know what you’re buying. Know the source. Know the farmer, the craftsman, the artisan.

Downtown Faribault last Saturday afternoon, here looking south on Central Avenue.

Downtown Faribault last Saturday afternoon, here looking south on Central Avenue.

This time of year, especially, we’re encouraged to shop local.

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In my community of Faribault, it’s easy to buy local, direct from the hands of those who raised or grew or crafted. And nowhere is that more grassroots possible than at the Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market.

The musicians' list of holiday songs and music.

The musicians’ list of holiday songs and music.

New to Faribault’s holiday shopping scene, the market fills the cozy lobby of the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue, in our historic downtown. Vendors offer jams, breads, cupcakes, horseradish, apples, maple syrup, beef, soap and more. I dropped by last Saturday afternoon to check out the winter market, recognizing sellers from the summer market in Central Park.

 

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The mood was festive with a duo performing holiday tunes in a side meeting room/mini gallery. In the main gallery and in the gift shop, local art was available for purchase as part of the arts center’s Holly Days.

 

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With the market winding down for the day, vendors had time to visit and personally promote their offerings. I sampled mango jelly on a saltine cracker. Randy sampled apples and bought a bulging bag of juicy Pzazz, an open-pollinated Honeycrisp cross. We love this apple, unheard of by us until the purchase from Apple Creek Orchard. We talked horseradish making with another vendor.

 

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Earlier that day we shopped local across the street at our favorite cheese shop, The Cheese Cave. There Randy bought a wheel of St. Pete’s Select blue cheese and a chunk of a special edition Smoked St. Mary’s Grass-Fed Gouda, both made and aged in Faribault caves.

 

Faribault's Central Avenue from Fourth Street south.

Faribault’s Central Avenue from Fourth Street south.

 

I am fortunate to live in a community where local is valued, where good folks tend and harvest crops, where the bounty of the earth and of hands is shared at the farmers’ market and beyond.

TELL ME: What can you find that is locally-grown/made in your community?

FYI: The Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market is open this Saturday, December 17, from 1 – 4 p.m.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbing

 

One sweet experience at Minnesota’s largest candy store in Jordan November 18, 2016

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UNTIL YOU’VE VISITED Minnesota’s largest candy store along US Highway 169 in Jordan, you can’t imagine a place quite like this. Better than Candy Land or the Chocolate Factory. Sprawling, brimming with candy. And more.

 

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This 30-plus years family-run business—officially known as Jim’s Apple Farm—is an experience. A tourist attraction. A fun and unique place to shop. Think polka music pulsing through the jolting yellow machine shed style building. Think a lengthy yellow picket fence stretching along the highway like a navigational arrow. Think discovering candy you never knew existed. Think bacon.

 

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Yes, bacon. There’s an entire section devoted to bacon.

 

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And taffy.

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And licorice.

 

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And chocolate. And…

 

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Soda. Soda of common and unusual flavors, some with attention-grabbing names.

 

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I laughed and I smiled in this magical world of creativity, colors and candy.

 

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If you crave happiness, this place excels in that emotion. It’s the type of playful setting that spirits you away from negativity. Erases worries. Offers a temporary reprieve from reality. And we all need that. Especially now.

 

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There are pumpkins

 

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and puzzles

 

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and peeled apples (baking in pies). Reminders of Grandma’s kitchen. Scent of cinnamon. Red checked tablecloths. Pied Piper nuances leading you to pie still warm from the oven. Caramel apple pie for me crafted with locally-sourced apples.

 

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But I resisted Lucky Lights, remembering the chalky taste of those addicting slim cylinders from my childhood days when smoking candy cigarettes seemed cool. I skipped purchasing any candy, which is possible if you convince yourself that you really don’t need the sugar. Other shoppers fully compensated for my solo pie purchase, bulging their shopping carts with candy.

 

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For me, exploring Minnesota’s largest candy store was about the experience. And about the fruity sweetness of caramel-laced apple pie tasting of sky and rain and autumn in Minnesota.

TELL ME: Have you visited Jim’s Apple Farm or a similar candy store? I’d like to hear about your experience.

FYI: Located at 20430 Johnson Memorial Drive, Jordan, Jim’s is open seasonally from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily, June – November. I’d advise visiting on a weekday, like I did, because I’ve heard that on weekends the store is packed. Check Facebook for more info; there’s no website or business phone. Bring cash. Credit cards are not accepted.

Please check back as I bring you more images from this mega Minnesota candy store.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond the Minnesota Zoo May 25, 2016

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Apple Valley sign

 

WAITING AT A STOPLIGHT along Cedar Avenue in Apple Valley, I noticed apple-shaped street-side signs. That prompted me to wonder about this south metro community’s name and history.

Mostly, I connect Apple Valley with the location of the Minnesota Zoo. And an Original Mattress Factory store; a brother-in-law is an OMF vice president.

But what about those apples? According to the city website, a builder named several of his plats Apple Valley and then planted an apple tree on each home site in some of his new developments. What a great idea. That was in the early 1960s.

In 1968, residents voted to incorporate the Township of Lebanon as the Village of Apple Valley.

As cities go, Apple Valley is relatively young. I’ve mostly lumped it with other south metro communities like Lakeville and Burnsville. Maybe it’s time to take a closer look, to explore beyond the few businesses I’ve occasionally shopped along and off busy Cedar Avenue. Does Apple Valley have an established downtown? What am I missing that would be worth seeing?

The Visit Apple Valley website uses these words (matched with photos) to describe an Apple Valley experience: serenity, luxury, ahhhhhhh, relaxation, play, indulge.

Interesting enough, it also touts Apple Valley as “the best place to stay when visiting the Mall of America” some five minutes away. That helps the local hotel business. But what about the local retailers who would prefer shoppers stay in town? I suppose, though, those MOA visitors do drop money in local shops…

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hit one out of the cornfield for the Minnesota Twins October 8, 2010

 

Montgomery Orchard celebrates the Minnesota Twins' 50th anniversary with a Twins logo corn maze.

 

HEY, ALL YOU APPLE-LOVING Minnesota Twins fans, if you want to test your Twins knowledge and your navigation skills, head to Minnesota’s version of The Field of Dreams at Montgomery Orchard, like I did last weekend.

Just a note here, before I tell you more about this opportunity. Please do not mistake the previous apple reference for any endorsement of The Big Apple-based New York Yankees.

Montgomery, Minnesota, orchard owners Scott and Barb Wardell clearly love the home team as they’ve created a six-acre corn maze in the shape of the Twins emblem. But that’s not all. They’ve developed a trivia game that challenges maze visitors to answer questions about the Twins at home plate; first, second and third bases; the pitcher’s mound; short stop; and right, center and left fields, depending on the selected maze route.

Since I don’t exactly like mazes, having once survived a terrifying mirror maze at Arnolds Park in Lake Okoboji, Iowa, during my teen years, I opted for the short Be-A-Mazed half-hour route. Fortunately, my husband agreed to lead me through the cornfield because I possess minimal map reading skills or sense of direction or knowledge of The Twins.

 

My husband leads the way through the short corn maze route. If you get lost and think you can just follow the corn rows to get out, forget it. The corn is not planted in straight-shot rows.

 

But my 24-year-old daughter and three of her friends, who had driven down from Minneapolis for the afternoon and who are the ultimate Twins fans, along with my teenaged son, opted for the longer maze with far more winding trails and far more trivia questions. At least one of the four women had brushed up on Twins trivia. I wondered, though, why none of these Twins fanatics were wearing Twins attire.

 

My oldest daughter, left, and three of her friends drove down from Minneapolis to navigate the maze, pick apples and rave about the homemade hot dogs from Edel's Meat Market, an on-site vendor.

 

Who am I to talk, though? I probably should not admit this. But since I am an honest person, I will reveal that, except for the World Series games in 1987, I have never watched an entire professional baseball game on television or ever attended one. I am the rare individual who really does not care about sports. I had come to the orchard corn maze simply because I wanted to see my daughter.

While I was there, I decided to exert some effort toward answering the Twins trivia questions. The problem, however, is that nearly everything I know about baseball history is limited to names—Harmon Killebrew, Tony Olivia and Rod Carew. I learned about those players decades ago from my eldest brother who listened to the Twins games on his transistor radio and who insisted on being Harmon Killebrew whenever we played farmyard softball.

I figured that long-ago role-playing and sportscasting would be helpful in the maze trivia contest. Plus I do know a bit of current trivia: Joe Mauer plays for the Twins. Yup, I figured “Mauer” might be the answer to at least one question.

But, after reading the first set of questions at home plate, I realized I’d never win this game.

Here’s the first rookie question I faced at home plate: Which of the following Twins legends are not in the Baseball Hall of Fame?  a. Harmon Killebrew  b. Tony Olivia  c. Rod Carew  d. Kirby Puckett

I had no clue. None. Nada. Strike one.

So, I moved on to the All-Star question: What American League catcher holds the record for the most All-Star selections?

I suspect if I knew the definition of “All-Star” that would help considerably. Strike two.

Heck, I may as well go for the Hall of Fame question: Name three Minnesotans that grew up to catch for the Twins.

Uh, yeah, so like I have no idea what positions Harmon or Tony or Rod played. Not even Joe, although I think he’s a catcher but I would need to verify that.  Sorry, Joe. Strike three. I’m out!

After that I decided to forgo the trivia and concentrate on getting through, and more importantly out of, the corn maze. As my husband and I wound our way along the rock-hard dirt path that twisted through the towering dried corn, I repeatedly asked if he knew where we were going. He said he did and I trusted that he did, although a few times I wished aloud for bread crumbs to drop along the path.

Or perhaps leaving a trail of peanuts and Cracker Jacks would have been more appropriate.

 

The Twins trivia questions are posted at baseball positions in the corn maze.

 

 

My husband climbs to a platform in the midst of the cornfield.

 

 

From the elevated platform, you get a bird's eye view of the corn maze and the countryside. Montgomery Orchard is donating $1 of each maze admission to the Twins Community Fund.

 

 

After completing the maze, head to the orchard to pick apples.

 

 

Or you can head to the store for pre-picked apples, local honey, jams, jellies, Cortland caramel apples and more. Peruse the wagon full of pumpkins from a neighboring farm on your way there.

 

 

You can choose from bags of apples lined up on the store porch. The orchard grows 13 apple varieties.

 

 

Musicians entertain inside and outside the store, depending on the weather.

 

 

Down in the pole shed, visitors can help make apple cider during a 2:30 p.m. daily demonstration.

 

FYI: Be-A-Amazed corn maze is located at Montgomery Orchard about an hour south of the Twin Cities and just south of Montgomery one mile east of the intersection of state highways 99 and 13 along highway 99. Regular orchard hours are from 1 – 6 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday and Sundays. (Check the Web site for Be-A-Mazed-At-Night dates.)  Last corn maze admission is taken at 4:30 p.m. and reservations are recommended for large groups. Cost is $6.75 for ages 11 through adult; $5.50 for ages 4 – 10; and free for those under four.

In addition to the maze, apple picking, cider making and entertainment, Montgomery Orchard offers a 1 1/4-mile nature hike through the prairie. A free adopt-a-tree program is also available for youth.

Click here for info about Edel’s Meat Market, which serves those delicious (according to the Minneapolis residents) hot dogs and homemade brats.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Apple blossoms May 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:26 AM
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MY FRIEND MIKE has an apple orchard. It’s not an active orchard, meaning he doesn’t market his apples. He shares them with family and friends.

The orchard came with the house he bought in the country some years back.

On a recent spring night after I arrive at Mike’s house for bible study, he gives me a tour of his yard. He’s a former floral designer/business owner and we share an interest in flowers and plants.

As is typical, I have my camera with me.  As we walk, I notice that the sinking sun has cast a certain surreal softness upon the land. The lighting in the orchard is perfect.

So I snap this photo of apple blossoms that will grow into apples, which Mike will pick, then peel and slice into a pan and cover with a crunchy rolled oats topping hinting of cinnamon.

And then my friend will place a square of apple crisp upon a plate, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and hand the treat to me.

Then I will remember this beautiful spring evening when apple blossoms held the promise of harvest, and of apple crisp.

Apple blossoms on an evening in May.

Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling