Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Cheers to J. Ryan Stradal, now among my favorite Minnesota-raised writers January 14, 2020

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Pulling The Lager Queen of Minnesota from the Lucky Day bookshelves at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault proved my lucky day. I’m always up for discovering a new-to-me Minnesota author like J. Ryan Stradal.

Yes, I admit a partiality for Minnesota writers and/or books with a strong Minnesota bend. The Lager Queen is both, although native-born and raised Stradal now lives in Los Angeles. I’ll forgive him for moving to the West Coast because I love his bestselling book that much.

You know a book is good when you don’t want to put it down, when all you want to do is keep reading, despite life’s obligations. I finished the book in days, not a single day, only because, well, I can’t realistically devote an entire day to reading.

As the cover art and title suggest, this is a book about beer. But not just beer. The Lager Queen is also a book about strong women, generations of women in one family who overcome challenges and tragedy. Stradal creates strong characters who grow and evolve and stretch themselves.

This is a story, too, about how generations interconnect, about relationships broken and built, about decisions that ripple their impact.

This is a story, too, of place, of Minnesota. There’s a familiarity in setting, both of real places and fictionalized locations.

As a fan of craft beer, I appreciated learning more about the business through Stradal’s writing. And, yes, he tapped into the knowledge of real craft brewers in Minnesota and beyond. I almost felt like I should be drinking a Minnesota-made craft beer while reading The Lager Queen of Minnesota.

Cheers to a Minnesota-rooted author whom I hope will continue to write similar books. Because I’m a fan. Even if I prefer IPAs to lagers.

FYI: Stradal is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, Kitchens of the Great Midwest.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Discovering gnomes, a vintage cookbook & more at a used book sale May 5, 2012

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AS I DREW OPEN the interior glass door into the Faribo West Mall, the offending odor of a hundred musty, damp basements stung my nostrils, mixing with the distinct aroma of Chinese food.

The moldy smell pulled me like an invisible string, past the Great China Buffet and the pet supply store, toward a vacant storefront, recent home to a variety store and years before that, a bookstore.

I stepped inside the former retail space into a temporary bookstore packed with thousands of books lining tables and shelves. I aimed straight for the Minnesota-authored titles while my husband veered toward the cookbooks.

Books I selected from the “Minnesota table,” albeit Prairie Perpendicular (one of my all-time favorite fiction books) is set in a small North Dakota farming community and written by a North Dakotan.

For 45 minutes we perused the selections, me picking How to Talk Minnesotan, A Visitor’s Guide by Howard Mohr, In Search of Lake Wobegon by Garrison Keillor and Prairie Perpendicular by Marston Moore (a North Dakota writer) from the Minnesota table.

I wasn’t searching for anything specific, only that which might interest me or others. The Minnesota language book will go to the oldest daughter’s boyfriend whom I will meet in a few weeks. He’s a California native, still living there, and likely could use a few tips about hotdish and bars. I’ll earmark page 16 for him in Lesson 3, “Eating In in Minnesota.”

If he wants to borrow Keillor’s book, I suppose I could lend it to him. But then again I don’t want to leave him with the impression that Minnesotans are, well, a bit off-kilter. I mean, if you didn’t know anything about ice fishing, what would you think of a photo of St. Joseph Rod & Gun Club members sitting on overturned buckets and playing cards while fishing on a frozen lake? Yeah, perhaps I best keep that Lake Wobegon book tucked away.

A snippet from the cover of Gnomes written by Wil Huygen and illustrated by Rien Poortvliet.

After discovering those gems, I moved on to the garden books and then the poetry and art and children’s titles. Somewhere in between I found a book about gnomes, complete with humorous stories and art that I just know my gnome-loving floral designer sister will appreciate.

But it was my husband who uncovered the find of the evening, a 1967 Minnesota Valley Cook Book. The 55-page supplement to The New Ulm Journal offers an interesting and amusing glimpse into the past in ads and recipes.

The cover of the 1967 Minnesota Valley Cook Book printed on news print. The cover photo of Mrs. Reuben Mammenga of New Ulm (sorry, no first name given) was taken by Ron Grieser. Mrs. Mammenga won the $5 prize in the pies category for her Chocolate Angel Pie.

I will share more about this 45-year-old southwestern Minnesota cookbook in an upcoming post. Just to pique your interest, did you know that (in 1967) “one of America’s largest department stores is just 11 inches high?” Can you guess which one?

Have you heard of Sauerkraut Cake and Tomato Surprise Cake?

Yes, the entertainment value in this old cookbook rates five stars. So does the Faribault chapter of the American Association of University Women’s annual book sale. Proceeds from the sale go to the AAUW Educational Foundation, local scholarships and community programs.

As I see it, everyone benefits through this book recycling process. Several months ago my 18-year-old son asked, “Mom, when’s that book sale?” He and a friend were at the sale when doors opened Thursday. He came home with a dozen science fiction (including one of his favorites, Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky) and fantasy books and a thermodynamics college textbook. Total cost: $12.

The sale continues from 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday; noon – 5 p.m. Sunday; and from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. May 7-9, next to JC Penney. Hurry in for the best selection. Expect to pay @ $1 per book with newer and mint condition books priced higher.


P.S. Please do not think all of the books at this sale smell musty. They don’t. I try to discreetly do a “sniff test” before purchasing.

HAVE YOU EVER shopped a used book sale? What gems did you find? Share your experiences in a comment on this post.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Doug Ohman preserves Minnesota in photos January 25, 2012

MANY YEARS AGO I heard Minnesota photographer Doug Ohman talk about his Churches of Minnesota book, a project in his “Minnesota Byways” series published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

He’s an impressive speaker, sharing his love for photographing those subjects which hold historical, community and personal significance for so many Minnesotans.

Thus far he’s covered Minnesota churches, barns, courthouses, schoolhouses, cabins and libraries in his series. I don’t think I’ve missed any and I’ve read most. His books also include prose by well-known Minnesota writers like Will Weaver, Jon Hassler and Bill Holm.

If you’re at all interested in the places that are so integral to our lives, you’ll want to read Ohman’s books and, if you have the opportunity, hear him speak.

Buckham Memorial Library, built in 1929, features a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals.

Thursday night, January 26, this noted photographer travels to my community of Faribault, to Buckham Memorial Library, to present “Free to All: Libraries of Minnesota” as part of the Minnesota Book Award Author Tour. His book, Prairie, Lake, Forest: Minnesota’s State Parks, was a 2011 MNBA nominee.

I’ll be there for several reasons: I enjoy Ohman’s books. I want to learn more about his approach to photography. I’m interested in learning more about libraries in Minnesota. I appreciate libraries.

He’ll be at the Faribault library at 6 p.m. for this free event. A photo of Buckham, by the way, is included in his Libraries of Minnesota.

Southeastern Minnesota residents will have plenty of other opportunities to hear Ohman speak on his “Minnesota Byways” series as a dozen additional appearances are scheduled through-out the Southeastern Libraries Cooperating regional library system. Click here to view a complete listing of Ohman’s upcoming visits. His presentations will vary—from schoolhouses to churches to farms and more—depending on location.

I’d recommend taking in one of Ohman’s presentations. You’ll gain insights into Minnesota history and photography and more from a photographer who possesses an unbridled enthusiasm for preserving, in images, that which is part of the Minnesota landscape.

The Houston Public Library is on the cover of Ohman's book, Libraries of Minnesota. I shot this photo last summer of the library in the southeastern corner of our state.

Built in 1912, the library in Janesville is an Andrew Carnegie library on the National Register of Historic Places.

A statue of Linus greets visitors to the Dyckman Free Library in Sleepy Eye. Charles M. Schulz, creator of the Peanuts cartoons, based his character Linus on real-life friend Linus Maurer, a Sleepy Eye native. Maurer, a cartoonist, worked with Schulz. Ohman, who managed the former Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America, includes a photo of Linus at the Sleepy Eye library in his book.

Several summers ago I photographed this 1930s Works Progress Administration log cabin in Hackensack. Sitting on the shore of Birch Lake next to a towering statue of Lucette Diana Kensack (Paul Bunyan's sweetheart), the cabin today houses the Hackensack Lending Library.

IF YOU’RE INTERESTED in reading another book about libraries, check out Carnegie Libraries of Minnesota by Kevin Clemens. The book highlights the history and architecture of Minnesota’s Carnegie libraries, primarily in photos. Click here to learn more about the book.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling