Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Serving up kraut at a Minnesota “feed” July 7, 2016

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HOW DO YOU DEFINE feed?

In Minnesota, the word can typically be defined as an event in which large numbers of people are served food by a group of volunteers aiming to raise money for a cause. Not exactly a Webster dictionary concise definition.

This sign is posted at the intersection of U.S. Highway 14 and Minnesota State Highway 4 in downtown Sleepy Eye.

This sign is posted at the intersection of U.S. Highway 14 and Minnesota State Highway 4 in downtown Sleepy Eye.

Often the featured food reflects the ethnicity of the region. Take, for example, the Eagle’s Kraut Feed slated for tomorrow at the Servicemen’s Club in Sleepy Eye. This southwestern Minnesota community has a strong German heritage. That would explain the Kraut Feed menu of all you can eat sauerkraut, dumplings, mashed potatoes and gravy, Landjagers (sausage), applesauce, bread and coffee and/or milk.

Even though I’m 100 percent German and do eat sauerkraut, I don’t like dumplings or sausage. But apparently a lot of folks do.

Downtown Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, photographed on July 2.

Downtown Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, photographed on July 2.

While searching online for info about the July 8 Kraut Feed, I also read that the Servicemen’s Club hosted a Ring Bologna Feed in February and a Bullhead Feed in March. I’m not surprised. I grew up in the county next to Sleepy Eye and my mom cooked both. I wasn’t fond of either ring bologna or bullheads. But those locally-sourced (from our farm and nearby School Grove Lake) cheap foods fed our family of eight.

Sleepy Eye's Del Monte plant, located on the west edge of town along U.S. Highway 14.

Sleepy Eye’s Del Monte plant, located on the west edge of town along U.S. Highway 14.

In August, Sleepy Eye will serve free buttered sweet corn at its annual Buttered Corn Days. That event connects to the local Del Monte company, a community fixture since 1920. According to the Del Monte website, the Sleepy Eye plant “produces the largest case quantities of peas and corn for the company, planted by over 300 different growers on more than 26,000 acres.” That and the employment of up to 400 seasonal employees are good enough reasons to host a free community sweet corn feed.

TELL ME: What types of feeds are popular in your area? Or what is the most unusual feed you’ve come across and/or attended?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Calling all lutefisk lovers to Vang Lutheran Church October 6, 2014

Vang Lutheran is set among the farm fields of Goodhue County. The name "Vang" means field. Vang is a region of Norway from which the areas first settlers arrived.

Vang Lutheran is set among the farm fields of Goodhue County. The name “Vang” means field. Vang is a region of Norway from which the area’s first settlers arrived.

JUST DAYS BEFORE THE 34th annual Lutefisk and Norwegian Meatball Supper at Vang Lutheran Church, rural Dennison, the ladies were busy prepping Saturday morning.

A sign inside Vang Lutheran Church advertised its annual Lutefisk & Meatball Supper.

A sign inside Vang Lutheran Church advertises its annual Lutefisk & Meatball Supper.

Plates are stacked on the kitchen counter.

Plates are stacked on the kitchen counter awaiting diners.

Lists have been made with assigned jobs.

Lists have been made with assigned jobs.

Church ladies bring bowls from home.

Church ladies bring bowls from home.

Dishes and bowls stacked. Counters covered in plastic. Floors scrubbed. Lists in place. Folding chairs ready to unfold. Beet preserves and pickles already in the country store, made with produce from the Vang-Dennison Lutheran Church parishes’ Growing Connections Garden. Vinegar stashed in the fridge for coleslaw.

An empty lutefisk bucket from a previous supper.

An empty lutefisk bucket from a previous supper.

The lutefisk hadn’t arrived yet from Mike’s Lutefisk in Glenwood, Minnesota. But this Norwegian Lutheran church is ready for the 1,150 pounds that will feed 1,200 diners on Wednesday, October 8.

Beautiful stained glass windows grace the sanctuary.

Beautiful stained glass windows grace the sanctuary.

Not quite the 5,000 Jesus fed, but a seeming miracle for this congregation of 300 members—with a weekly attendance of 70 – 90—to prepare and serve this ethnic feast.

A view of the sanctuary from the balcony.

A view of the sanctuary from the balcony.

On the menu are lutefisk, Norwegian meatballs and gravy, mashed potatoes, corn, cranberries, coleslaw, rolls, fruit soup, lefse, Norwegian bakings and beverages.

To feed that many requires 1,150 pounds of lutefisk, 550 pounds of meatballs, 200 pounds of butter (presumably for all that lutefisk), 600 pounds of potatoes, 36 gallons of corn, 110 pounds of coleslaw, 20 gallons of cranberry sauce, 20 gallons of fruit soup, 4,500 cups of coffee (Norwegians must drink a lot of coffee), 600 half-pints of milk, 2,600 pieces of lefse, 90 dozen buns and 2,600 Norwegian bakings.

Uffda.

Diners will receive info about Vang and its annual supper.

Diners will receive info about Vang and its annual supper like these informational sheets photographed in a basket.

Mid-day servings are at 11 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. by reservation only. Call the church office at 507-645-6042.

Continuous evening serving runs from 4 – 7:30 p.m.

Cost is $16 for adults; $6 for 10 and under; and free for preschoolers.

The picturesque Vang Lutheran Church was built in 1896.

The picturesque Vang Lutheran Church was built in 1896.

Vang Lutheran Church, 2060 County Road 49, is located at  the corner of Goodhue County Road 49 and 20th Avenue, which is southeast of Dennison or seven miles northwest of Kenyon.

I won’t be there. I don’t like lutefisk. But apparently plenty of people do.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating my community’s many cultures at International Festival Faribault August 21, 2014

IN A SOUTHERN MINNESOTA COMMUNITY which is growing ever more diverse, the need for understanding among cultures seems not an option, but a must.

A Somali family waits to cross a street in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

A Somali family waits to cross a street in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

If we’re to live and work and play in the same town, then we need to meet one another, to educate ourselves, to be open to the differences that define us.

International Festival Faribault presents an opportunity to do just that from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. this Saturday, August 23. Via music, ethnic food, art, children’s activities and more, the cultures of our diverse community will be showcased and celebrated in Central Park.

Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico's national anthem last September during the International Festival Faribault at Faribault's Central Park.

Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico’s national anthem during a previous International Festival Faribault at Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

At the hour-long flag ceremony, which begins at 11:30 a.m., the flags and national anthems of 18 nations, from the U.S. to Somalia, South Sudan, Mexico and more will be presented. It’s a moving ceremony that visually impresses the diversity of those who call Faribault and the surrounding area home.

A Mexican dish (help me out if you know, but I think tortillas) was wrapped in banana leaves. My husband and I tried this.

A Mexican dish wrapped in banana leaves. My husband and I tried this at a past fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And then there are food booths, where you can sample ethnic dishes from countries like Somalia, Honduras, Norway and more.

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful wood crafts from Kenya and Somalia.

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful wood crafts from Kenya and Somalia during a past fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Others will vend native art.

Served at the 2011 fest: Guatemalan chuchitos-- chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk.  You'll find numerous vendors offering a variety of authentic international foods.

Served at the 2011 fest: Guatemalan chuchitos– chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk. You’ll find numerous vendors offering a variety of authentic international foods. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve attended this festival several times and each time have left with a better understanding of my neighbors. The key is to visit with folks who are from a country other than your own. Don’t just buy a chuchito or a tamale or some other food and walk away. Chat it up with the vendor.

Faribault High School seniors Shukri Aden, left, and Khadra Muhumed.

At a past fest, I spoke with then Faribault High School seniors Shukri Aden, left, and Khadra Muhumed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I am convinced that personal connections are the key to understanding and overcoming the barriers that separate cultures.

Conversation and connecting..., no other words necessary.

Conversing and connecting at a previous fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Long-time residents and newbies alike must reach out to one another to bridge the gaps of misunderstandings and preconceived notions that exist. And they do. Exist. I hear the prejudicial comments way too often. We must learn to respect one another.

That same little boy who was so intently focused on the musician.

One of my favorite fest portraits. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It is the kids who give me the most hope. They don’t seem to notice the differences in skin color, language and culture. And they are a primary focus of International Festival Faribault. The local United Way will give away children’s books. There will be a children’s dance performance and a bouncy tent.

Happy children all focused on the same goal: breaking the pinata.

Happy children all focused on the same goal: breaking the pinata near the Central Park Bandshell. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But the highlight, in my opinion, is the breaking of piñatas at 3:30 p.m. I’ve witnessed this event several times with children of many ethnic backgrounds standing side-by-side. Their smiles are wide. And so are those of the adults observing how piñatas can bring together cultures. Together.

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtli dances at Faribault's International Market Day celebration.

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtli dances at a past fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Here’s a schedule of festival events:

10 – 10:45 a.m.: Otto & Celia, Hispanic singers on keyboard
10:45 – 11 a.m.: Selvia, Guatemalan dancer
11 – 11:30 a.m.: Ollin Ayacaxtli Aztec Dancers
11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.: Flag ceremony
12:30 – 1 p.m.: Children’s dance performance by Florecitas de Dios
1 – 2 p.m.: River Mill Band performs (combination of newgrass and folk)
2 – 3 p.m.: South Sudanese music and dancers
3 – 3:30 p.m.: Hula hoop performance by Adrienne Lee & Jugglers
3:30 p.m.: Breaking of piñatas and end of silent auction

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Additionally, non-profits will be at the festival to focus on immigrants. Rice County Public Health will give guided tours of the Faribault Farmer’s Market (also happening at the park during morning hours) in Somali and Spanish. The American Association of University Women will offer children’s activities. HealthFinders Collaborative, the Faribault Diversity Coalition, Greater Upper Nile Community Services & Development and more will also be at the fest. A silent auction features about $3,000 in donated items.

To learn more about International Festival Faribault, click here. And then click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thinking lutefisk season already August 20, 2014

IT’S NOT TOO EARLY to start thinking lutefisk and meatballs.

That is if you eat lutefisk, a Norwegian delicacy of cooked cod that has been soaked in lye.

I know. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? I’ve eaten it twice, once when covering a church basement lutefisk dinner as a young newspaper reporter.

The second time I sampled this fish out of respect for my Norwegian aunt whose maiden name is Knudson.

I didn’t like lutefisk either time. Tastes like warm Jell-O. Smothering it with lots of melted butter does help. A bit.

Whether or not I like lutefisk or meatballs matters not, though, because I’m German, not Norwegian. I don’t have to eat the stuff.

Vang Lutheran Church

Vang Lutheran Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But for those of you who appreciate lutefisk, mark your calendars for the Wednesday, October 8, annual Vang Lutheran Church Lutefisk and Norwegian Meatball Supper. Vang is located 10 minutes north of Kenyon or east of Nerstrand with a County 49 Boulevard address. That’s in Minnesota, where, of course, many Scandinavians live.

I photographed Vang Lutheran Church across the cornfield west of the Potpourri Mill Log Cabin 10 minutes north of Kenyon.

Vang Lutheran Church sits among the farm fields of southeastern Minnesota, near Kenyon and Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And these Norskes love their lutefisk so much they’re already advertising the October church dinner in August. I spotted this sign and reminder slips with peppermints last weekend at a garage sale in Kenyon:

I spotted this sign at a garage sale in Kenyon.

I spotted this sign at a garage sale in Kenyon.

Have you eaten lutefisk? What’s your review of this Norwegian culinary specialty?

CLICK HERE TO READ a blog post about Vang’s lutefisk dinner written several years ago by a master of divinity student.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Kommen Sie for a taste of Deutschland in Faribault November 2, 2013

Arroz con pollo tastes much better than it looks.

Arroz con pollo, a Latin American dish of chicken and rice seasoned with fresh garlic, onions, red peppers and cilantro. The perfect comfort food as Minnesota transitions into winter.

EVERY YEAR ABOUT THIS TIME, I find myself craving comfort foods. Homemade mac and cheese. Beef roast and mashed potatoes. Steaming bowls of soup laced with thick chunks of vegetables. Fiery chili. Even hotdish.

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce made a perfect salad. I topped the salad with lemon poppyseed dressing.

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce make a delicious salad, often a meal for me during the summer months.

I eat fewer salads, place less fresh produce in my shopping cart, fight the urge to bake cookies.

The cycling of the seasons, transitioning into the long, dark and cold days of winter in Minnesota, imprints upon my body and psyche. Call of comfort foods. Snuggling on the sofa under a fleece throw, book in hand. Limited trips outside the house once the curtain of cold and darkness falls upon the land.

The German meal: sauerbraten and spaetzle on the left, German potato salad, sweet and sour cabbage, dinner roll and sauerkraut and brats.

The German meal: sauerbraten and spaetzle on the left, German potato salad, sweet and sour cabbage, dinner roll and sauerkraut and brats. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And so this seems the perfect time to partake of the food of my forefathers at Cannon Valley Lutheran High School’s annual German Fest: Sauerbraten mit spaetzle, Deutsche potato salad, sweet & sour red cabbage, bratwurst mit sauerkraut and the, oh, so delectable bread pudding.

Diners enjoy the ethnic meal at the second annual CVLHS German Fest in 2011.

Diners enjoy the ethnic meal at the second annual CVLHS German Fest in 2011.

Tickets are now on sale for the Sunday, November 10, German Fest Supper, served from 5 p.m. – 5:45 p.m. in the Trinity Lutheran Church gym, 530 Fourth St. N.W., Faribault. Cost is $13 for ages 11 – adult; $7 for ages 5 – 10; and free for preschoolers with a paid adult. Call (507) 685-2636 for tickets. You may also purchase tickets at the door.

If you appreciate German food, you will enjoy this ethnic meal served after the free German Fest of Thanks & Praise, which begins at 4 p.m. in the Trinity sanctuary. From songs and prayers in German to the music of an accordion trio, a harmonica player and a 12-piece band, the program offers an opportunity to reflect on our blessings.

The German Fest presents a perfect prelude to Thanksgiving and to this season when Minnesotans crave comfort foods.

FYI: The German Fest Supper is a fundraiser for Morristown-based Cannon Valley Lutheran High School, which serves students in grades 9 – 12 from around the region. Classes were suspended this school year, among other reasons, to pay off the school’s operating debt with plans to reopen in the fall of 2014.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo essay: St. John’s Germanfest in rural Minnesota September 29, 2013

I AM 100 PERCENT German.

My plate, filled with German foods at St. John's annual Germanfest.

My plate, filled with German foods like sauerbraten, sauerkraut, German potato salad, sweet and sour beets and more at St. John’s annual Germanfest.

I like German food.

Today was a gorgeous autumn day here in southeastern Minnesota, as glorious as they get.

The steeple of the historic stone church with the roofline of a German themed beverage booth in the foreground.

The steeple of the historic stone church with the roofline of a German themed beverage booth in the foreground.

St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, was hosting its annual Germanfest at its historic stone church out in the country.

Just a snippet of the buffet line.

Just a snippet of the buffet line.

I had to eat.

The social hall and rooms off the dining area were filled with diners.

The social hall and rooms off the dining area were filled with diners.

And I couldn’t think of a better place to dine on this Sunday afternoon than at St. John’s. Great food in the company of wonderful folks. Out in the country. Perfect weather. Perfect day.

Some of the St. John's kitchen crew, including long-time member Elsie Keller who is making German potato salad.

Some of the St. John’s kitchen crew, including long-time member Elsie Keller who is making German potato salad.

One of the major components of Germanfest is the fabulous quilt show inside the sanctuary.

One of the major components of Germanfest is the fabulous quilt show inside the sanctuary.

Among the incredible quilts were these three hung from the balcony.

Among the incredible quilts were these three hung from the balcony.

Each quilt comes with a story, this one among my favorites.

Each quilt comes with a story, this one among my favorites.

That glorious quilt show.

That glorious quilt show. Here you are seeing only a snippet of the quilts draped over pews.

My husband and I each bought a quilt raffle ticket.

My husband and I each bought a quilt raffle ticket.

The beautifully-appointed altar, complete with German and American flags.

The beautifully-appointed altar, complete with German and American flags.

Outside the church, I fell in love with the adorable goats at the petting zoo.

Outside the church, I fell in love with the adorable goats at the petting zoo.

And this little guy loved the miniature donkeys.

And this little guy loved the miniature donkeys.

Along with fresh produce and bakes goods and greeting cards (some published by Warner Press with my verses)

Along with fresh produce and baked goods and greeting cards (some published by Warner Press with verses I wrote) and apple jelly was this art (including these cute pooches).

Bingo drew the young and the older.

Bingo drew the young and the older.

Old-time music drew dancers and listeners to the tent next to the church.

Old-time music drew dancers and listeners to the tent next to the church.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting cultures at the International Festival Faribault August 22, 2013

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Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico's national anthem last September during the International Festival Faribault at Faribault's Central Park.

Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico’s national anthem during the 2011 International Festival Faribault at Faribault’s Central Park. The flags represent the diverse cultures of Faribault.

ITS PURPOSES ARE TO PROMOTE understanding between cultures and to unite the community.

This Saturday, August 24, the International Festival Faribault will strive to do just that through song, dance, ethnic cuisine, children’s activities and more from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. in Central Park.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, left, and Nasteho Farah whom I met at last year’s fest.

I’ve attended the fest, now in its eighth year, several times. Each time I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for other cultures and for the challenges new immigrants to my community face. That hasn’t necessarily come simply via sitting on a park bench and watching ethnic dancers or listening to ethnic music. Nor has it come from purchasing food unfamiliar to my Minnesota taste buds.

That same little boy who was so intently focused on the musician.

A precious little boy photographed next to a vendor’s table during the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

Rather, I have learned the most by interacting, one on one, with those whose skin color and backgrounds differ from mine.

Therein, in my opinion, lies the key to understanding and uniting. The ability to see each other as individuals breaks down barriers, dispels untruths, brings people together. International Festival Faribault offers an ideal setting in which to connect personally.

Conversation and connecting..., no other words necessary.

Conversation and connecting…, no other words necessary. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from the 2012 festival.

So to the residents of my community, I issue this challenge: Attend the festival and connect with at least one person you don’t know. If you’re the descendant of German immigrants, strike up a conversation with someone from Somalia. If your roots are in Mexico, introduce yourself to someone with Scandinavian ancestry. You get the idea.

An Aztec dancer, garbed in a symbolic headdress entertains the audience during International Market Day in Faribault.

An Aztec dancer, garbed in a symbolic headdress, entertains the audience during International Market Day in Faribault in 2009. The event has since been remained International Festival Faribault.

In between that mingling, be sure to take in these scheduled activities:

10:30 – 11 a.m., Contemporary Spanish music by Miguel Tobar of Medford, also the program MC

11 – 11:30 a.m., Flag Ceremonies

11:30 – noon, Central American dances presented by Florecitas de Dios, a children’s dance group from Owatonna

noon – 1 p.m., Aztec dancers

1 – 2 p.m., Juggling act

2 – 4 p.m., Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo from Owatonna shows selected creatures.

2 – 3 p.m., Contemporary, gospel, pop and country music by Edy Valentine of Faribault

3 – 3:30 p.m., Somali dancers from the Twin Cities

3:30 p.m., breaking of pinatas and end of silent auction

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of a group of children waiting to swing at the pinata during the 2012 festival.

Besides all of that, you’ll find a busy children’s area with a bouncy castle, games, face painting, hula hooping and more. One of the sweetest parts of this festival is to observe children, no matter their skin color, dress or culture, scrambling for candy from a broken pinata or sitting side by side at a picnic table coloring. They don’t care about cultural differences that seem to wedge into the minds of adults.

The United Way Red Truck will also be on the festival grounds with free children’s books to give away. I’m all for anything that encourages reading.

Served at the 2011 fest: Guatemalan chuchitos-- chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk.  You'll find numerous vendors offering a variety of authentic international foods.

Served at the 2011 fest: Guatemalan chuchitos– chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk. You’ll find numerous vendors offering a variety of authentic international foods.

Come hungry as vendors will sell ethnic foods of Central America, Somali, Ethiopia, Norway, Germany and more. Craft vendors will also be on-site.

International Festival Faribault truly does offer all of us the opportunity to embrace one another, to understand and to unite.

FYI: Click here and then here to read my blog posts from the 2012 festival.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling