Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Serving up history and pie in Faribault April 12, 2011

I EXPECT YOU have no clue what you are viewing above. Perhaps you think this is a piece of art in a gallery exhibit.

You would be wrong. Way wrong.

Rather, this shows a portion of a Civil War battle flag that I’ve switched up with some photo editing tools to emphasize the stars and letters and numbers in the upper left corner.

Lighting conditions weren’t ideal for photographing this flag Saturday afternoon in the Guild House at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault.

Honestly, I hadn’t even expected to photograph this flag sewn by a group of women in Fairmont and carried by Company C, 6th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. The last time I asked to photograph the flag at the Rice County Museum of History, my request was denied by director Susan Garwood.

She didn’t know me from Adam, or Eve, although I gave her my business card and explained that I was a writer and blogger. That didn’t matter.

Thankfully, Garwood changed her mind and I got the go-ahead-and-shoot-but-without-flash OK.

Garwood has reason to be cautious. This battle flag is rare, among about a half dozen in Minnesota. Recent restoration cost nearly $7,300.

Here's how the flag really looks. Faded. The company which carried this flag was comprised of men primarily from Bridgewater Township in Rice County, Minnesota. On the back side of the flag 34 stars are sewn representing the number of states in 1862. You are seeing reflections here on the glass encasing the flag.


Just another, upside down, view of the flag and the reflections of visitors viewing it.

I don’t know the value of the restored flag. But it is valuable enough that a Faribault police officer was guarding the flag Saturday afternoon during “Recognition of the Fall of Fort Sumter–The Beginning of the Civil War” sponsored by the Rice County Historical Society and the Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable.

Likewise a collector of Civil War era artifacts was standing guard over his tables full of treasures. He had, among Civil War uniform buttons and other items, an original Lincoln photo engraving (used on the $50 bill) and signature. I didn’t ask the values. Sometimes it’s better not to know these things.


A slightly out of focus photo that I took of an original Lincoln photo engraving for a $50 bill on display Saturday.

The last time I photographed parts of his collection at a 2009 Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable meeting, he made me promise not to reveal his name. I agreed. I didn’t want to go missing and have my family looking for me under a stadium. That’s an exaggeration, but this collector was serious. My lips are sealed.

I did ask him, though, why he didn’t bring his slave bills, which were advertised as being at the event and one of the key reasons I attended. He simply said he didn’t know he was supposed to bring them. He gave the same answer 1 1/2 years ago at the Roundtable meeting. I had gone to the session then specifically to see the slave documents.

But on Saturday I perused a few other artifacts I hadn’t seen before like…

these old bullets


and two Civil War era muzzleloaders which I was allowed to pick up and which were heavy at 18 and 21 pounds.

I also saw…

these costumed reenactors pull up in a pick-up truck

and this unidentified reenactor, left, posing for photos with Sharon and Richard G. Krom of Rochester. Richard is the great grandson of a Civil War soldier and has written a book, The 1st MN Second to None.

Finally, I sat down with friends and family to enjoy…

a piece of delicious homemade pie made by Rice County Historical Society President Jason Reher. He baked 16 pies for the event. (Jason could be a professional baker; his pie is that good.)

Fortunately for me, Jason had baked my favorite pie and apparently a favorite of many as everyone sitting at my table chose blueberry pie over apple, pumpkin or pecan. Most of us wondered if the blueberries were wild, yet never bothered to walk over and ask the pie-maker.

Jason wondered why I was photographing his pie. I just handed him a business card and figured he’d figure it out.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling




A Farm Country Thanksgiving November 24, 2010

The third book in the Farm Country series.

WHENEVER I OPEN one of Lakeville author Gordon Fredrickson’s books, I feel like I’m stepping back in time to my childhood on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm.

I’m thankful for Fredrickson, who understands the value in preserving the history of small family farms. Because he was raised on a Scott County dairy farm and farmed for awhile as an adult with his wife, Nancy, Fredrickson gets his 1950s era farm stories right.

Last night I snuggled up in the recliner with his latest children’s picture book, A Farm Country Thanksgiving. I thought it would be a fairly quick read, but I was wrong.

I didn’t whiz through this story told from the viewpoint of 10-year-old farm boy Jimmy. Rather, I savored every rhyming word by Fredrickson and every detailed illustration by Michaelin Otis.

I was the one sledding down the hill. I was the one with snow stuffed down my neck by my older brother. I was pitching silage down the silo chute, eating banana-filled Jell-O, sitting at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving…

If you grew up on a farm in the 1950s and 1960s, you absolutely must read this book and Fredrickson’s other Farm Country series stories about Halloween and Christmas. He’s also published three If I Were a Farmer books.

I guarantee that you will feel all warm and fuzzy and nostalgic and want to dig out the old photo albums or reminisce with your siblings.

I noticed the ear flapper caps, the buckle overshoes, the checkerboard ringed silo (just like the one on my childhood farm), the old runner sled—book illustrations that are as accurate as photographs. The only difference: My albums hold black-and-white snapshots.

Fredrickson captures the essence of family, of hard work, of rural life. He understands that these are worth preserving. But his efforts to save our rural heritage extend beyond his books. This writer travels across Minnesota, and sometimes out of state, presenting his message to school children, senior citizens and others. He dresses the part of a 1950s farmer in bib overalls, brings farm props, talks and reads from his books.

I will tell you too that Fredrickson and his wife, Nancy, are as genuine and kind-hearted and as down-to-earth good as they come. My husband and I lunched with the couple this past summer. Although we had never met before then, having corresponded only via e-mail, I felt as comfortable with the Fredricksons as if I had known them for years. They are truly my kind of without pretenses folks.


I snapped this image of the Fredricksons after lunching with them in August.

I must also point out to you that Fredrickson gives me a plug on the back cover of his Thanksgiving book. He has pulled a quote from a book review I wrote. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the praise I am directing toward him here. He has earned his praise by writing these books, complete with glossaries (after I suggested a glossary), that forever preserve life on the family farm.

I thank him for taking on this project with a passion rooted deep in the land.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Book cover image courtesy of Gordon Fredrickson


I plead guilty to eating key lime pie for breakfast July 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:34 AM
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IF EVER YOU FEEL GUILTY about eating dessert for breakfast, do as I do. Adapt.

I have, on occasion, crumbled a cookie into vanilla yogurt, thereby justifying that this qualifies as a nutritious breakfast (by my definition).

And just the other day, when I opened the refrigerator early in the morning and eyed the key lime pie, I decided, what the heck.

I pulled this key lime pie from the refrigerator. Had my husband and I really eaten this much pie already?

With a handful of blueberries tossed on the side, this could qualify as a breakfast food. Blueberries, after all, are high in antioxidants, which protect cells from damage that leads to aging and various diseases. That’s good enough for me.

So I plated a piece of the key lime pie I had made just a day earlier, added the blueberries and indulged without a twinge of regret.

With a side of blueberries, key lime pie makes a balanced breakfast. You've got your protein (eggs), your dairy products (sweetened condensed milk and sour cream) and your fruit (blueberries and lime juice).

Later I e-mailed Joanne Fluke, creator of this pie, and asked if I could publish her recipe on Minnesota Prairie Roots. She obliged.

But first, you should know that Joanne is a Swanville, Minnesota native and the New York Times bestselling author of the Hannah Swensen culinary cozy mysteries. She defected to California, where she’s lived for years, but I don’t hold that against her. Joanne writes some good Minnesota-based mysteries that include some equally great recipes. And she returns to her home state at least once a year to visit and to promote her books.

The recipe for key lime pie published in 2007 in Key Lime Pie Murder. In that mystery, main character Hannah Swensen, who owns a bakery, is judging baked entries at the Tri-County Fair. As she leaves the fairgrounds one evening while carrying a key lime pie, she discovers a dead body. So that, dear readers, is the story behind the decadent, to-die-for dessert that I devoured for breakfast.

Key Lime Pie


5 eggs

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

½ tsp. lemon zest (optional, no substitutes)

½ cup sour cream

½ cup key lime juice (may substitute frozen key lime juice or juice from regular limes)

¼ cup white sugar

Crack one whole egg into a medium-sized bowl. Separate the 4 remaining eggs, placing the 4 yolks into the bowl with the whole egg. Place the 4 whites in another mixing bowl and set aside for later use in the meringue.

Whisk the whole egg and yolks until uniform in color. Stir in sweetened condensed milk. Add the lemon zest, if you decided to use it, and the sour cream. Stir together and set the bowl aside.

Juice the limes and measure out ½ cup of the juice into a small bowl. If you are using the ready-made lime juice, measure out ½ cup of that. Add ¼ cup sugar to the lime juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Next, whisk the sugared lime juice into the egg mixture.

Pour the filling into a pre-made graham cracker or cookie crust. Bake 20 minutes at 325 degrees F. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack.

Increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. to bake the meringue.


4 egg whites

½ tsp. cream of tartar

pinch of salt

1/3 cup white sugar

Add the cream of tartar and salt to the bowl with the egg whites and mix in. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on high until soft peaks form. Continue to beat at high speed as you sprinkle in the sugar. When the egg whites form firm peaks, stop mixing. Spread the meringue over the filling with a spatula, sealing to the edge of the crust.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for an additional 12 minutes. Remove and cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Refrigerate if you wish. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Text & images © Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Recipe courtesy of Joanne Fluke