Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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 taste of Germany coming to Faribault on November 11 November 1, 2012

ONCE UPON A TIME, in 1974 to be precise, I entered college with every intention of majoring in German. Eventually, though, I realized that following such a path, because I had no desire to teach, was rather foolish. And so I pursued my other love, writing, and earned a journalism degree.

I tell you this tidbit because it relates to the rest of this post, about an upcoming German Fest to be presented by Cannon Valley Lutheran High School.

We need to backtrack even further, first to Wabasso High School where I studied the German language for four years and was an active member of the German Club. I loved learning German. I expect either you love learning a foreign language or you don’t and German was the single foreign language offered at my alma mater.

I also enjoyed the social aspect of German Club, specifically our annual club trip to New Ulm, undeniably the most German city in Minnesota. Back in the 1970s, traveling to New Ulm in the next county to the east to shop downtown and at Domeier’s, a little German import store, and later dine on a German meal at Eibner’s Restaurant, rated as a major trip. I am serious. It is not all that often that I left Redwood County while growing up.

It was on one of those German Club trips to New Ulm that I first tried sauerbraten, beef marinated in vinegar and I don’t know what else. The main dish tasted so exotic and different from the corn-fed beef my mom roasted in her speckled enamel roaster back on the farm.

During that single meal in the upstairs of a New Ulm supper club, I felt as if I had traveled across the ocean to Germany to dine.

Serve me sauerbraten now and I am that giddy German-speaking high school girl dining at Eibner’s in New Ulm.

The 2011 CVLHS German meal: sauerbraten and spaetzle on the left, German potato salad, sweet and sour cabbage, dinner roll and sauerkraut and brats.

Today I needn’t even leave Faribault, my home of 30 years, to eat sauerbraten. Cannon Valley Lutheran High School will serve sauerbraten and a plateful of other German foods—spaetzle, German potato salad, sweet-and-sour red cabbage, bratwurst with sauerkraut and bread pudding—at a Sunday, November 11, German Fest. Serving is from 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. in the gymnasium at Trinity Lutheran Church, 530 Fourth Street Northwest, Faribault.

It’s a heavy, filling ethnic meal that is absolutely delicious. These Cannon Valley people know how to cook.

Diners  pack the Trinity gym and enjoy the German meal at the second annual CVLHS German Fest in 2011.

Tickets go fast. So do not tarry if you wish to partake. To reserve your tickets, call CVLHS at 507-685-2636 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday – Friday or email the school at cvlhs@cvlhs.org.  (Tell them I sent you.) Advance ticket purchases are recommended by Wednesday, November 7. A limited number of tickets will be sold at the door.

Meal tickets are $13 for ages 11 – adult; $7 for ages 5-10; and free for preschoolers with paid adult.

In addition to the German meal, the Fest includes a free program of “Thanks and Praise”—songs and readings in German and English—beginning at 4 p.m. in the Trinity sanctuary.

During the supper, diners will be entertained with polka music. You will have to tap your feet as I do not expect there to be dancing.

However, I do expect great food and fellowship.

As a bonus, you will support CVLHS students by attending. The meal is a fundraiser for a German Club trip, not to New Ulm three counties to the west, but to Germany in February.

CLICK HERE TO READ a post I wrote about last year’s second annual CVLHS German Fest.

BONUS PHOTOS: Earlier this fall, CVLHS hosted its annual silent and live auctions at the Morristown Community Center in Morristown, where the high school is based. Below are three images from that event. Students, staff, parents and others volunteer countless hours to support Christian education at CVLHS. Their dedication continues to impress me.

The crowd of bidders at the annual CVLHS auction. The school has strong community support.

CVLHS  students work the baked goods and produce sale during the recent auction.

Auctioning of  a beautiful pieced quilt at the CVLHS live auction.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In the kitchen preparing for a German dinner November 15, 2011

Barb Young preps food in the Trinity Lutheran Church/Faribault Lutheran School kitchen for Cannon Valley Lutheran High School's German dinner.

THESE DINNERS DON’T happen without lots of willing hands and hours and hours and hours of volunteers working together.

We’re talking church, school and community dinners here, and specifically Cannon Valley Lutheran High School’s second annual German Fest of Thanks and Praise.

This past weekend I got a behind-the-scenes, before-dinner peek at the effort that went into preparing a German meal for more than 200 diners. Cooking isn’t my forte, meaning I admire folks like Arlen and Suzanne Krause who always seem to be in the kitchen whenever CVLHS, based in Morristown, hosts a fundraising dinner. The Krauses love to cook and they know how to cook. I’ve suggested more than once that they open a catering business or restaurant.

Arlen Krause prepares ethnic food for the German Fest dinner.

Saturday evening, while assisting my friend Mike Young, the CVLHS volunteer development director, and my husband Randy with setting up tables and chairs for the German dinner, I occasionally popped into the kitchen to photograph progress there. The Krauses and Barb Young, who’s married to Mike, were busy mixing and stirring and slicing in the two hours I was there; they’d started around noon and labored until 9 p.m. and were back again the next morning. And I know they’d also been prepping food earlier in the week.

Beef awaited slicing and complete transformation into tender and savory sauerbraten.

The feeding-multitudes recipe for delectable bread pudding.

Bread cubes, mounded high in bowls, were baked into bread pudding.

Pans of raisin-topped bread pudding cooled on the kitchen counter Saturday evening.

Fortunately, the kitchen crew trio didn’t mind my scooting around the counters, camera in tow. I tried to stay out of their way and not ask too many questions or overstay my welcome.

But staying out of the kitchen proved challenging given the tantalizing scent of gravy bubbling in roasters, the sweet Grandma’s kitchen aroma of bread pudding baking in the oven and the pungent, nose-stinging scent of vinegar poured onto cabbage.

By the magic addition of vinegar, the cabbage color changed from blue gray to purple in the foreground. I was witness to a science experiment and cooking class rolled into one.

I am 100 percent German, after all, and perhaps my German genes were naturally drawn to these food smells of the Motherland. Either that or I was awfully hungry given the supper hour. Probably both. Homemade caramel corn, strategically placed on the serving counter, cut the hunger edge.

Vinegar, sugar and butter—lots and lots and lots of butter—were key ingredients in the ethnic foods I saw prepared. I could hardly wait to taste the complete meal Sunday evening following the German worship service.

Let me tell you, the German dinner rated as absolutely fabulous. Tender sauerbraten (savory beef and gravy) atop spaetzle (like mini dumplings); dense bratwurst mixed with sauerkraut; tangy, bacon-laced German potato salad as good as I’ve ever eaten; the perfect blend of sweet and sour in the jolt-of-color red cabbage; a nip of pepper in the tiny rounds of pfefferneusse (cookies); and to-die-for, heavenly bread pudding smothered in a buttery, sugary sauce.

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

CVLHS volunteer cooks and bakers—and I know more were involved than Arlen, Suzanne and Barb—thanks for one outstanding ethnic meal.

As long as I’m extending appreciation, I’d like to express a broader thanks to all those folks out there who labor behind the scenes at church, school and community dinners. I’ve been to a handful or more of these dinners this year and I have, every time, been beyond impressed with the quality of the food and the hard work that clearly is invested in such events. Well done.

CVLHS students served the German meal to attendees.

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

Kristin Sellentine, a Trinity Lutheran Church member and active in community theater, greeted guests as Katie Luther, wife of Reformist Martin Luther. Her costume hearkens from her days of acting at the Renaissance Festival.

CVLHS Development Director Mike Young, a designer at Erickson Furniture in Faribault and a floral designer, transformed the Trinity gym into a beautiful dining experience with his creative talents.

Prior to the dinner, German Fest attendees gathered in the Trinity sanctuary for a service of thanks and praise, including a performance by the CVLHS Tone Chime Choir. Hymns and prayers spoken and sung in German and English, and other musical selections, were also part of the 45-minute service.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Sauerbraten and sauerkraut in Morristown November 15, 2010

Diners gathered in the fellowship hall at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Morristown for a German meal served by the Cannon Valley Lutheran High School German Club following a German Fest of Thanks & Praise.

THE LAST TIME I ATE an authentic German meal, I was in high school. The German Club, of which I was a member, was on a Christmas trip to New Ulm, that most Deutsch of all Minnesota cities.

After visiting Domeier’s German Store, a quaint import shop, and Christmas shopping downtown, we gathered at Eibner’s, a German restaurant. Of our ethnic meal there, I remember only the main dish, sauerbraten.

Fast forward nearly four decades to yesterday and a German meal served by the Cannon Valley Lutheran High School German Club at a fundraising dinner in Morristown. The group is traveling to Germany in February. The main dish sauerbraten, beef served atop spaetzle, tasted tangy and vinegary, exactly as I remembered. But then so did several of the other foods like the German potato salad and the purple cabbage, which my friend Mike claimed was transformed from green to purple in a sort of scientific experiment.

The plated portion of the meal included German potato salad, cabbage, brats with sauerkraut, sauerbraten served atop spaetzle (a German dumpling) and bread (rye may have been a more authentic choice).

Magic or not, the meal turned out by the kitchen crew (primarily German students’ parents and CVLHS board members) was worthy of any good German restaurant. I give it five stars.

That said, I honestly could not eat this food on a regular basis. Too much starch. Too heavy. Too all-one-boring blah white, except for that colorful dash of purple cabbage. I fear a steady diet of this would clog my arteries and cause me to gain weight more rapidly than I already am at my slowing metabolism mid-50s age.

In all fairness to the Germans, I’m certain they don’t eat this much or these types of foods daily just like I don’t eat pizza and potatoes every day. In fact, CVLHS language teacher Sabine Bill, who recently moved to Morristown from Germany, told me the German meal served on Sunday is representative of the food eaten in the Bavarian region of southern Germany, not the entire country.

Now I’m unsure where my German ancestors lived, but I know they liked their sauerkraut. My dad was the king of sauerkraut makers, a tradition carried on by my sister Lanae. We got sauerkraut on Sunday served with slices of brats.

Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly eat another bite of anything, I was handed a bowl of bread pudding laced with raisins and immersed in a decadent, over-sweet buttery sauce. My husband complained that his piece was smaller than mine and I offered to share. But I didn’t, not one single bite. I could have. I should have…

The decadent bread pudding...

Typically I don't drink coffee. But it was decaff, went well with the bread pudding and pfeffernusse and was served in the prettiest, sturdiest cups.

Diane, a CVLHS board member, made more than 1,000 pfeffernusse, tiny hard cookies which include black pepper, black coffee and several spices. Each diner got five cookies, served in festive cupcake liners.

On the way out of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church fellowship hall, where the German meal was served, I told my friend Mike that his group had started something. They would have to host this German Fest of Thanks & Praise and the German meal annually.

I could eat this ethnic food once a year. To my several-generations-removed-from-Deutschland taste buds, this homemade meal rated as authentically delicious.

Programs from the pre-dinner German Fest of Thanks & Praise lie on a pew inside Bethlehem Lutheran Church. The fest included prayers, songs and Scripture readings in German.

Between meal sittings, musicians entertained waiting diners inside the Bethlehem Lutheran Church sanctuary.

On my way to the church balcony, I found this CVLHS sign on a bulletin board.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling