Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesotan’s take on Wisconsin August 26, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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WHEN I TOOK A ROAD TRIP to Boston earlier this year, I learned something about my home state. Or rather, what others think of Minnesota. Whether in Indiana or New York or Massachusetts, folks reacted the same upon learning I was a Minnesotan. “It’s cold there,” they said.

Yes, it’s cold here. But not year-round. In the end, I decided, let them believe what they wish. Such opinions keep Minnesota from becoming densely populated like the Coasts.

Rolling hills and farms define the land east of La Crosse along Interstate 90 in the southwestern part of Wisconsin..

Rolling hills and farms define the land east of La Crosse along Interstate 90 in the southwestern part of Wisconsin..

But that got me thinking about how I view people and places, specifically Wisconsin and its residents. I’ve traveled there many times in the past five years to visit my daughter Miranda who lives on the northeastern side of the state.

Packers fans houses in Wautoma? Or simply a gold house and a green house?

Packers fans houses in Wautoma? Or simply a gold house and a green house? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Here’s my outsider’s impression of Wisconsinites: fanatical about the Green Bay Packers, crazy about brat and fish fries, and lovers of cheese and beer. Wisconsin residents also seem particularly opinionated. And many love to hunt. Of course, I’m sweeping my neighboring state with a broad brush of generalities. Just like others do about Minnesota.

A tribute to Aaron Rodgers.

A tribute to Aaron Rodgers on a barn along Highway 10 west of Appleton. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Let’s examine my impressions more closely. I’ve seen Wisconsin fire hydrants painted Packers green and gold and brat buns and kettle corn in the same colors. And I’ve photographed a barn with this message: #12 is #1 G. If you’re not dressed in a Packers jersey on game day, well, you feel totally unfashionable. On game day weekends, Green Bay area hotels jack up the room prices as much as $100. My daughter clued me in on that.

The brat barn, not to be confused with a dairy or pig barn. You can purchase StoneRidge meats here.

The brat barn, stationed outside the Piggly Wiggly in Wautoma. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’m not a brat lover, so I could never pass as a Wisconsinite. From my observations, brat fries are the most popular fundraiser in this state with brat fry shacks stationed outside many grocery stores. Friday night fish fries are equally as popular.

Van Handel's Cheese Hut, also a gas station, is located in Appleton.

Van Handel’s Cheese Hut, also a gas station and convenience store, is located in Appleton.

Wisconsin definitely lives up to its name as the Dairyland State. Cheese stores abound. The funny thing, every time I travel to Wisconsin, Miranda asks me to bring cave-aged blue cheese from Faribault. So I stash wedges in a cooler and sneak Minnesota-made cheese across the border.

I photographed this signage along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

I photographed this signage along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

Like cheese, booze is readily available in Wisconsin. For example, you’ll find walk-in beer coolers at Kwik Trip convenience stores, co-joined grocery and liquor stores, and lots of breweries. Twelve Wisconsin communities rank in the top 20 drunkest cities in America. According to a May 2016 report on 24/7 Wall St, “Appleton is home to the largest share of binge and heavy drinkers in both Wisconsin and the country.”

A strong opinion expressed on a billboard along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

A strong opinion expressed on a billboard along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

On a recent visit, and in past visits, I’ve also noticed plenty of opinions posted roadside, sometimes on billboards and other times on homemade signs. In Redgranite, a homeowner recently scrawled “Send Hillary to prison” and placed the message board along busy State Highway 21. I’ve also noticed strongly worded messages in billboards posted along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

A pawn shop, somewhere along State Highway 21 between Omro and Tomah advertises guns.

A pawn shop, somewhere along State Highway 21 between Omro and Tomah advertises guns.

Finally, hunting seems a popular sport in Wisconsin based on the number of deer stands and deer processing places. While I’m not a big fan of hunting for sport, I do appreciate that hunting makes for fewer deer on roadways.

So…is my general assessment of Wisconsin fair and/or accurate? I do, by the way, really like Wisconsin, including the cheese and the beer.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If you think Wisconsinites love beer, brats & cheese, you’d be right April 24, 2014

IN THREE YEARS of exploring Wisconsin, I’ve learned a few things:

Wisconsinites are crazy about their Packers.

Wisconsinites love their brats.

Cheese is, indeed, big in Wisconsin.

And, finally, Wisconsin residents love their beer.

Not necessarily in that order.

I base this on observations such as green and gold brat buns sold at an Appleton grocery store where staff wear Packer attire on game day; liquor stores directly connected to grocery stores, walk-in beer coolers at convenience stores and an abundance of bars everywhere, seemingly packed on game day; a decrease in highway traffic during Packers games; frequent homemade roadside signs advertising brat fries; and busy specialty shops focused on selling cheese.

A banner welcomes visitors to the featured exhibit on food at the History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

A banner welcomes visitors to the featured exhibit on food at the History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

Now an exhibit, “Food: Who We Are and What We Eat,” at the History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton (that’s in eastern Wisconsin south of Green Bay) confirms my observations and conclusions about Wisconsin.

In an interactive portion of the exhibit, in a fish house, visitors can try spearing a sturgeon. In this case, my daughter "speared" a catfish instead.

In an interactive portion of the exhibit, in a fish house, visitors can try spearing a sturgeon. In this case, my daughter “speared” a catfish instead by thrusting a “spear” at the shadowy fish lurking below the water’s surface. You best know your fish.

The informative and interactive exhibit—try spearing a sturgeon—explores the origins of iconic Wisconsin food traditions.

foods

Visitors uses post-it notes to list favorite foods reflecting their ethnicity.

“From sauerkraut to egg rolls, each food has a story to tell about our regional values and community-making,” so notes a line in the wealth of exhibit information. I’ll admit that I didn’t read all of the info. I am more a visual and interactive learner in a museum setting. But I appreciate the depth of research summarized here.

A snippet of the expansive food exhibit.

A snippet of the expansive food exhibit.

That said, join me on this photographic tour of “Food.”

Via museum magic, you can actually press the button and smell cheddar cheese wafting from the golden box.

Via museum magic, you can press the button and smell cheddar cheese wafting from the golden box.

 

Smell the cheese.

Test your cow knowledge on this interactive computer screen. Wisconsin is, after all, termed "The Dairyland State."

Test your cow knowledge on this interactive screen. Wisconsin is, after all, termed “America’s Dairyland.”

 

Test your knowledge of cows.

See how visitors answered this question about Wisconsin's "soul food." lots of cheese, brats and beer answers.

See how visitors answered this question about Wisconsin’s “soul food.” Cheese, brats, beer, fish fry… Add your own answer.

Define Wisconsin “soul food.”

Another overview

A portion of the exhibit focuses on place, like burger joints and supper clubs, etc.

Reminisce about supper clubs and burger stands.

Old kitchen utensils for visitors to identify.

Old kitchen utensils for visitors to identify.

Identify old kitchen tools…

Celebrate the food traditions of Wisconsin:

Hunting and fishing are a major part of sports and food culture in Wisconsin.

Hunting and fishing are a major part of sports and food culture in Wisconsin.

 

Red Dot potato chips

Red Dot potato chips were produced by Red Dot Foods of Madison, Wisconsin, and were once a top potato chip brand.

Cookbooks are on display and vintage recipes available for the taking at the exhibit. The Appleton, Wisconsin, area is known as the Fox Valley after the Fox River which runs through the area.

Cookbooks are on display and vintage recipes available for the taking at the exhibit. The Appleton, Wisconsin, region is known as the Fox Valley after the Fox River which runs through the area.

In the Marketplace, visitors are encouraged to choose healthy fresh foods.

In the Marketplace, visitors are encouraged to choose healthy fresh foods.

Another display focuses on the empowerment of women via the Temperance Movement.

Another display focuses on the empowerment of women via the Temperance Movement. One of the Appleton Police Department’s major objectives in 2014 is to combat domestic violence.

Another

The exhibit on the right focuses on supper clubs. Visitors are invited to write characteristics defining a supper club. Answers included, among many others, pickled beets and herring at salad bar; dim lighting; cocktail hour; tavern in front, buffet in back; and old fashion jukeboxes.

Supper club signage close-ups.

Supper club/bar signage close-ups.

The Pig Fair...

The Pig Fair…

A section on electricity highlights Appleton as having the first home electrified by water power in 1882. And, yes, that's Reddi Kilowatt there on the wall.

A section on electricity highlights Appleton as having the first home electrified by water power in 1882. And, yes, that’s Reddy Kilowatt there on the wall.

And then afterward, grab a cold one. It seems only fitting to honor Wisconsin’s love of brats, beer, cheese and Packers. Cheers.

History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

The impressive and historic History Museum at the Castle.

FYI: The “Food: Who We Are and What We Eat” exhibit continues through the fall of 2014 at the Castle. There’s much more to see here, including exhibits on local history and a permanent Harry Houdini exhibit. Houdini claims Appleton as his hometown.

Don't miss the incredible stained glass windows in the Siekman Room.

Don’t miss the incredible stained glass windows in the Siekman Room.

The castle itself is a lovely complex built in 1923 as a Masonic temple and today is on the National Register of Historic Places. Click here to learn more about the History Museum at the Castle.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bratty Boy Scouts March 11, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:38 AM
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APPARENTLY I’M NOT ALONE in noticing, appreciating and photographing interesting signs.

After reading my post this week about the Antique Maul in Sleepy Eye, photographer Harriet Traxler of rural Carver e-mailed a photo of a sign supporting the Boy Scouts. The only problem—read the words the “wrong way” and they take on an entirely different meaning.

Here’s the sign Harriet spotted several years ago in front of a garden store along U.S. Highway 212 between Chaska and Cologne, Minnesota.

“I did a double take and had to turn around and get a couple of photos before they changed it because I knew it wouldn’t be there the next day and it wasn’t,” Harriet says. “Sometimes it is all in how you read it!”

Brats (as in food) or brats (as in bratty Boy Scouts)?

But Harriet wasn’t finished sharing her silly word stories. “We were once on a road trip to Florida and we stopped at a small cafe in Georgia to have breakfast,” she says. “No one in our group knew what ‘grits’ were so several had to try that (cereal like cream of wheat). Someone at the next table saw a sign on the counter that said ‘Polish Sausage’ and asked the waitress how they ‘polished their sausage.’ We are still laughing at that one.”

SO HOW ABOUT YOU? What humorous or intriguing signs have you spotted while you’ve been out and about? Watch for them. You’d be surprised how many can have double meanings.

© Text Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

© Photo Copyright 2011 Harriet Traxler