Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A rite of autumn in southern Minnesota: My sister’s soup party October 19, 2015

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Soup, 15 crocks of


CROCKPOTS BRIMMING WITH SOUPS and chili crammed the tables in a Waseca garage on a recent Saturday evening as my sister Lanae and her husband, Dale, hosted their annual Soup Party.


Soup, 42 crock close-ups


It is a rite of autumn, this gathering of family and friends to sample a soup smorgasbord. Each guest arrives with a crockpot of homemade soup or chili—this year 22 types ranging from Bourbon Chili to Chicken Fajita, Beer Cheese and many more tasty varieties.


Soup, 24 crocks 2


You can always count on Teresa to bring a crock of Oyster Stew from across the street. And Monica, my other sister, never deviates from her Broccoli Cheese Soup. Kristi, a particularly creative cook, prepared savory Dill Pickle and Hungarian Mushroom Soups.


All soups are labeled.

All soups are labeled.


My middle brother arrived this year from southwestern Minnesota with Mystery Meat and Ham Soup. He challenged guests to name the mystery meat for a $10 prize. It was alligator.


Soup, 17 bread


Soup, 21 cheese balls


Soup, 19 Bloody Finger Cookies


Food traditions extend beyond the soups. Julie from next door always brings bread, although this year not as much given she’s battling cancer. My sister the hostess always buys a mega container of cheese balls and dumps them into an orange tub. Monica always brings Bloody Finger Cookies.


Soup, 53 smell my feet sign


A sarcastic message chalked on a board in the garage.

A sarcastic message chalked on a board in the garage.


Soup, 57 hat swaying in tree


A talented floral designer, Lanae always decorates her home and yard with Halloween themed items—this year witches hats swaying from a tree, strategically placed pumpkins, Halloween signage and more.

Vintage metal trays hold soup samples scooped into Styrofoam cups.

Everything is ready. Vintage metal trays will hold soup samples scooped into Styrofoam cups.

In the backyard, my brother-in-law Dale builds and tends a campfire as guests retreat to talk and laugh and settle in after eating way too much soup and too many sweets.

As the sun sets in southern Minnesota, guests gather on the driveway and in the garage to sample soups and chili.

As the sun sets in southern Minnesota, guests gather on the driveway and in the garage to sample soups and chili.

It’s a memorable evening, an autumn tradition that connects family and friends through good food and conversation. Rarely have I missed Lanae and Dale’s Soup Party.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Trying tofu at a soup party September 30, 2011

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Guests gather inside and outside a Waseca garage for an autumn soup party.

IT IS, FOR MY EXTENDED FAMILY, a rite of autumn in Minnesota.

The orange tub of cheese balls. My nieces’ bloody finger cookies. Julie’s homemade breads, still warm from the oven. Vintage trays stacked high. Crockpots, brimming with soup, crammed onto tables inside the garage. Sampling each soup or chili. And afterward, conversation and laughter around the backyard campfire.

Last Saturday night my sister Lanae and her husband Dale hosted their eighth annual soup party at their Waseca home for family and friends. For me, and many others, it’s a must-attend autumn event.

Tortellini with Italian Sausage Soup, left, and German Potato Salad and Creamy Corn with Jalapeno soups to the right in photo.

Homemade breads, this year crafted by Lanae and Dale's friends, Julie and Vicki.

Bloody finger cookies, a soup party tradition.

Sweatshirt weather on a day that transitions quickly from cool to cooler. Oranges and reds and yellows. Chili that bites and heats the innards. Comfort in the familiarity of Chicken Noodle Soup laced with thick, homemade noodles. Unfamiliarity in the Chinese Hot & Sour Soup among these mostly Germans more connected to the German Potato Salad Soup.

Trying tofu for the first time in that tasty Chinese soup.

Listening to my other sister share how her family detests the stench of the Broccoli Cheese Soup she brings every year.

Trading left-overs with Carol, who raves about my Black Bean Pumpkin Soup, which I don’t find all that great. I think I’m the winner, getting her Chicken Noodle Soup. Carols thinks she’s gotten the better end of the swap. It is a matter of opinion, a matter of taste preferences.

Crocks of soups and chilis are set up on tables inside the garage.

Vintage metal trays provide the perfect place to set bowls of soup/chili and other food.

Before the party, guests tell my sister what soup/chili they are bringing so she has labels ready to mark each soup on party night.

We don’t arrive expecting to like all of the soups and chilis—15 this year:

  • Chinese Hot & Sour
  • Reuben Chowder
  • Broccoli Cheese
  • Gunflint Chili
  • White Chili
  • Chocolate (yes, soup)
  • Lemon Orzo
  • Tortellini with Italian Sausage
  • German Potato Salad (yes, soup)
  • Ham & Bean
  • Creamy Corn with Jalapeno,
  • Pumpkin Black Bean
  • Stuffed Sweet Pepper
  • Chicken Noodle
  • Red Chili

But we arrive expecting to enjoy ourselves in the company of family and friends on a beautiful autumn evening in Minnesota. And we do. And I did.

Soups/chilis are uncovered and party-goers start lining up to sample the offerings.

THANKS, LANAE AND DALE, for hosting this fun, tasty event.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Seventeen soups on a Saturday October 9, 2010

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Crockpots full of homemade soups line the table at my sister and her husband's annual October soup party.


EVERY YEAR for the past seven, my sister, Lanae, and her husband Dale have hosted an October soup party.

Friends and family and neighbors come bearing crockpots brimming with homemade soups—like French onion, oyster, wild rice, chicken noodle, potato—and the wildcard chilies.

Weeks before the Saturday evening event, we inform Lanae of the soup we’re bringing and she approves the selection. She doesn’t want duplicates.

Then on the appointed date, which this year came in early October rather than the typical Halloween time-frame of previous parties, we simmer our soups and, around 5:30 p.m., arrive at her Waseca home.

In the backyard, Dale already has a campfire blazing.

We place our containers of soup on banquet tables set up in the garage and plug the crocks into outlet strips. An extension cord snakes to the next-door neighbor’s house so there are no blown circuits.

Soon the tables, decked in festive Halloween décor, are crammed with crocks of tantalizing soups. Labels and ladles—the ones guests are required to bring—are propped next to pots.



The soups included Norwegian Fruit, brought by my Aunt Marilyn, who is proud of her Norwegian heritage.


At the other end of the table, brownies and cupcakes and a pumpkin-shaped cake, bloody finger shortbread cookies (made every year by my young nieces) and a gallon container of cheese balls (also a tradition) quickly fill table space.



My niece Tara, who has a talent for cake decorating, created these festive cupcakes.


But Lanae always reserves room for Julie’s bread. Next-door neighbors Julie and Brian arrive shortly before meal-time with baskets of piping hot homemade breads, the perfect, expected, accompaniment to all those soups.



Neighbors Brian and Julie always bring baskets of fresh homemade breads.


At 6 p.m., my sister picks up a vintage tray and bangs a spoon against the metal. She offers instructions to soup party newbies: “Take three or four bowls and put a little soup in each so you can try all the soups.”



Lanae sets out stacks of vintage metal trays for her soup party. The cheese balls in the orange tub are a must-have every year.



Some of the soup selections on a diner's tray.



Party guests line up to ladle up the homemade soups.


On this Saturday evening, 17 soups are available. I try most and, if I had to vote for my favorite, it would be the Greek Chicken and Lemon Soup with Orzo. First, the exotic name impresses me and then the tangy lemon paired with chicken pleases my taste buds. I also especially like the Wild Rice and the Reuben Spaetzle, of which I get the last scrape-the-bottom of the crock ladleful.



Sisters Becca, left, and Amber, right, sample soups with their cousin Whitney..


As we sit around card tables or banquet tables inside the garage or on the driveway, sampling the soups, sipping wine or beer or pop or water, snuggled in sweatshirts in the briskness of an early October evening which should be warmer, I am content.

This soup party is the ideal way to welcome autumn in Minnesota. Good food. Good conversation with family and friends.

Kids running carefree in the yard after dark with glow lights.



Four-year-old Kegan plays football with his dad before supper.


Wood crackling and flaming in the backyard bonfire.

Seventeen soups on a Saturday. Can October get any better than this?



More of those incredible soups.


FYI: HERE ARE THE SOUP OFFERINGS from Lanae and Dale’s seventh annual soup party, attended by 44: White Chili, Cheesy Chicken Wild Rice, Rueben Spaetzle, Oyster Lentil, Barley Vegetable, Greek Chicken & Lemon Soup with Orzo, Cauliflower/broccoli, Cheesy Chicken Chowder, Wild Rice, Gunflint Chili, Red Chili, Italian Meatball Veggie, Roast Pepper, Norwegian Fruit, Chicken Noodle, Split Pea and French Onion.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling