Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hotdish, but not on a stick August 26, 2011

TYPICALLY MY POSTS focus on a single subject. But not today. I’m serving hotdish. And since the Minnesota State Fair opened Thursday, pretend it’s hotdish on a stick, which actually can be purchased, with cream of mushroom dipping sauce, from vendors Ole and Lena’s. Ja, sure, ya betcha.

This year you’ll also find, for the first time at the Great Minnesota Get Together, chocolate covered jalapeno peppers.

Now, you might think Minnesotans would hesitate to try jalapeno anything given our primarily Scandinavian and German taste buds. But I can tell you that two summers ago I found Dennis Gare pushing chocolate covered jalapenos at the Faribault Farmers’ Market and they were selling like lefse at a Norwegian dinner.

Dennis Gare's chocolate covered jalapenos, which I photographed two years ago.

At the time, Dennis told me the jalapenos were creating quite a buzz among customers and vendors. He’s one of those savvy marketing types who create atypical foods—like pickled eggs and horseradish—that will attract customers and increase sales.

I checked in with Dennis last Saturday and jokingly asked if he was the vendor peddling the chocolate covered jalapeno peppers at the State Fair. Nope. That would be Andre’s Watermelon. But he was a little worried about the fieriness of the over-sized jalapenos on a stick.

If you attend the State Fair and try a chocolate covered jalapeno pepper, submit a comment. I’d like to report back to Dennis down at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. Click here to read my July 20, 2009, post about Dennis’ jalapenos.

SINCE I’M ON THE SUBJECT of the State Fair, I need to give a shout-out to the new Princess Kay of the Milky Way, 18-year-old Mary Zahurones from Pierz, a community of about 1,300 north of St. Cloud in Morrison County and along Minnesota Highway 25, a main route to the Brainerd Lakes area.

The new princess had her head carved in a 90-pound block of butter at the fair yesterday.

Anyway, I know a little about the princess’ hometown of Pierz. My husband graduated from Pierz Healy High School in, well, let’s just say a long, long, long time ago. The new princess graduated from my spouse’s alma mater several months ago, and you’ll find her princess photo proudly showcased on the District 484 website home page.

Two other interesting tidbits about Pierz: The town was originally called Rich Prairie, but was renamed after a Catholic priest, Father Francis Xavier Pierz. He is recognized as “The Father of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint Cloud,” having settled in central Minnesota in 1852 as a missionary to Native Americans and having attracted many German Catholic immigrants to the area. You’ll find a statue of the good Father in a Pierz park, moved there last year from the St. Cloud Hospital.

Secondly, if you like bologna, and I don’t, but apparently central Minnesotans do, you can check out Bologna Days every Wednesday at the Red Rooster Bar & Grill in Genola (just south of Pierz) or every Thursday at Patrick’s Bar & Grill in Pierz. Really. This information is listed in the F.A.Q.’s section of the city website and, no bologna, I have seen a Bologna Days sign with my very own eyes.

Magnetic Catholic: St. Francis of Assisi

AS LONG AS WE’RE TALKING Catholic here, even though I’m Lutheran, I simply must point you to the “Magnetic Catholic” paper (well, not really paper) dolls which I first learned about from a Michigan writer on her blog, House Unseen. Click here to read that post and then click here to see the Magnetic Catholic Etsy shop.

I swear—oops, probably shouldn’t be swearing—you’ll have your socks charmed right off you by the likes of the Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Francis of Assisi and the Blessed Pope John Paul II.

ONE MORE THING, totally unrelated to Catholics, dairy princesses, or anything on a stick.

But, apparently the latest trend among hip, young Minneapolitans is to carry iced coffee or similar drinks around in a (Mason/Ball/Kerr) pint canning jar.

I learned this from my eldest, who drove down to Faribault Thursday evening so her personal mechanic/Dad could check her car. After we gathered home-grown tomatoes, flowers and a few other niceties for her to take back home to south Minneapolis, she asked if I had any canning jars.

A hip canning jar.

I know my daughter well enough to realize she didn’t need them for canning. Heck, I don’t even can.

So we traipsed down to the basement and poked around until we found two pint jars, rings and lids. She was one happy Uptowner.

SO THERE, I HOPE YOU enjoyed your serving of hotdish. Mighty tasty, huh?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Reunion stories: A rabbit tale and a tale of murder August 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:23 AM
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THIS WEEKEND my husband, Randy, and I attended mini high school class reunions, albeit impromptu ones.

On Saturday afternoon I met a Wabasso High School graduate while touring Betsy’s house in Mankato. That would be Betsy Ray, as in Maud Hart Lovelace’s main character in her Betsy-Tacy books. Betsy is Maud, who really did live in the restored Center Street house now owned by the Betsy-Tacy Society.

But back to that reunion. Penny, our tour guide, asked where I grew up and I responded, “between Redwood Falls and Marshall” since few people have ever heard of my hometown, Vesta.

Imagine my surprise when Penny says she graduated from Wabasso High School, about 20 miles from my hometown.

“I graduated from Wabasso High School too.”

That led to a bit of reminiscing between me, a 1974 grad, and Penny, a 1964 WHS graduate. Because of our 10-year age span, we didn’t know each other during our school days. Yet, we share that common bond of attending the small-town high school with the white rabbit mascot.

“Another white rabbit,” Penny says several times. Just as an explanation, the town’s name originated in an Indian legend about the creation of the earth. Wabasso, a son of the mighty creator of nations, fled north and was changed into a white rabbit. He was considered a great spirit. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow even writes about Wabasso in his The Song of Hiawatha poem.

A white rabbit statue sits along Minnesota Highway 68 in Wabasso.

But I digress. Penny and I enjoyed our new-found white rabbit connection and our shared love for the Betsy-Tacy books. And then we discovered one more link. Penny taught German at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato. I attended the college and, at one time, intended to major in German.

Now, flash forward to Sunday afternoon, when Randy and I are at a reunion of The Trinity King’s softball team. It’s been a day of remembering root beer barrels (the team drink), belly bumps (exactly what you think) and an injured leg splinted with softball bats.

Then Jane and Larry show up. Larry subbed a few times with the team, so we never really knew him. But as the conversation ebbs and flows, we learn that Jane graduated in 1969 from Pierz Healy High School, Randy’s alma mater. Randy graduated in 1974 with Jane’s sister, Nancy.

Soon the two are tossing out family names and memories with the ease of those who grew up in the same geographical area.

Then I mention the murder. One day after classes, a school librarian used his necktie to strangle a student in the audio-visual room. Jane tells us her brother was working in the adjoining room at the time of the late 1960s murder, but heard nothing.

Revelation of this horrendous crime to outsiders always draws the same reaction—stunned disbelief. How could this happen in a school? But it did.

As the Pierz Healy High School graduates continue to discuss other common topics, I wonder: What happened to the murderer/librarian? Is he out of prison? Is he still alive?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling