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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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

 

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