Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Beyond salad, a Minnesota Halloween horror story October 31, 2018

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I’M NOT A BIG FAN of scary anything. Reality is scary enough. So if you want to talk about things that go bump in the night, exclude me from the conversation.

Yet, when Halloween rolls around, it’s pretty difficult to avoid that which frightens. Right now, as I write, I look out my office window across the street to a Scream face. I’ve never seen the movie, or whatever, that features this character. But I recognize the image as something meant to frighten.

I can’t exactly stride across the street and yank the cloth from my neighbor’s front yard tree. That wouldn’t be nice. But if I had little kids…

Kid talk brings to mind a particularly memorable Halloween from my youth. As a member of the Junior Legion Auxiliary, I attended a Halloween party held in the basement of the local veterinarian’s house. Can you see where this is going?


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of grapes in a Minnesota vineyard. Grapes used for wine, not salad.


The vet’s daughter blindfolded me and then asked me to touch something. “Cow eyeballs,” she said. Now you can only imagine how horrifying that experience to an impressionable elementary-aged girl. As my fingertips landed on the cold orbs and those frightening words were uttered, I shrieked. Cold grapes feel an awful lot like cow eyeballs, let me tell you. Not that I’ve ever touched a cow’s eyeballs.

Likewise, cold spaghetti feels like guts. I don’t know that I touched anything else in that vet’s basement after that. But the experience has stuck with me as a particularly memorable Halloween.

And, yes, I eat grapes.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear your memorable Halloween stories. Keep in mind that I’m not a big fan of scary.

NOW, IF YOU’RE WONDERING about the title of this piece, flash back to November 2014 when a New York Times reporter wrote an article listing the Thanksgiving recipes that “evoke each of the 50 states.” For Minnesota, he chose Grape Salad. That unleashed The Grapes of Wrath from Minnesotans who found that an absurd choice for our state. Most of us, but not all, had never heard of, let alone eaten, Grape Salad. Oh, the horror of eating cow’s eyeballs.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Tell DeLores to bring lots of grape salad November 24, 2014

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Vintage plastic grapes on a vintage food tray, used here for illustration purposes only.

Vintage plastic grapes on a vintage food tray, used here for illustration purposes only.

ALRIGHT, MINNESOTANS, it’s time to tell the other side of the story, to balance the “I’ve never heard of Grape Salad” to the “I have and I prepare it for my family and they love it.”

Just a little background for those who are unaware: The New York Times recently published an article listing Thanksgiving dinner foods that best represent each state. Grape Salad was selected for Minnesota, evoking the wrath of many a native. Most of us have never heard of the salad and don’t consider it at all representative of our state.

But then along come several Minnesota Prairie Roots readers, including DeLores Johnson from Belview in my native Redwood County, MN., who have, indeed, heard of Grape Salad and prepared it.

The salad is so popular with DeLores’ extended family that they ask for it every Thanksgiving and Christmas. The request is the same each holiday: “Tell DeLores to bring lots of Grape Salad.”

She first made the salad about 10 years ago after discovering the recipe in a newspaper (but not the local The Redwood Falls Gazette). Having never heard of Grape Salad until then, DeLores thought it worth a try although she hesitated to reveal sour cream as one of the four ingredients.

But her family loved the salad. Her grandchildren even argue over who gets the last little bit in the bowl, claims DeLores. She doubles the recipe. It’s apparently that good.

DeLores terms Grape Salad as “delicious” and says people from all over have called her for the recipe. “I never knew it would be such a hit,” she says.

One year, when grapes were especially expensive, DeLores nearly didn’t prepare Grape Salad. But because she knew the kids would be disappointed, she bought what she needed and the grapes cost more than the meat.

No wonder she tells her grandkids Grape Salad is special because it’s made with lots of love.

So there you have it. That’s DeLores’ Grape Salad story and she’s sticking to it.

HERE’S THE RECIPE for Grape Salad, direct from DeLores:

Red or green seedless grapes (DeLores emphasizes seedless; one year she bought the wrong grapes and spent a lot of time cutting grapes in half to remove seeds.)
1 cup brown sugar
8 ounces sour cream
8 ounces Cool Whip

Mix the dressing and then add the grapes. Enjoy.

TIPS: For Christmas, DeLores sometimes buys red and green grapes to make a more colorful holiday salad. Grape Salad can be prepared a day in advance, refrigerated and stirred just prior to serving.

FACT:  When DeLores was growing up, the only grapes she had available to her were wild grapes like those used to make jelly.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Offering my two cents, as a Redwood County native, on the Great Grape Salad Controversy November 20, 2014

NOW THAT THE LUTHERANS and my native Redwood County, MN., have been drawn into the New York Times Great Grape Salad Controversy, I feel obliged to also join the discussion.

Thanksgiving Day dinner at my house with family.

Thanksgiving Day dinner at my house with family several years ago included these foods. To the left you’ll see a nearly empty bowl of a lettuce salad. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Here’s the background, just in case you’ve had your head stuck in a snowbank the past several days and are unaware of the Times article. Writer David Tanis chose a food to represent each of the 50 states (plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico) on the Thanksgiving dinner table. For Minnesota, he selected Grape Salad. That choice has resulted in a backlash from Minnesotans unhappy, and that’s putting it mildly, with the selection.

The only grapes you will find sitting out at my house for Thanksgiving are these grapes in a bowl of vintage fake fruit I got from my mom in September. I'd guess they are vintage 1950s or 1960s.

The only grapes you will find sitting out at my house for Thanksgiving are these grapes in a bowl of vintage fake fruit I got from my mom in September. I’d guess they are vintage 1950s or 1960s.

If you have lived in Minnesota your entire life, like me, your immediate reaction probably mimicked mine: “What is Grape Salad?”

It is, according to the Times published recipe, a combination of grapes, sour cream and brown sugar.

A selected page of salad recipes published in The Cook's Special, published in 1973 by St. John's Lutheran Church, Vesta, MN. That's my mom's

A selected page of salad recipes in The Cook’s Special, published in 1973 by St. John’s Lutheran Church, Vesta, MN. That’s my mom’s Orange JELLO Salad

Tanis shares on his Facebook page that the recipe was a staple in 1950s and 1960s Minnesota Lutheran cookbooks and was even published in the Redwood Falls Gazette. Hmmm. But I’ve never heard of Grape Salad, let alone tasted it and I grew up in the 50s and 60s on a crop and dairy farm 20 miles west of Redwood Falls near Vesta, where I attended St. John’s Lutheran Church. The Gazette arrived in our rural mailbox each week.

My friend Kristin made peach Jell-O in a pan.

Several years ago my friend Kristin prepared peach-filled Jell-O for Family Game Night at the Lutheran church I attend in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The go-to salad during my youth was Jell-O, specifically red strawberry Jell-O laced with bananas and maybe topped with whipped topping, but not usually. Jell-O was served only on special occasions, like a holiday or on the midnight lunch table at extended family birthday and anniversary celebrations. The last time I ate Jell-O was a few weeks ago while on a pre-colonoscopy diet. Otherwise it’s been years since gelatin touched my lips.

As for grapes, they were a rare treat in my childhood home due to lack of availability and cost. And when Mom did buy grapes for her six children and farmer husband, the fruit was devoured in an instant. I remember stuffing grapes into my mouth so fast that I would nearly choke. But if I didn’t, I wouldn’t get many and I loved grapes. Still do.

A few of the salad bar choices, including a tangy rhubarb square in the upper right of this photo.

A few of the salad bar options at a 2011 soup and salad luncheon at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

So for Tanis to choose Grape Salad as representative of Minnesota for Thanksgiving dinner 2014, or even Thanksgiving dinner 1960, seems, well, not at all Minnesotan.

What food would you select to represent Minnesota?

Even though (most) Minnesotans believe the Times writer got it totally wrong with his Grape Salad choice, this whole controversy serves some good, too. The spotlight is shining on our state. What a great time to showcase Minnesota foods and our uniqueness. Specifically, I hope tourism folks in my native Redwood County realize this opportunity and run with it in a creative and humorous way.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling