Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Northfield: Snapshots of an abbreviated Defeat of Jesse James Days September 17, 2020

The site of the 1876 attempted bank robbery, now the Northfield Historical Society.


TYPICALLY, THE DEFEAT OF JESSE JAMES DAYS in Northfield finds Randy and me avoiding this college town only 20 minutes from Faribault. Crowds and congestion keep us away as thousands converge on this southeastern Minnesota community to celebrate the defeat of the James-Younger Gang in a September 7, 1876, attempted robbery of the First National Bank.


Waiting for fair food at one of several stands.


But this year, because of COVID-19, the mega celebration scaled back, leaving Northfield busy, but not packed. And so we walked around downtown for a bit on Saturday afternoon, after we replenished our book supply at the local public library—our original reason for being in Northfield.


The LOVE mural painted on a pizza place in Northfield drew lots of fans taking photos, including me.


On our way to Bridge Square, a riverside community gathering spot in the heart of this historic downtown, I paused to photograph the latest public art project here—a floral mural painted on the side of the Domino’s Pizza building by Illinois artist Brett Whitacre. (More info and photos on that tomorrow.)


One of the many Sidewalk Poetry poems imprinted into cement in downtown Northfield.


Northfield’s appreciation of the arts—from visual to literary to performing—is one of the qualities I most value about this community. As a poet, I especially enjoy the poetry imprinted upon sidewalks.


An impromptu concert in Bridge Square.


A fountain, monument and the iconic popcorn wagon define Bridge Square in the warmer weather season.


Buying a corn dog…


I was delighted also to see and hear a guitarist quietly strumming music in the town square while people walked by, stopped at the iconic popcorn wagon or waited in line for corn dogs and cheese curds. Several food vendors lined a street by the park.


The Defeat of Jesse James Days royalty out and about.


Among fest-goers I spotted Defeat of Jesse James royalty in their denim attire, red bandanna masks, crowns and boots, the masks a reminder not of outlaws but of COVID-19.


Photographed through the bakery’s front window, the feet-shaped pastries.


Yet, in the throes of a global pandemic, some aspects of the celebration remained unchanged. At Quality Bakery a half a block away from Bridge Square, the western-themed window displays featured the bakery’s signature celebration pastry—De-Feet of Jesse James.


A sign outside a Division Street business fits the theme of the celebration.


For a bit of this Saturday, it felt good to embrace this long-running event, to experience a sense of community, to celebrate the defeat of the bad guys.


© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A fair alternative September 4, 2020

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Photographed on August 29 in the Ace Hardware store parking lot, Faribault, Minnesota.


MINNESOTANS LOVE THEIR FAIRS. County and then state. And right about now, crowds would be converging on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in Falcon Heights for the final days of the Great Minnesota Get Together.

But not me; I haven’t attended in nearly 40 years. And not anyone at the fair this year due to COVID-19 and the resulting cancellation of this big food/entertainment party.

While the fair features everything from crop art (gone virtual this year) to farm animals, from carnival rides to marketplaces, from politicians (especially this election year) to princesses, the food seems the draw. Anything on-a-stick. And a lot not on a stick.

To satisfy the hungry masses missing fair food, the State Fair this year offered a drive-through Food Parade at the fairgrounds for $20/vehicle plus whatever the cost for the foods ordered from 16 participating vendors. Tickets quickly sold out for the food frenzy event that continues through Labor Day weekend.

While people are waiting in their vehicles for turkey legs, mini donuts, egg rolls on-a-stick, sno cones, walleye cakes, funnel cakes, Sweet Martha’s cookies and much more, I’m content to avoid the congestion.

I know faithful fair food devotees will tell you it’s not the same…but I spotted this food stand in the parking lot of the local Ace Hardware Store on Saturday morning. Cheese curds and pronto pups vended right here in Faribault. No need to travel to the Cities or pay $20 or wait in line at the fairgrounds.

I already hear the protests. “But it’s not the fair!” And that would be accurate. No crowds pressing in. No feeling of togetherness. No endless food choices. Just a taste of the fair, right in my backyard. In hardware store and other parking lots around Minnesota. Streetside. On fairgrounds in Rice and Steele counties during special food events earlier this summer. And even in some restaurants. It may not be the same experience as the State Fair, but, hey, it’s something. Which is better than nothing during a global pandemic.

FYI: To find pop-up fair food stands in Minnesota, visit the Fair Food Finder Facebook page by clicking here.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Really, deep-fried what? May 21, 2014

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The Rice County Fair, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

The midway area of the Rice County Fair, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

I’M NOT MUCH OF A FAIR-GOER. I trace that back to too many years chasing down 4-Hers for photos with their uncooperative animals. A fair doesn’t hold the same appeal once you’ve covered the annual event for a newspaper more than a few times.

This was decades ago. Things change. I’m no longer a newspaper reporter and photographer assigned county fair barn duty.

So today I could meander as I please through the fairgrounds.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009 from the Rice County Fair, Faribault, Minnesota.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009 from the Rice County Fair.

For many of you, a fair is all about the food, right? Deep-fried anything, often served on a stick.

A vendor at the Rice County Fair. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

A vendor at the Rice County Fair. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

For example, at last year’s Minnesota State Fair, you could find these new deep-fried food offerings, among others: deep-fried olives, fried pickles ‘n’ chocolate, wine glazed deep-fried meatloaf, an assortment of deep-fried sandwiches and deep-fried bread pudding.

How they deep fry some of these foods, like bread pudding, I have not a clue. But I suppose where there’s a chef, there’s a way.

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

Minnesota Prairie Roots 2011 photo of Uncle Butch’s Brat Barn in Wautoma, Wisconsin.

All of this deep-fried food talk leads across the border into Wisconsin, known for its beer, brats and cheese. Brat fries are already popping up here at places like Uncle Butch’s Brat Barn outside StoneRidge Meat & Country Market, Inc. ( Piggly Wiggly) in Wautoma. Wisconsinites love their brats. Me? Not so much.

A quick roadside snapshot of the deep fried pizza sign along Wisconsin State Highway 21 in Wautoma.

A quick drive-by snapshot of the deep-fried pizza sign spotted this past weekend along Wisconsin State Highway 21 in Wautoma.

But it wasn’t the warm weather brat fries that drew my attention on a trip to eastern Wisconsin this past weekend. It was the sandwich chalkboard sign I spotted along Wisconsin State Highway 21 in Coloma advertising deep fried pizza.

Deep-fried pizza? Now how does one deep fry pizza and why would you?

Although tasty, Flamin' Bleu was not quite what Randy expected. He expected chunks of bleu cheese topping the pizza. But then we are bleu cheese fanatics with award-winning bleu cheeses produced in our home community of Faribault.

Flamin’ Bleu pizza at Pizzeria 201 in Montgomery, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration purposes only.

I love pizza, I really do. I make homemade pizza every Friday evening. And while in Wisconsin, my husband, second daughter and I dined on our favorite pizza, the New Orleans style topped with Andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp, red onions, red peppers and Cajun spices, at the Stone Cellar Brewpub in Appleton. It certainly was not deep fried.

Tell me, have you ever heard of or eaten deep-fried pizza?

My initial reaction was this: Well that can’t be too healthy.

But then again, nothing deep-fried really would be, would it?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling