Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A fall favorite: Trinity North Morristown’s Fall Dinner October 12, 2021

Waiting in line behind Trinity Lutheran Church and School for meals to be delivered to vehicles. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

VEHICLES STACKED UP three rows wide late Sunday morning, crawling toward Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown.

A volunteer welcomes guests, accepts payment, disburses tickets and directs traffic. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

As Randy and I waited in our van, I clutched two blue tickets, our tickets to the hottest dinner in town. Or in this case, in rural Rice County. It was the annual Fall Dinner at this country church and school set in the rolling farmland west of Faribault and also the site of a popular July Fourth celebration.

We arrived early in the two-hour take-out event, a switch from the usual dine-in dinner due to the pandemic. But I didn’t want to risk Trinity running out of food. Yes, this full turkey and ham dinner with all the trimmings is that popular. And that good. And reasonably priced at $10.

Young volunteers run back toward the church to grab more meals. Folding chairs separated traffic lanes. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

So we waited. Creeping. Idling. Creeping. And while we snail-paced, neighborhood dogs barked. And free-range chickens foraged in the pastor’s yard next to the church. Volunteers sold tickets and directed traffic. And youth, some clad in cowboy boots, scurried to deliver the coveted meals prepared and boxed by many more volunteers in the church basement.

Twenty minutes later, I was reaching through my open van window to accept two bags with our meals inside. The air smelled of Thanksgiving dinner. And I felt thankful to be here, partaking in this annual event, although I missed gathering in the church basement for fellowship.

The main meal: ham, turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, squash and corn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Instead of driving all the way back to Faribault to eat warm, rather than hot, food, Randy and I dined across the road at the July Fourth celebration grounds. I pulled on my flannel shirt, he his jacket, and we perched on the edge of the entertainment stage to fork mouthfuls of turkey and ham and sides.

“The potatoes are lumpy,” Randy noted.

“A sure sign they’re homemade,” I said, affirming his appreciation of real mashed potatoes. Nearly everything served in this generously-portioned meal is homemade. I especially enjoyed the squash, a vegetable I’ve not yet eaten this season.

We saved our coleslaw, cranberries and buns for later. And our dessert, too. Two bars and two slices of cake.

Honoring parade grand marshals. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

And while we dined, we chatted about the annual Fourth of July celebration held here on these grounds. We noted the names of parade grand marshals on wooden slabs backing the stage. We remembered the music and crowds and good food—always the food—and the fun times and talked about bringing our young grandchildren here to experience this on Independence Day.

A model of the church, featured in parades, is stored at one end of the stage in the off-season. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

When we finished eating, we bagged our empty Styrofoam take-out containers, plastic-ware and napkins, placed the slaw and cranberries on ice in a cooler and headed out. Randy noted how the mix of grass and weeds, always trampled flat by July Fourth fest-goers, now flourished. The site looked vastly different in the season of autumn, the season of church dinners in Minnesota. And this, my favorite, at Trinity North Morristown in rural Rice County.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite church dinner? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Feed your body & feed your soul at weekend events October 8, 2021

An example of rosemaling from MODNordic Arts Studio in Faribault. Mother and daughter, Donna Johnson and Lyn Rein, create this Nordic art, which I photographed at the Valley Grove County Social in 2019. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

CHURCH DINNERS AND ART. I love both. And this weekend, I can indulge in each in my region of southern Minnesota.

The clay art of Faribault artist Tami Resler. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021.

The Studio ARTour of South Central Minnesota is already underway, kicking off from 4 – 8 pm today/Friday (at select studios) and continuing through Sunday. The annual event features 36 artists in 17 studios in the Faribault-Farmington-Northfield area.

It’s been awhile since I did this tour and I’m uncertain whether I can fit it in this year. But if you’re free and want to explore the arts at a grassroots level, then this is a must-do event.

Faribault artist Julie Fakler specializes in bold animal portraits. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

From jewelry-making to painting to textiles to photography to pottery to ceramics and more, this tour takes you into studios and/or art centers/spaces to meet the artists. To connect. To engage in conversation. To admire and purchase the work of these creatives.

Truly, talent abounds.

Just note that, with COVID-19 still running rampant, you need to mask up.

This year’s meal will be take-out only. In previous years, take-out was available. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

The pandemic has also affected the annual Fall Dinner at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown. That’s the country church of July Fourth celebration fame. This year’s dinner will be take-out only, with meals delivered to vehicles. You’re encouraged to arrive early for the 11 am – 1 pm dinner on Sunday, October 10.

Diners pack the Trinity church basement during a past Fall Dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

In a non-pandemic year, crowds gather in the sanctuary and then cram into the church basement for this popular meal of turkey, ham and all the trimmings. I’ve attended numerous times and will tell you this home-cooked dinner is beyond delicious. And it’s yours for only $10.

Some of the food served at Trinity’s Fall Dinner. There’s more. It didn’t all fit on my plate. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

There you go. If you’re looking for an escape into art and/or crave a meal that’s like Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house or Thanksgiving dinner, then take in both of these events. And, bonus, you’ll probably also see some incredible fall colors along the way.

FYI:

Click here for more information (including a map of locations) about the Studio ARTour of South Central Minnesota. The tour runs from 10 am-6 pm Saturday, October 9, and from 10 am – 5 pm Sunday, October 10.

Click here for more info about the Fall Dinner at Trinity, North Morristown.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Apple Creek Orchard, beyond apples

Inviting decor and outdoor seating create a welcome seasonal setting outside the boutique/store at Apple Creek Orchard, rural Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

MORE AND MORE, MINNESOTA apple orchards are growing more than just apples. They are growing memories, meeting public demand for experiences.

Bagged apples fill a crate just outside the boutique entry. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Apple Creek Orchard, located in the countryside just northwest of Faribault at 5524 185th Street, is among those producers embracing that trend. Here, in this rural setting, visitors can find not only 21 pre-picked apple varieties—including popular choices like Honeycrisp, Haralson, Zestar, SweeTango, Cortland and the new First Kiss—but also Halloween Town.

Riders spilled off this wagon shortly after our arrival. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

That October attraction includes a Haunted Trail Wagon Ride (Friday-Sunday), Haunted Corn Maze and apple slinging.

I saw many families posing here for photos. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Last Sunday afternoon, Randy and I popped in for a bag of apples while on a country drive to view the fall colors. We had no idea the orchard had evolved into more than a place to buy local apples…until we pulled into the farmyard. There, next to the aged mammoth barn with fieldstone foundation, I spotted a seasonal display of pumpkins and other décor staged on/aside straw bales. Plus a photo prop.

Plenty of pumpkins are available for purchase. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Rounding the end of the barn, I saw more. Vehicles lined along lawn’s edge near the barn and the multi-purpose poleshed housing Apple Creek Boutique. And up the hill, additional photo staging.

A fun touch on the front of the tractor adds to the Halloween spirit. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

On this glorious autumn afternoon in rural Minnesota, folks clearly arrived here not only for the apples, but also for the experiences. Young families. Grandparents. Couples. Many boarded the Fun Country wagon for a ride through the property. Former orchard owner Dan Abelman steered the Kubota M5-111 tractor pulling the wagon. We chatted with him briefly afterwards. He sold the orchard to Tami and Kevin Theis late this summer and continues to help with the transition. He’s supportive and enthusiastic about the changes the couple has made. And ready, too, to be moving into retirement.

Hank the Unicorn, a popular photo prop for visitors. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We didn’t go on the Haunted Trail Ride on a wagon named Josephine (my maternal grandmother’s name), but we roamed the grounds. There I found more photo props. Randy prompted me to sit on Hank the Unicorn so he could take, and text, a photo to our 5-year-old granddaughter. Already I was thinking, we need to bring Isabelle and Isaac here next fall.

The frightening entry to the hillside corn maze. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

While they may be a bit young for the 3-acre Haunted Corn Maze, I know they would enjoy the pumpkins, the autumn displays, the photo props…the experience…the time together as a family.

In the sunflower patch. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
A path runs between the sunflower and corn fields with a vintage tractor parked field side. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
Some sunflowers were still blooming. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I got sidetracked also by a field of sunflowers, past their prime, but still a visual delight.

Details in decorating. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Inside the on-site store, tagged Apple Creek Boutique because you’ll find more than fresh apples here, I poked around. There you’ll find local honey, apple juice-infused meat snack sticks and sausage from Odenthal Meats of New Prague, caramel apples, cider, Grandma Eileen’s homemade apple pies, mugs, seasonal décor and much more. But we came for the apples, stashed in a cooler. I opted for a bag of my favorite, Honeycrisp.

Love the thought put in to seasonal decorating. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

In the future, Apple Creek Orchard hopes to offer pick-your-own apples. There are more plans in the works, too. Co-owner Tami Theis, a certified wedding planner, shared that a section of the poleshed will be converted in to an event venue, The Blossom. Also coming in 2022 are homemade pizzas, donuts and cider, plus a wiffle ball field.

Parked before the next boarding for a wagon ride. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I left feeling excited about this new local option for families, and others, to enjoy in rural Rice County. To learn more about apples. And to create memories via the agri entertainment now offered at Apple Creek Orchard.

FYI: Be sure to visit the Apple Creek Orchard website for more information and the orchard’s Facebook page for current updates on activities and offerings.

Other area orchards include Trumps Orchard on Faribault’s east side; Montgomery Orchard, rural Montgomery; and Fireside Orchard & Gardens, rural Northfield. I’ve patronized each of these. What’s offered at each varies, so please visit their websites for details.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Crafting baked beans September 15, 2021

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Baked beans prepared for Bean Hole Days in Pequot Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

THUMBING THROUGH THE PAGES of the July/August issue of Country Living magazine recently, I found a recipe, “Slow Cooker Baked Beans,” which inspired me to try making baked beans from scratch.

I read through the list of ingredients noting that all were common and in-stock in my kitchen, except for the pound of dried navy beans. Too often I find magazine recipes calling for ingredients I don’t have or can’t find locally. But this recipe was a go. So I bought a bag of beans and determined I could do this.

But…just to assure I would do everything correctly, I texted my sister-in-law Annette, who makes incredible baked beans, to ask a few questions. Do I soak the beans overnight on the counter or in the fridge? Covered or uncovered?

Perhaps she chuckled at my basic bean questions. Maybe not. Whatever, I appreciated her advice to soak the beans in a covered container. In case a fly or ? gets in the house, she wrote. It was the question mark which concerned me given I live in an old house with many access points for mice. Once upon a time (true story) I found a dead mouse floating in a water-filled crockpot. I’d left the uncovered pot soaking overnight in the kitchen sink. I took her warning seriously and covered the beans before I left them to soak overnight in a kettle on the counter.

Aside from that advice, Annette shared one more important tip which, had I not followed, likely would have resulted in a baked bean failure: Beans will NOT soften any further once anything sweet is put in such as brown sugar, catsup or molasses. What? The recipe did not include that important detail. But I believed my sister-in-law, an expert in crafting baked beans. I cooked the beans for 45 minutes to their desired softness before dumping them into the crockpot along with the three afore-mentioned sweet ingredients, bacon, spices, onion and water.

Volunteers guide a kettle of baked beans lifted from a pit at Bean Hole Days. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I should have remembered also that the good folks of Pequot Lakes, who have since 1938 prepared massive kettles of baked beans for the community’s annual Bean Hole Days, partially pre-cook the soaked navy beans with propane. The oversized pots of beans are then lowered into a pit to cook overnight over wood coals. And I gotta tell you, the deliciousness of those bacon-laced beans in a secret, special sauce ranks right up there with those my sister-in-law makes.

How did mine turn out? Well. They were tasty and flavorful. And not at all soupy. I worried initially that I might be eating bean soup given the ratio of beans to liquid in the crockpot. But, during the slow, all-day cooking, that problem remedied itself.

Will I make these beans again? Absolutely. I’ve noted Annette’s tips in the margin of the printed recipe because, even though I think I will remember, I likely won’t. And who wants a baked bean bomb? Not me.

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TELL ME: Have you ever made baked beans from scratch? If yes, I’d like to hear about your bean-baking experiences/tips/recipes.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A flavor of the Minnesota northwoods at Bean Hole Days July 26, 2021

The Bean Hole crew guides a kettle of beans from an underground cooking pit at Bean Hole Days in Pequot Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

LONG LINES FORMED an hour before the event in makeshift narrow aisles crafted from stakes and ribbon. Folks waited not for Paul Bunyan, although he was there, working the crowd. And not for Elvis, although he performed. Rather, they waited for a serving of baked beans.

Thousands line up for a bowl of baked beans. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
My bowl of baked beans. The beans are fee with donations accepted. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Lifting the kettles from the pit requires machinery and manpower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

This scene unfolded on Wednesday, July 14, during Bean Hole Days in Pequot Lakes, a small town in the central Minnesota lakes region. Randy and I, staying at a family member’s guest lake cabin south of nearby Crosslake, attended for the first time. And it was quite the experience. I mean that in a truly positive way. While I don’t like waiting, waiting for a generous serving of bacon-laced navy beans baked in a wood-fired pit proved well worth my time. I’ve never tasted better homemade baked beans.

The bean crew waits near the pit where the beans bake. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The process of crafting these beans is impressive. I missed the prep and lowering of massive cast iron kettles into the ground Tuesday. But in chatting with a bean crew member on Wednesday, I learned that the 350 pounds of navy beans were soaked and partially cooked with propane before lowering the cauldrons into the pit of wood coals for overnight baking. And yes, it takes a knowledgeable team and machinery for this operation.

Almost ready to serve beans. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

My bean crew source wasn’t sharing details about ingredients, with the exception of 126 pounds of bacon mixed into the beans. The special “sauce,” which definitely tastes of molasses, is a guarded secret. And that’s all right. It adds to the mystery, the intrigue.

Lining up for beans under the direction of a volunteer. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

From my observations, volunteers have this bean-baking down to a science. And they should. Bean Hole Days began in 1938 as a way for local businessmen to thank farmers for their business. Today, the focus seems more on drawing vacationers into town—to the local shops and restaurants. While waiting in line for 45 minutes, I chatted with couples from Baxter and the Twin Cities.

We arrived early with plenty of time to check out the arts and crafts. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Bean Hole Days royalty. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
An old-fashioned barrel train weaves through the festival grounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

This event at Trailside Park is about much more than beans. It also features an arts and craft fair, a small kiddie carnival, food vendors and crowning of Bean Hole royalty. And this year free COVID-19 vaccinations.

These friendly vendors sold art (Shea J. Maze) and naturally-dyed goods (Diaspora Textiles). Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I enjoyed chatting with vendors, mingling, watching. And photographing.

Paul Bunyan greets Bean Hole Days attendees. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Bean Hole Days, because of its location in Pequot Lakes among lakes and pines in cabin country, reflects the Minnesota northwoods and all that entails. Fishing. The town water tower is shaped like a bobber. Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Paul shook hands, posed for photos and generally welcomed guests. Babe and bobber sculptures provided photo ops.

The kettles of beans are given Scandinavian names. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Even the kettles of beans, sponsored by area businesses, feature names connecting to the region’s heritage. Lena. Sven. Ole. And more.

Elvis entertains the waiting crowd. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
This mug allows you to go in the fast/first serving line. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Buy a mug and enter the fast lane. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

As I waited in line for beans, I danced to the music of Elvis performing live. That garnered a compliment from a volunteer guiding guests to the right serving kettles. Those who purchased a 2021 Bean Hole Days mug advanced through the FAST PASS FOR GAS line. I appreciated the humor. While Randy and I didn’t buy mugs, we left a donation.

Volunteers ladle generous portions of baked beans. Some people brought their mugs from past years. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And we left full of beans and appreciative of all the people who put together this unique small town Minnesota northwoods experience.

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Please check back for more photos from Bean Hole Days as I couldn’t possibly fit everything into a single post.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating Faribault’s diversity at international fest July 10 July 8, 2021

Flags representing the many countries from which Faribault residents came are displayed at a past International Festival Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

DECADES AGO, in high school and then in college, I studied the German language. I grew fluent in the native tongue of my forefathers. I felt a sense of accomplishment as my skills advanced. I decided I would major in German in college, until I determined journalism would be a better path. I’ve never regretted that decision because I love words, no matter the language.

My second daughter, though, pursued a foreign language major, earning her college degree in Spanish (much more practical than German) and then becoming a Spanish medical interpreter. Until the pandemic ended that career.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior when I photographed them in 2012 at the International Festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I share this to lay the foundation for my personal appreciation of other cultures. I’ve never traveled internationally and not all that much domestically, so I welcome the opportunity to experience other countries and cultures locally. From 10 am – 4 pm this Saturday, July 10, diverse cultures focus the 16th annual International Festival Faribault in Central Park.

Pupusas served at the 2011 International Festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
Cambodian art at the 2015 fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
Attendees marked a world map with their countries of origin during a previous festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The fest is promoted as “a global bazaar-style event featuring food, music, dance, presentations and goods from around the world.” I’ve attended several times, although not recently, and always enjoyed this Neighbor Meeting Neighbor celebration. Many of those participating in the fest are local residents, shopkeepers and vendors.

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault trading with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop a fountain known as the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Faribault truly is an ethnically diverse community with a size-able immigrant population and with long-time residents rooted in many countries. Founding father Alexander Faribault, for example, was of French-Canadian and Dakota heritage. Our newest residents come from places like war torn Somalia.

A recently-completed mural in downtown Faribault, LOVE FOR ALL, celebrates our city’s diversity. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2021.

While we’ve struggled in the past to accept one another, I feel like things are settling, that we are beginning to celebrate our differences and recognize the value of those differences.

Downtown Faribault during a Car Cruise Night in 2015 reflects our diversity. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Newcomers to Faribault are here to stay. They live, work and play here. Attend school. Own businesses. And that’s reason to celebrate. We are a stronger community because of our diversity.

Cambodian dancers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.
A young girl’s henna stained foot, photographed at the 2011 fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I encourage locals and people from out of town to attend Saturday’s International Festival Faribault. International dancers, music, a flag ceremony, arts and crafts, kids’ activities (including the popular pinata breaking), henna and food from around the world will be among the offerings. Perhaps someone will represent the German heritage by serving sauerkraut and brats or pumping out polkas on an accordion…

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An American treasure: North Morristown on the Fourth of July July 5, 2021

The Pie Stand at North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

WHEN RANDY AND I ARRIVED at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration late Sunday afternoon, we headed directly to the Pie Stand. I hoped the homemade pies wouldn’t be sold out. They weren’t.

Tasty homemade strawberry pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Although the selection was limited by this time in the day-long event, we still found tasty pies. I chose fresh strawberry while Randy opted for rhubarb, both parceled in generous portions.

The crowd had thinned by Monroe Crossing’s 4 pm concert. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

While we forked our pies, the ever-popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed to an appreciative audience on the nearby Main Stage. The crowd settled onto bleachers, folding chairs inside the gazebo and onto plank benches, and also spilled onto the grassy area in lawn chairs and on blankets.

Inside the shed housing games and vintage kiddie rides. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Several musical groups performed throughout a day packed with family-friendly events: A parade, patriotic program, BINGO, kiddie rides and games, and so much more.

Proceeds go to this small Christian school in the country. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Once we finished our pie, we roamed the festival grounds, a grassy space shaded by towering trees (including aged oaks) and next to farm sites and fields. Across the street sits Trinity Lutheran Church and School, the school benefiting from funds raised at this long-running July Fourth celebration.

This shed houses the games and rides, which are unchanged. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I love everything about this event. The timeless quality. The step back in time. The connecting with friends (and for many, with family). The music. The food.

Old Glory flies in the middle of the festival grounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

To be in North Morristown on the Fourth of July is to experience a sense of community, to feel comforted by the sameness of this celebration, to understand that this is about more than Independence Day. This is about rural America and how family and community and tradition are valued and cherished here.

The homemade kiddie train crafted from barrels. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
I loved watching the kids ride the barrel train. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

As I watched the engineer of the barrel train steer his lawn tractor, I thought, what wonderful memories these kids will have of riding that homemade train. The same goes for the other kiddie rides and carnival games which remain unchanged. I need to bring my grandchildren here to experience this.

The next generation vends tees. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Try to hit a vintage “doll” in this game. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
The fish pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Generations of families run the rides and booths, stitching stories into their family histories. The kids will always remember going to North Morristown on the Fourth—to pluck a yellow rubber duck from a pond, to throw a ball toward a hoop or toward spinning “dolls,” to drop a line into the fish pond…all for some prize that is more treasure than trinket on July 4.

Food is served from vintage stands. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

North Morristown on the Fourth truly rates as an American treasure.

Will Bauermeister performs as a hot and humid day eases toward evening. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Although Randy and I did not grow up here, we have lived in neighboring Faribault for 40 years and know a lot of people. So we saw many there—Mel, Carl, Leroy, Shirley, Virgil, Jane, Jen, Mike…and a college friend, Annette, whom I haven’t seen in decades. We made new friends, too, Kevin and Brenda from Elysian and another couple from Monticello. That’s the thing about this celebration. Sit at a picnic table and you’ll find yourself engaging in conversation with strangers.

The burger stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

After we completed our tour of the festival grounds and enjoyed the music by Monroe Crossing, Randy and I ordered sandwiches. I got barbecued pork. He chose a burger. The food, served from vintage stands, is always, always delicious. And, yes, we ate our dessert before our main meal because we weren’t willing to risk the pie running out.

We passed by this picturesque farm building on the drive home. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Several hours after arriving in the less-busy, less-crowded late afternoon, we left, taking the scenic route home along gravel roads winding past farm sites. I felt so appreciative of this rural setting, of North Morristown on the Fourth of July and of the people who make this event happen. What an exceptional example of a holiday celebration which, at its core, remains unchanged and rooted in community and family.

FYI: Please check back for a second post with more photos from North Morristown on July Fourth.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Grassroots Americana on July Fourth in North Morristown, Minnesota July 2, 2021

Kids’ activities are to the left, food and beverage stands to the right and the entertainment stage straight ahead at the North Morristown July 4 festival grounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

NORTH MORRISTOWN OFFERS a July Fourth celebration unlike any other in Minnesota. It’s grassroots Americana, billed as the longest-running Independence Day celebration in the state. Since 1892 (with the exception of 2020 due to COVID-19), folks have gathered on a plot of land across from Trinity Lutheran Church and School in western Rice County for this rural-rooted community event.

Craig, whom I know from Faribault Car Cruise Nights, showed up (with his wife Kathy) dressed as Uncle Sam. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve attended many times (click here to view past blog posts), even though I hold no familial connection to this place. Yet, I always feel welcome. I’ve lived in nearby Faribault for 39 years and know a lot of people in the area. The Fourth of July in North Morristown is, at its core, about reconnecting with family and friends. Or, if you’re new to the event, meeting new people and experiencing an old-fashioned, down-to-earth Independence Day celebration.

One of several vintage carnival rides at North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

While some activities, such as a Remote Control Demolition Derby and Bean Bag Competition, have been added to the event, most activities are long-standing. A Patriotic Program, 10 AM parade complete with Candy House, silent auction, BINGO, Medallion Hunt, games, vintage kiddie rides and more endure. There’s something incredibly comforting and charming about keeping things the same.

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

From the Pie Stand to the Hamburger Stand, the food offerings are basic and delicious. I’d advise purchasing a slice of pie early on given the popularity of the pies. Vintage buildings house the food stands where volunteers prepare and serve food and beverages. Onion rings, pork sandwiches, ice cream, cold beer…

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performs on the Fourth of July in North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The music also draws many, especially the popular Monroe Crossing, set to play at 1:30 PM and 4 PM on July 4 at the Main Stage. Believe me, it’s worth coming just to hear this bluegrass band. Other musical performers include Potluck String Band, Red Dirt Road and more.

Fireworks cap the day of celebration.

Among the homemade pie offerings at the Pie Stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Words really cannot fully describe North Morristown on the Fourth of July. It’s something you have to experience. I’d encourage you to attend. Bring your lawn chairs or blankets (seating is limited for the concerts), your money, and a joyful attitude. Then celebrate America’s birthday in the middle of the countryside—among soybean and corn fields—with people who love this land and each other.

FYI: Click here for more detailed information about the July Fourth celebration in North Morristown.

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TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS: Have a safe and wonderful Independence Day celebration whether you are at home or traveling, among lots of people or simply with family. Or even just relaxing alone. Please take time on July Fourth to reflect on the blessings of living in a free country. I, for one, feel grateful.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happy moments at Happy Chef July 1, 2021

Happy Chef reinvented at A-Z Restaurant Equipment. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

OH, THE YEASTY SCENT of bread, of a warm mini loaf dripping with powdered sugar icing. Such are my memories of college day visits to the Happy Chef restaurant in Mankato.

Back in 1974 through 1976, I would walk with friends from the Bethany Lutheran College campus to the hometown restaurant along US Highway 14. There we would talk and laugh and savor a treat that was more sweet rolls than bread loaf.

I don’t recall the cost of our indulgence. But, as a poor college student, the price had to be affordable.

Details elude me decades later. Yet I recall the deliciousness of that bread and the iconic Happy Chef statue that stood outside the restaurant. He sported a white chef’s hat and attire and waved a wooden spoon.

Today, only one Happy Chef restaurant remains, this one along US Highway 169 near the interchange with US Highway 14 in Mankato. It was the first Happy Chef to open in a family restaurant business founded in 1963 by the Frederick brothers—Sal, Bob, Bill and Tom. The Happy Chef statue still stands there. And now the owners of that restaurant are soliciting some G-rated one-liners to add to their Chef’s voice. Yes, he “talks.” Click here to submit suggestions via Facebook.

A Happy Chef statue also poses along US Highway 169 north of Princeton at A-Z Restaurant Equipment Company. That repurposed roadside art, spotted on a mid-May drive north to a central Minnesota lake cabin, prompted my college day memories of sharing warm mini bread loaves with friends at Happy Chef. Oh, such happy moments…

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating treasures, farm-sourced & local May 19, 2021

Shopping at the flea market by the Rice County Historical Society’s historic church and school. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

YOU DON’T NEED THAT, I remind myself as I covet the vintage mixing bowls, the floral apron, the whatever. I’m at that point in life when I feel the need to declutter, to downsize, to let go. Not acquire more stuff.

So many treasures… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

But that doesn’t stop me from looking. And look I did on Saturday at the Rice County Historical Society’s Spring Flea Market. For anyone who loves antiques, collectibles and waiting-to-be-discovered treasures, this proved the place to shop. An estimated 75 vendors peddled their goods to a large crowd gathered at the fairgrounds for the flea market and also the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market and Fair Food Truck Days.

Loved the vintage City of Faribault signage on this vendor’s vintage truck. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
These flea market vintage lawn chairs almost called for sitting down to visit, except for the rust. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
The Rice County Steam & Gas Engine folks were selling raffle tickets for this tractor. The organization hosts its annual swap meet/flea market on Saturday, May 29, and Sunday, May 30, just south of Northfield, in rural Dundas. Click here for details. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

While I wandered among tables, pausing to chat with friends I haven’t seen in more than a year, I delighted in the beautiful spring day and the opportunity to be out and about among others.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

With camera in hand, I documented some of the merchandise. I recognize that memories and personal interest draw me to certain items. Like the bag of Red Owl charcoal, a reminder of my brief cashier’s job at that grocery chain. Red Owl was also the “go to” grocery store when I was growing up.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

An autograph book from the 1890s also drew me to flip through the pages, to read the messages written to Mary. I have an autograph book stashed in a closet somewhere. I ought to find it.

I especially like the art in this “Reddy, the Proud Rooster” story. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
This reminds me of my grandma’s garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Some people find clowns to be creepy. I don’t. Found at the flea market. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Print items and art and oddities focused my interest, too.

Hanging baskets, tomatoes and other plants were available for purchase at the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

There was so much to take in at the flea market, before I moved on to the farmers’ market.

On display (and for sale), farm fresh eggs from Graise Farm. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Given my farming roots, I admire and appreciate those who gather eggs, spin yarn, grow plants, harvest honey, cook jams and jellies, bake sweet treats and more for sale at farmers’ markets. Theirs is a labor of love. To share the bounty, the works of their hands, truly is a gift.

Blackberry jam. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Offerings from Medford Creek Natural Apiaries. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

When I peruse market offerings, I also view products from a photographic, artistic and poetic perspective. The dark jewel tone of blackberry jam. The golden hue of honey. Both are beautiful to behold.

The Local Plate serves up meals created from local food sources. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

My final stop took me to the food vendors and the decision to purchase The Buffaloed Turkey Plate to share with Randy. Other food offerings were standard fair food. I appreciated the opportunity to order more creative, locally-sourced food from The Local Plate.

Saturday’s event drew a large crowd. Here is a small portion of the flea market in the RCHS museum parking lot. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I love local events like this. They build community. And this year, more than ever, I appreciate local. And I appreciate community.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling