Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota’s church dinner season underway August 2, 2013

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TIS THE SEASON of church dinners.

Diners dish up at last year's fall dinner at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown.

Diners dish up at the 2011 dinner at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown.

Although I’ve never partaken in the one at The Church of the Nativity in Cleveland, I’ve attended plenty of others in southern Minnesota. Church dinner food is typically homemade, the draw for me, along with the fellowship.

If I wasn’t already busy this Sunday, August 4, I’d head west to Cleveland, which sits along State Highway 99 six miles east of St. Peter, to this Catholic church dinner and festival.

The beautiful chicken dinner sign I spotted along Minnesota Highway 99 on the edge of Cleveland.

The beautiful chicken dinner sign I spotted along Minnesota Highway 99 on the edge of Cleveland.

Since I can’t review the food, I’ll award these dinner promoters five stars for creative and eye-catching roadside signage.

To learn more about the dinner, I checked out the church website (click here) where the meal is tagged as “Men’s Chicken Dinner & Parish Festival.” Now I’m certain women and children are welcome. I assume the “men’s dinner” means the men are cooking the advertised “fabulous broasted chicken.”

In addition, baked potatoes, creamy cucumbers, baked beans, pie and beverages will be served. Homemade pie. The best.

Food will be served from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Mass starts at 8:30 a.m.

My meal at last year's Trinity dinner, minus the bread and cranberries. I had cake for dessert, too.

My food plated at the annual Trinity North Morristown church dinner.

Besides food, the festival offers your usual games, beer garden (this was an initial surprise for me, a Lutheran, to discover beer at a church event) and silent auction. The Church of the Nativity also has an antique car show and a coffee bar, neither of which I’ve seen at a parish fest.

Next year this event is going on my list of must-attend church festivals.

FYI: I’d recommend attending these three church dinners:

Click here to read about the Veseli Ho-Down, Most Holy Trinity’s annual parish festival and dinner. This event is held in late August. Great food, music, games and more.

Click here to read about the annual church dinner at Trinity Lutheran Church, rural North Morristown. The dinner is served in mid-October in the church basement. Excellent, excellent food.

Click here to read about the Strawberry Festival held each June at Moland Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon.

Also, check out the website, Church Cuisine of Minnesota, for stories and photos of other church dinners.

HAVE YOU ATTENDED an outstanding church dinner and/or festival? if so please share in a comment to this post.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating summer in small-town southwestern Minnesota August 1, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:26 AM
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A chicken meal has been served for decades at V-Esta Daze.

Milt Marquardt

IF YOU GREW UP in a rural area, you likely also grew up with an annual small-town summer celebration.

A chicken/pork/burger/corn (whatever) feed, carnival, kids’ games, car show, crowning of Miss Small-Town, water fights between neighboring fire departments, softball tournaments, a parade…

My hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota has, for decades, celebrated V-Esta Daze. The town name is pronounced “Vest-a,” but for the celebration, the pronunciation rhymes with “fiesta.” Don’t ask me why. We’re mostly a bunch of Germans.

Anyway, heritage and linguistics don’t matter so much as the decades-long tradition of serving Vesta’s famous chicken. Guys like Milt Marquardt, my neighbor back when I was growing up on a dairy and crop farm, have been grilling chicken so long they can’t remember. Suffice to say that’s been more than four decades.

Milt and the crew grilled 280 pieces of chicken for the crowd that lined up in the Vesta Community Hall Friday evening for quarter or chicken halves, potato salad, beans, rolls, pickles and beverages. A few things have changed about the meal—the potato salad is no longer prepared by local women and the plastic-ware isn’t wrapped in a napkin (you grab your own). But you’ll still find my Aunt Marilyn monitoring the beverage station, the same job she’s held for some 40 years.

Diners still settle onto folding chairs pulled up to long tables in the old hall. Glass encased military uniforms and built-in wooden benches flank the sides of the hall anchored by a stage on one end. Little has changed in this building (except the addition of a kitchen), which has long been Vesta’s celebration-central—the place to celebrate weddings and anniversaries and the coming together of community.

The same sign goes up every year inside the Vesta Hall. The price is updated when necessary.

Diners eat in the Vesta Community Hall, where military uniforms hang on the walls.

This year the V-Esta Daze celebration was moved from a week night to a Friday night. Thank you, organizers. That happened to coincide with the annual Kletscher family reunion weekend. So I was there, lining up for that famous chicken and reconnecting with people I haven’t seen in years (and trying to remember their names).

Gone are the carnival, softball games and water fights between neighboring fire departments that were part of the event when I was growing up. Instead, there were pony rides and bean bag tourneys, an antique tractor and car show, a putting green, pie eating contest, water fight for kids, street dance and entertainment by the Lucan Community Band and the required beer served from the beer truck.

The Lucan Community Band played under the shade trees outside the community hall and across the street from the elevator around meal-time. Lucan is a town of about 200 seven miles south of Vesta.

Area residents brought their old tractors to town for a tractor and car show.

My cousin Dawn's son, Kegan, enjoyed a pony ride.

A view of the dashboard in a 1960 pick-up truck, looking toward some of the entries in the antique car show.

When I was growing up, members of Vesta's volunteer fire department engaged in water fights with departments from neighboring communities. Now the kids, not adults, participate in water fights.

I didn’t take in all of the events. I skipped the pie eating, bean bag toss and street dance. But I heard the band playing loud and clear a few blocks away when I left my Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Milan’s house around midnight Friday for my mom’s house a block away. Yeah, everything in Vesta, population around 300, is just a few blocks away.

HOW ABOUT YOU AND YOUR COMMUNITY? Do you have an annual summer celebration or return to your hometown for one? Submit a comment. I’d like to hear about these small-town gatherings.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Take this snow and shove (shovel) it March 20, 2011

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ON THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING in Minnesota, my true love gave to me…chicken on the grill.

But, before he could cook the chicken, he shoveled 2 ½ feet of snow from the patio to access the Weber. That would be the grill which, until yesterday, lay tipped on its side, having toppled off a melting snow mountain.

After shoveling his way to the grill, he fired it up.

But, as anyone knows, even in winter-spring, a man cannot grill without beer. So my true love chiseled a bottle of Nordeast into an icy snow bank to reach icy perfection. By the time I photographed the chilling beer, the bottle was nearly empty.

Later he iced a bottle of Grain Belt Premium.

And so on the first day of spring in Minnesota, I did not get five golden rings or a partridge in a pear tree. Yes, I am well aware that I am referencing The Twelve Days of Christmas here. But with all the snow still remaining in our northern state, December 25 seems like yesterday.

Rather, on this fine spring day (if you call 40-plus degree temps, rain and thunder in the morning, and snow-blotched lawns and boulevards “fine”), I got chicken, and potatoes, on the grill.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling