Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A healthier version of your typical Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, plus chocolate November 17, 2012

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MY FRIEND MANDY is sweet and giving and super smart.

She is also a two-time cancer survivor, an avid gardener and a bit of a health food nut. Her enthusiasm for eating healthy is contagious, although contagious is not really the correct word to correlate with healthy.

Let’s just say she is convincing. And she does not simply talk the talk. This 36-year-old nurse practitioner by profession and parish nurse via volunteerism eats healthy and is leading healthy living workshops, offering food samples and recipes, striving to drive home her message.

She cans and freezes all that produce goodness grown on the rural acreage she shares with her husband, Jeff, east of Faribault.

And then she gives it away. Not everything. But plenty.

Just a few days ago, while attending bible study at Mandy and Jeff’s house, I left with two 16-ounce pouches of frozen pumpkin and another packet of green beans. Only two days earlier she had handed me two sealed pouches of still-warm-from-the-oven pumpkin.

My friend insisted that none of us should buy canned pumpkin and I had to confess that I had two cans in the cupboard. Mandy said she would forgive me this time.

And just to prove that healthy eating can be as tasty as she claims, Mandy served our bible study group two pies. Not until afterward, however, did she reveal that both include tofu. I knew, though, as Mandy had informed me ahead of time and I’ve actually made the chocolate pie several times.

So, if you are looking for a healthier alternative to the typical pies you may be baking for Thanksgiving, here are two recipes that will fool those tofu naysayers. I’m making these. But not until after my brother-in-law and a few other family members have finished off their slices of pie will I reveal the ingredients. Or, perhaps I should remain silent.

Pumpkin and other pies, not the healthy variety that includes tofu, at an event I attended last year.

Tofu Pumpkin Pie

1 can (16 ounces) 100% pumpkin puree
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 package (12 or 12 ½ ounces) soft tofu, processed in blender until smooth
9-inch unbaked, whole wheat pie shell (or you can use a regular unbaked crust in a deep dish pie pan, but this is not quite as healthy)

Preparation: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a mixing bowl, cream together pumpkin and sugar. Add salt, spices and tofu; mix thoroughly until smooth. Pour mixture into pie shell and bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 40 – 50 minutes. Chill and serve. Makes 8 servings.

Source: The Anti-Cancer Cookbook via Mandy

You could choose to make this calorie and fat-laden (but super delicous) chocolate cheesecake or try the healthier chocoloate pie recipe below. Cheesecake is my favorite dessert and I will never give it up, FYI.

Chocolate Cream Pie

10 -12 oz. soft silken tofu
10 oz. dark chocolate chips
1 – 2 teaspoons vanilla
9-inch graham cracker crust

Blend the soft silken tofu in a blender until smooth. Add vanilla. Blend again. Melt chocolate. Add chocolate to tofu in blender and blend until thoroughly mixed. Pour into pie crust. Refrigerate 1 – 2 hours. May top with sliced strawberries and chopped walnuts if desired.

Source: from Mandy and her source, unknown by me

I HAVE MADE the chocolate pie several times to rave reviews from guests and the husband and teenage son, who likely would not have tried this had they heard the word “tofu.” This pie is super simple to make and delicious.

Make certain you purchase soft silken tofu, not firm, if you make these recipes. I have not made the pumpkin pie, but can vouch that it tastes just like regular pumpkin pie and was especially delicious with pumpkin from Mandy’s garden.

Note that I shopped at two different grocery stores here in Faribault during the last several days for soft silken tofu without success. The one Faribault grocery store where I’ve purchased tofu in the past was out of the soft variety. The other store never carries it, nor do two other grocery stores in town. My point: Plan ahead.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


How some Minnesota schools are serving healthier meals September 14, 2010

DECADES AGO when my relatives from the Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul, for you non-Minnesotans), visited my southwestern Minnesota childhood farm, they would scoop up fresh garden produce by the bags full to take home. We didn’t mind, if we had extras, and were happy to share the bounty of the land.

I’ll admit, though, that even back then I felt a bit smug about our ability as farmers to provide food for the city dwellers. They had small gardens, but certainly could not grow what we could on our acres and acres of soil.

Today, as a city dweller, I’m the one carting home fresh garden produce from the country. No longer smug, I humbly accept the eggplant, tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, okra, green beans, zucchini and other fruits and veggies that my country-dwelling family and friends share. I could live on fresh vegetables; I love them that much. But in my scrunched yard, I have room only for growing tomatoes and lettuce.

Some of the garden-fresh vegetables I got from my brother a few days ago.

Eating local, eating fresh, seems the healthy, trendy thing to do these days.

So when I read in the September 9 issue of The Gaylord Hub (a weekly newspaper where I worked in the 1970s) that students at the Sibley East, Arlington campus, will eat garden-fresh vegetables in their lunches this year, I took note.

According to the article, last spring students and staff planted a one-acre vegetable garden, which has produced beans, potatoes, cucumbers, onions, cabbage and squash. Later the garden will yield pumpkins, carrots and kale. Food service staff has been busy freezing the beans and making salsa and refrigerator pickles. The other vegetables will be incorporated fresh into meals.

Four grants are helping to fund the Farm to School Program project, which is more labor intensive and costly than a regular school food service offering.

Some Minnesota schools are growing onions in gardens.

Sibley East students grew cabbage, which will be made into coleslaw.

I don’t know if I’ve had my head in the refrigerator or what, but I don’t recall hearing about the Farm to School Program, which has been around nationally since the late 1990s and began in Minnesota in 2005.

Today a check of the Farm to School Program Web site reveals that an “estimated 69” Farm to School programs exist in Minnesota. (Sixty-nine doesn’t sound like an estimate to me but rather like a precise number.) Seventeen existing programs are profiled on the site.

Several districts, including Alexandria and Dover-Eyota, have planted apple trees.

Some Minnesota school districts have planted mini apple orchards.

In Bemidji, students at Solway Elementary School planted a garden and are now eating fresh, and frozen, vegetables. Others, including Dover-Eyota, plus Little Falls and Minneapolis Public Schools, are buying locally-grown produce.

Over in Montevideo, the public schools hosted an educational tomato-tasting event.

Down in the southeastern corner of the state, Winona Area Public Schools students are eating bison burgers and hot dogs thanks to a partnership with a local bison farm.

I liked what I read about these districts partnering up with local growers and producers. Even more, I like that some districts are taking the initiative and getting students involved by planting gardens and mini-orchards. Hands-on involvement, in my opinion, creates ownership, which spawns success.

Despite my excitement about the 69 Farm to School programs in Minnesota, I wonder why more districts are not involved. According to 2008-2009 statistics from the Minnesota Department of Education Web site, the state had 336 public-operating elementary and secondary independent school districts and 153 charter schools with a total of 2,006 public schools as of July 1 (2009).

Although I don’t know this for a fact, I suspect that funding is a problem in this tough economy and tight budgets. Perhaps also apathy and apprehension exist among parents, students, administrators and food service personnel. Finicky taste buds are likely a consideration given this generation is growing up on lots of processed foods and fast food.

Last winter I watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on television as Oliver sought to get fresh, healthy foods into a West Virginia school. The task proved difficult as food service workers, students and others didn’t exactly embrace the health-conscious meals.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying. I would like to see more Minnesota schools join the Food to School Program and provide healthier meals for a student population that truly needs a healthier diet, both at home and in our schools.

Ditto for us adults. We certainly could learn to eat better too by buying (or accepting from family and friends) more locally-grown, fresh produce or growing our own.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling