Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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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

 

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:23 AM
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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

 

The Peach Project August 29, 2012

I GREW UP WITH DIRT under my fingernails, banishing weeds from the garden and then, later, harvesting and preparing veggies to eat fresh or preserve.

My mom canned some, froze some, storing away freezer boxes plump with green beans and beets, corn and other vegetables.

She also preserved fruit in quart jars, with the assistance of us kids, for the long Minnesota winter ahead. Applesauce and cherries. Peaches and pears.

A juicy Colorado peach, from which I must remove the skin because I can’t tolerate the fuzz (feels like a cotton ball) in my mouth.

And then, on a brisk winter evening, when Dad was about to come in for supper after finishing barn chores, she would lift the trap door in the kitchen and send one of us clomping down the creaky, rugged wooden steps to the dirt-floored cellar for a jar of sauce. Dessert. I would tug on the frayed cotton string to switch on the single bare light bulb. Then I would tiptoe reach for a jar of my favorite cherries or peaches.

We got a single box of freshly-picked Colorado peaches. When I was growing up, the peaches came in a wood-slat box that was nailed shut. Each peach was wrapped in tissue paper, which we recycled for use in the outhouse.

Those were my thoughts on Saturday when my husband and I picked up a 20-pound crate of peaches I’d ordered several weeks ago through the Cathedral Community Cafe, a Faribault soup kitchen which every Tuesday offers a free meal to those in need and/or seeking fellowship.

It is a worthy cause with some 9,000 dinners served in 2011 and averaging 150 a week this year. The effort involves about 140 volunteers, 12 churches and four teams of workers.

The Community Cathedral Cafe and First English Lutheran youth pre-sold 260 boxes of peaches and ordered an additional 60 to sell to walk-in customers. The peach project has been an ongoing fundraiser for around five years for the cafe and First English youth. About 50 boxes already had been picked up when I photographed this scene.

But like any such organization, the cafe needs money to keep going. The peach project will channel funds into the cafe’s coffers and I’m happy to support the fundraiser by purchasing a $30 crate of fresh Colorado peaches.

A sign outside the Cathedral Guild House directs customers to the peach pick-up point.

Now, what to do with all those fresh peaches. Thus far I’ve eaten many straight from the box. One evening I blended a peach and vanilla ice cream into a smooth shake. This morning I sliced one into my oatmeal. And I’ve also used thinly-sliced peaches to make a ham and peach panini.

I found the adapted sandwich recipe on Sue Ready’s blog and then tweaked it a bit.

Ham and Peach Panini

2 bread slices

deli ham

1 slice provolone cheese

1 thinly-sliced peach

1/2 teaspoon honey

Djon or spicy brown mustard

chopped fresh basil

Spread mustard and 1/2 teaspoon honey on one bread slice. Top with ham, cheese and thin peach slices. Top with chopped basil. Place other piece of bread on top and brush lightly with olive oil. Also brush other bread slice with oil. Grill in frying pan until golden brown, flip and grill other side.

Love, love, love this sandwich. My husband not so much. But he’s more an ordinary sandwich guy and I really had to persuade him to even take a bite.

Now, I expect when I bake a peach crisp or a peach cheesecake later this week, he won’t hesitate to scoop up a sizable helping.

Tyler Welander, 14, who’s raising monies for youth activities at First English, delivers boxes of peaches to vehicles. I suggested to the peach sellers that perhaps they could bake the pies, too, for me to pick up. But one man said, “Oh, that would be down the street at Trinity.” And he would be right. The Trinity Piemakers are currently selling fresh peach, among other, pies.  And since I attend Trinity, I can vouch for the delicious goodness of Trinity pies.

An elderly couple from Farmington ordered nine crates of peaches, seven of which they will deliver to friends.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE peach recipe and what’s the best way to freeze peaches? I’d like to hear.

Click here to reach the website of the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault, home to the community cafe.

Also, please click here to read a post which features a poem I wrote about canning and the watercolor Zumbrota artist Connie Ludwig created based on my poem. Oh, how I wish “Pantry Jewels” was hanging on my dining room wall.

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A chocolate cake tradition of love June 22, 2011

Homemade chocolate Crazy Cake frosted with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

THEY RAVED ABOUT the moistness of the cake. And three of them—all guys—forked up a second slice of the chocolate cake I’d made from scratch.

I almost said, “Ummm, guys, it’s the women who should have a second piece.” But I let them be, passing the cake pan around the table, plating more cake.

This is one moist, delicious chocolate cake.

Then, because I couldn’t help myself, I shared the story about this cake. They needed to hear it, to understand that they weren’t eating just any old cake but cake made from a special recipe.

This Crazy Cake, aka Wacky Cake, is the chocolate cake of my youth, the one my mom made every time she baked a birthday cake, I told my friends.

“We didn’t have much money, didn’t get birthday presents,” I explained as my friends savored each bite of chocolate cake. “So our birthday present was the cake, an animal cake my mom made.

She would pull out her cake book and let us pick the animal shape we wanted for our birthday cake—a lion, a horse, a duck, an elephant…”

“My mom had a book like that too,” my friend Jackie chimed in.

Mari, on the other end of the table, nodded her head. Likewise, her mother had a booklet that provided instructions for transforming round cakes and square cakes and oblong cakes into animal shapes.

By cutting the cake and decorating it with various candies and frosting, my mom transformed a plain chocolate cake in to a special animal-shaped birthday cake.

Those birthday cakes were magical. I never missed the birthday presents, never even knew I should receive gifts, because I had that cake, that special, special chocolate animal-shaped cake.

When I became a mother, I continued the tradition with my children. While I didn’t have an animal cake book, I had my imagination. I made a snowman, Garfield, Piglet, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, a horse (that looked more like a cow than an equine)…

Unlike me, my children got birthday presents, plenty of them. But I would like to think that the one they will remember is the annual gift of an animal-shaped birthday cake, a gift, really, passed down from their grandmother.

For in the passing down of that tradition, I’m honoring their grandma, my mom, who taught me that birthdays are not about prettily wrapped presents, but about love. And that love, for me, will always be symbolized by homemade chocolate Crazy Cake.

Chocolate Crazy Cake

3 cups flour

2 cups white sugar

½ cup cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

Mix the dry ingredients together and then stir in:

¾ cup salad (vegetable) oil

2 cups cold water

2 Tablespoons vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Pour into a 9 x 13-inch cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 – 40 minutes.

When the cake is cool, whip up a bowl of this creamy Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

When cool, frost with:

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

6 Tablespoons butter, softened

½ cup cocoa

2 2/3 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter in a small mixing bowl. Then add the cocoa and powdered sugar alternately with the milk, beating to a spreading consistency. You may need to add an additional tablespoon of milk. Blend in vanilla. Spread on cake. Makes about two cups of frosting.

The recipe yields two cups of heavenly, finger-licking-good frosting.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Recipes from The Cook’s Special, 1973, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Vesta, Minnesota, and Hershey’s Easy-Does-It Recipe #10

 

Craving comfort foods January 18, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:40 AM
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WITH THE START of a new year, I’ve tried to focus on eating healthier foods. Salads. More fruits and vegetables. Less bread. Less cheese.

The strategy worked for awhile. But then my body demanded more. Grilled cheese and tomato soup. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Macaroni and cheese.

So I caved in to my cravings. I couldn’t help myself. This time of year, in Minnesota, we tend to burrow into our homes, tuck ourselves under fleece throws while snuggled on the couch and wait for spring.

To ward off the winter blues that result from too much snow, cold and darkness, we often opt for hearty comfort foods with a lot of substance.

That said, the other night, instead of opening a boxed macaroni and cheese product, I opted for homemade. Years ago I always made maci and cheese from scratch using Velveeta. That’s how my mom made it, so that’s how I prepared it. But I wanted to try a different version.

I found a yummy recipe for Traditional Macaroni and Cheese on allrecipes.com. I loved the rich cheddar taste. The guys in the household rated it as much better than the boxed mac made with powdered cheese. (What’s in that stuff anyway?) But my husband says he prefers Velveeta to cheddar. Go figure. I’m sticking with the cheddar.

 

The mac and cheese I made from scratch and seasoned with extra pepper.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough comfort food for one meal, I made bread pudding for dessert with a recipe I also pulled off allrecipes.com. I adapted the Bread Pudding II recipe by substituting dried cranberries for the raisins, cutting the cinnamon to ½ a teaspoon and using only ½ a cup of sugar. I loved it and ate the bread pudding for dessert that evening and for breakfast the next day.

SO TELL ME, what comfort foods do you crave in the deep, dark depths of winter?

 

Bread pudding laced with dried cranberries because I prefer those to raisins.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling