Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Wheeling Township, Part I: The season of Minnesota church dinners September 26, 2017

Long-time Germanfest kitchen staff, Lynn, left, and Elsie.

 

AUTUMN MARKS THE SEASON of church dinners and festivals in Minnesota. In fellowship halls and church basements, you will find some of the best homecooked food. Food of the land. Potatoes peeled and mashed. Squash scooped of seeds and baked. Bone-in-ham savory and heavenly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An abundance of food fills plates, satisfying the belly and the soul. Menus vary from congregation to congregation with ethnicity, location and tradition determining food offerings. At St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, parishioners serve an authentic German meal at the annual late September Germanfest. Several years had passed since I attended this dinner, one of my favorites among Faribault area churches.

 

Diners park their vehicles around the cemetery next to the church.

 

 

 

 

Baby Lucy and her grandpa listen to the Ray Sands Combo.

 

Here in this rural setting, with old-time bands pumping out polkas and waltzes just outside the dining hall, hundreds gather for food and fellowship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And bingo,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a quilt show,

 

 

 

 

 

 

petting zoo,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

market, polka service and more.

 

 

 

Randy and I whiled away the last September Sunday afternoon here, crammed first into the fellowship hall eating sauerbraten and brats, German potato salad (and yes, mashed potatoes and gravy for those who prefer that potato choice) and an assortment of German sides with Black Forest cake, apple kuchen and bread pudding for dessert—as if we needed three desserts. But it’s impossible to pass on such sugary goodness.

 

 

 

 

This event, as are all church dinners and festivals, is about more than food. It’s about family and friends and good conversation and laughter and delighting in the bounty of the earth. It’s about hard work—laboring in the kitchen, selling tickets, grilling brats, tending quilts and animals, and an entire long list of volunteer duties. It’s about a sense of community, a coming together, a communion of sorts with the land, with this place, with these people. In the season of autumn.

 

TELL ME: Do you attend church dinners and festivals? If so, feel free to recommend one here.

 

Check back for several more posts from St. John’s Germanfest including some endearing photos of a budding musician and of a family photo shoot.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Faribault area welcomes you to bike, run, eat, drink, learn about history & more this weekend October 6, 2016

 

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FARIBAULT CELEBRATES FALL this Saturday with a day jammed full of activities for all ages.

If you’ve never been to my southeastern Minnesota community, please join us. If you live here, appreciate what Faribault offers. Here’s a round-up of events slated for Saturday, most in our historic downtown:

Faribault’s Fall Festival begins at noon with the Children’s Costume Parade starting at Community Co-op and continuing north along Central Avenue to Fifth Street. Afterwards, kids, accompanied by adults, can trick-or-treat at downtown businesses until 3 p.m.

Additionally, there will be pumpkin painting, yard games and unicycle shows to keep families and other folks busy and entertained.

 

Participants in last year's Chili Contest dish up chili at a business along Central Avenue during the Fall Festival.

Sampling chili during a Fall Festival in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

From 12:20 – 2:30 p.m., chili lovers, for a $5 fee, can sample chili from stands set up along historic Central Avenue.

 

The Adam Weyer Wagon Shop, built of limestone in 1874, is among historic buildings on the tour.

The Adam Weyer Wagon Shop, constructed of limestone in 1874, is among historic buildings on the tour. Weyer built buggies, carriages, wagons and bobsleds here from 1874 in to the early 1900s. He then opened a blacksmith shop. Today the building houses Carriage House Liquors.

 

Even before the costume parade, a free guided Old Town walking and biking tour of historical sites in downtown Faribault is scheduled from 10 – 11:30 a.m. Participants should meet at Buckham Center, 11 East Division Street.

 

And the volunteer firemen were on duty.

Firefighters return from a call in Marine on St. Croix, on the eastern side of Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration purposes only.

 

Also at 10 a.m., until 2 p.m., the Faribault Fire Department hosts its annual open house. Kids can meet fire fighters and Sparky The Fire Dog. There will be free demos, free fire hats and free smoke detectors.

 

We wanted to sample all of the beers on tap, so we ordered a flight.

A sampler of F-Town beers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Half a block off Central Avenue, F-Town Brewing kicks off its F-Oktoberfest at 11 a.m. with Gravel Grinder, a 50-mile charity bike race.

Brewery fun continues for 12 more hours with food trucks, live music and plenty of F-Town beer.

 

"Shoe Stories" opened Friday at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

The Paradise Center for the Arts is housed in a beautifully restored theater. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

At the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, the arts center hosts the Paradise Haunted Basement Tour from 1 – 3 p.m.

And for music fans, the Paradise presents A Tribute to “The Boss” Bruce Springsteen at 7 p.m. Admission price is $15 for members and $20 for non-members.

 

Math class is underway inside the one-room Pleasant Valley School.

Math class is underway inside the one-room Pleasant Valley School during a past “A Night at the Museum.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

On the north side of town by the Rice County Fairgrounds, the Rice County Historical Society opens its doors and grounds for the fourth annual “A Night at the Museum.” The event, with a $2 admission price for adults and $1 for kids, runs from 4 – 7 p.m. It’s a great opportunity to observe and participate in living history.

 

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At River Valley Church, 722 Ravine St., the Lakelanders Acapella Chorus will present a 7 p.m. concert benefiting three local organizations that help women dealing with issues like domestic violence, homelessness, addiction, etc. Admission is a free will offering.

There you go. Lots to do in Faribault on Saturday. Come, join the fun, eat (and drink) local, shop local and appreciate all this community offers.

 

BONUS:

Well-kept and well-traveled paths take hikers deep into the Big Woods.

Well-kept and well-traveled paths take hikers deep into the Big Woods at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The park is known for its incredible fall foliage. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Just to the east of Faribault, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, hosts its annual Big Woods Run half marathon/10K/5K/kids K through Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The events begins at 9 a.m. New this year is a guided prairie walk and nature talk.

 

Delicious home-cooked food fills roasters at Trinity's annual fall harvest dinner on Sunday.

Delicious home-cooked food fills roasters at Trinity’s annual fall harvest dinner in the church basement. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

On Sunday, to the west of Faribault at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, the church will host its annual fall dinner and craft/bake sale. For $12 (ages 13 and up; $5 for those 6 – 12)) you can enjoy a homemade meal of turkey, ham and all the fixings. I’ve eaten here many times and this is an incredibly delicious meal cooked by folks who know how to cook. The food is delicious, the portions ample and the company welcoming and friendly. Serving is from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Logo from Faribault Main Street, key organizer of the Faribault Fall Festival.

 

Minnesota Faces: Madeline January 23, 2015

PORTRAIT #4: Madeline, bearer of Christmas cake

 

Madeline, Fourth Ave. United Methodist dinner 2013

 

Sweet Madeline served Christmas cake at the 2013 Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Community Christmas Dinner in Faribault.

I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to photograph this young volunteer draped in what I expect was a vintage apron, delivering cake on a vintage tray.

This isn’t just any old cake. It’s Poke Cake—white cake mix baked, poked with fork tines and flooded with red or green Jell-O, then topped with Cool Whip (or maybe Dream Whip) and sprinkled with red or green sugar. It’s a recipe that’s, oh, so 70s.

I purposely framed this portrait to include a section of the holiday banner, the aged door and the light switch. Those, too, are part of this portrait story from a Minnesota church basement.

This portrait is part of a new series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrate autumn in Minnesota this weekend October 10, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:15 PM
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THERE’S MUCH TO LOVE about Autumn in Minnesota.

Stop at a roadside stand or a farmers' market for pumpkins, apples, squash and other Minnesota-grown produce. That's me at The Country Store of Pepin (Wisconsin) photographed earlier this week by my husband, Randy.

Stop at a roadside stand or a farmers’ market for pumpkins, apples, squash and other Minnesota-grown produce. That’s me relaxing at The Country Store of Pepin (Wisconsin) photographed earlier this week by my husband, Randy.

It’s the season of harvest and leaves crackling underfoot and piled pumpkins.

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

Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, hosts its annual fall dinner and craft sale from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. this Sunday, October 12. It’s one of the best church dinners around, in my opinion. All of the food (some not shown here) is homemade. Cost is $10 for ages 13 and older; $5 for ages 6-12; and free for ages 5 and younger. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It’s the season of church dinners.

Christine Henke serves chili, which I classified as "very spicy" at Glam Central Salon.

Faribault holds its annual downtown Fall Festival on Saturday, October 11, with a kids’ costume parade, kids’ activities, chili tasting (between 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.), gallery-on-the-go and a mystery dinner. Visit the Faribault Main Street website for more information. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And festivals galore.

 

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

The third annual Maker Fair Fall Festival runs from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturday, October 11, at the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds in Garden City. Handcrafted arts and food from nearly 100 south central Minnesota artisans will be featured along with music, kids’ activities and more. For more info, visit makerfair.org. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It’s the season of shopping at craft sales in small towns and along country roads.

Fall colors are at their prime in some areas of Minnesota. This photo, taken on Thursday, shows the St. Croix River near Stillwater.

Fall colors are at their prime in some areas of Minnesota. This photo, taken on Thursday, shows the St. Croix River near Stillwater.

But most of all, it’s about taking the time to appreciate this season that brings a sharpness to our days, an awareness that we must savor every ray of sunshine, every moment outdoors. Take time this weekend to embrace Autumn before she exits and Winter walks through the door.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

All about caring & community at the church basement Christmas dinner December 17, 2012

We hung up our coats and headed to that doorway into the basement dining room.

Guests hung up their coats before heading for the dining room.

WE SHRUGGED OFF our winter coats, my husband and I, and secured them onto hooks before following the tantalizing aroma of turkey and meatballs into the church basement dining area.

My meal, minus the cranberries, bread and cake which were also served.

My meal, minus the cranberries, bread and cake which were also served.

I grabbed a plate and the volunteers passed it down the line, spooning on mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, turkey and two Swedish meatballs.

Then I heard the clatter, the sound of a cane falling upon tile and saw the elderly man directly behind me lying face down, motionless, on the floor between the serving line and the table for take-outs.

Volunteers expected to serve around 225 diners at the free Community Christmas Dinner. A free will offering could be given.

Volunteers expected to serve around 225 diners at the free Community Christmas Dinner. A free will offering could be given.

“Call 911,” I ordered my husband. I knew, given my hearing loss, that I wouldn’t be able to hear above the drone of conversation filling the basement at the Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Community Christmas Dinner.

A sampling of the volunteer crew it takes to put on the Christmas dinner.

A sampling of the volunteer crew it takes to put on the Christmas dinner.

At some point, a server took the plate from my hand. “Give it to someone else,” I said.

“Is there a nurse here?” I asked as a cluster gathered around the fallen man. I mostly wanted someone to be with him, down there on the floor, comforting him until the paramedics arrived. And there was and that relieved me although I was still very much worried.

I felt helpless standing there, camera bag slung over one shoulder, camera on the other. I couldn’t simply take back my plate, sit down like nothing had happened and enjoy my Christmas meal.

Eventually, the man was eased off the floor and onto a chair and I sought out my husband who stood outside the glass doors in the bitter cold talking on the phone with the emergency dispatcher. I relayed that the man was now sitting and alert. And I wondered why the rescue squad had not yet arrived from two blocks away, knowing full well from personal experience that time seems to stand still when you are in need of emergency services.

And so the story ended. No broken bones. No heart attack. Not even shattered eyeglasses as the unsteady aged man tripped on a table leg and plunged forward, his fall broken only by the shoe of the woman scooping mashed potatoes at the beginning of the serving line.

If not for that shoe, he would have smashed face first onto the tile.

It seemed a Christmas miracle.

And so I stepped back into the serving line, the crew filling my plate for the second time. I pondered how grateful I am to live in a community where volunteers cook and serve savory meals in church basements and, when in a time of need, are there to comfort and assist.

Friends gave friends rides to and from the church dinner.

Friends gave friends rides to and from the church dinner.

The beautiful Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault. I'll take you inside the sanctuary in a follow-up post.

The beautiful Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault. I’ll take you inside the sanctuary in a follow-up post.

Coffee maker Dan Tersteeg mans the coffee corner. The coffee makers always use Folgers coffee, he says, because it works best with Faribault's water.

Coffee maker Dan Tersteeg mans the coffee corner. The coffee makers always use Folgers, he says, because it works best with Faribault’s water.

I noticed this full coffee cup setting on a cupboard lined with holiday decorations. During the congregation's Lenten soup luncheons, desserts fill the shelves.

I noticed this full coffee cup sitting on a cupboard lined with holiday decorations. During the congregation’s Lenten soup luncheons, desserts fill the shelves.

Inside a room labeled "Fourth Avenue Room," where women were slicing Christmas cake, among other tasks, I found this sign posted.

Inside a room labeled “Fourth Avenue Room,” where women were slicing Christmas cake, among other tasks, I found this humorous sign posted.

And then these directions, too, posted, perhaps, by the boss?

And then these directions, too, posted, perhaps, by the boss?

In the kitchen, a team of workers tended the food and washed the dishes, etc.

In the kitchen, a team of workers tended the food and washed the dishes, etc.

And another worker handed out Christmas cake.

Another worker handed out slices of festive and delicious Christmas cake.

Diners enjoyed each other's company and observed the goings-on.

Diners enjoyed each other’s company and observed the goings-on.

Some of the guests took home gifts of poinsettias which served as table centerpieces.

Some of the guests took home gifts of poinsettias which served as table centerpieces.

A street-side sign welcomes diners to the free Community Christmas dinner.

A street-side sign welcomes diners to the free Community Christmas dinner.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Food and (some) photos October 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:42 PM
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DURING THE PAST 24 HOURS, I have eaten perhaps more food than I would consume in two days.

But three delicious food events fell on the same weekend and I was not about to skip any in the trio.

What I did skip, however, was photographing two of the three, forcing myself to leave my camera at home for one and in the van for the third, just in case. Anyone who knows me understands just how challenging camera abandonment is for me. But I did it, people, I did it.

Four of the 13 chilis/soups served at Lanae and Dale’s annual soup party.

So, instead of seeing photos from Saturday’s Fall Festival in downtown Faribault, which included a buffet of chili along Central Avenue, you will see photos only from my sister Lanae and her husband Dale’s ninth annual soup party Saturday evening.

You also will not see photos from the fall dinner I attended today at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown. I hadn’t even entered the sanctuary when I was asked, “Do you have your camera?” Yesterday I heard the same question several times while strolling Central.

People have come to expect that I will always have my camera around my neck. It was time for me to break free of the camera. Besides, I’ve photographed both the Chili Contest and the Trinity dinner in the past and felt uninspired and maybe a bit lazy. (If you want to see photos from the 2011 church dinner, click here. For past images of the Fall Festival, click here.)

My floral designer sister always has her yard and house seasonally and beautifully decorated.

But, prior to scooping up soup in my sister’s garage, I shot a few photos inside and out and then put away my camera.

I hope you will be inspired by these photos to host an autumn soup party. Guests brought 13 soups/chilis like split pea, potato, Gunflint chili, white chili, minestrone, tomato and more in crockpots. Paired with homemade breads and sweetened with sweet treats, the soups and chilis presented a perfect meal for a fun-filled fall evening with family and friends.

The soup party started and ended with a backyard campfire. Here a few guests and host Dale gathered before we ate.

I was distracted from the food by this gigantic toad in my sister’s backyard.

Then 7-month-old Mychel and her mom arrived and I invited them for a quick photo shoot on the front steps because, well, how could I resist that sweet baby face?

And then I noticed the sweet baby shoes and how could I resist photographing the feet of mom and daughter?

The sweet baby shoot continued as Mychel walked with her mom toward the garage.

In the garage Mychel’s grandpa, Scott, left, and other guests eventually started filing through the soup line.

My niece Cortney and guest Sheila scoop up soup. Casual and warm attire are necessary for this event which is staged in the garage, driveway and backyard. Layers are added as the evening progresses and cold settles in.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The season of church dinners October 23, 2011

To everything there is a season, and a time for every harvest dinner in the church basement:

A time to be prepared

And a time to enlist volunteers;

A time to bake

And a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to pull out the plates and roasters

And a time to feed those who come seeking nourishment;

A time to serve the hungry waiting in line

And a time to dish up meals for those who want take-out;

A time to savor good home-cooking

in the company of family and friends;

A time to remember the past in old photos and conversation

And a time to welcome new friends into the fold;

A time to encourage those who labor tirelessly in the kitchen

And a time to be thankful for this land we love, in the season of harvest.

THESE PHOTOS were taken at the recent Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, annual fall harvest dinner, country store and bake sale.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling