Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota Faces: A church basement gentleman June 26, 2015

Portrait #29: George Derscheid

As a life-long Minnesotan, I appreciate the church basement ladies. You know, the women who labor in service to the Lord by brewing coffee, buttering buns for ham sandwiches, stirring together a hamburger-noodle-cream soup based hotdish for a funeral and more to feed the hungry.

These women are held in such high esteem in our state that musical comedies have been performed about them at the noted Plymouth Playhouse. Devoted followers have delighted in plays such as “The Church Basement Ladies in A Mighty Fortress Is Our Basement” and “The Church Basement Ladies in The Last (Potluck) Supper.”

But what about the men?

They, too, hold roles of importance in Lutheran and other church basements. I’ve attended a lot of church dinners in southeastern Minnesota in recent years and noticed many a man quietly volunteering his time in service to the Lord.


Portrait 29, George Derscheid, Moland Lutheran Strawberry Fest 2013


Take George Derscheid. I photographed the retired Kenyon area farmer two years ago as he tallied the number of people attending the annual Moland Lutheran Church Strawberry Festival. While on the surface his job may not seem as important as working in the kitchen, it certainly is. Numbers are necessary in food planning. Plus, Lutherans like their stats and reports.

George was more than the numbers guy, though. He was also a smiling face, an unofficial greeter, an engaging man whose whole persona exudes optimism. He simply looks happy. And every Lutheran church basement needs a Lutheran who breaks the mold of stoic and unemotional.

FYI: Moland Lutheran Church, 7618 N.E. 84th Ave., rural Kenyon, celebrates its annual Strawberry Festival from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. this Sunday, June 28. It’s a must-attend event with the following foods available for purchase: pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, chocolate cake, angel food cake and fresh strawberries, ice cream, coffee and fruit flavored drinks. There’s also a bake sale.

The country church is located southwest of Kenyon or east of Medford or northeast of Owatonna.

Click here to read my June 2013 post about the Strawberry Festival. I highly recommend it for the food, the people and the beautiful old church in a rural setting.


Minnesota Faces is part of a series featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


It’s berry pickin’ time in Minnesota June 18, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:02 AM
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Berry picking at Straight River Farm near Faribault started two weeks ago and is expected to continue for awhile yet. Yes, berries are about two weeks earlier than normal this year in Minnesota. And, yes, Straight River is open weekdays. Call before driving out to the farm which is located in a peaceful country setting along the Straight River.

JUNE WOULD NOT BE JUNE without berry picking.

So on a recent Saturday morning my husband and I slipped into tattered jeans and worn t-shirts, laced our tennis shoes and grabbed caps as we headed out to pick strawberries at Straight River Farm east of Faribault.

Picking berries at Straight River Farm on a Saturday morning.

About 1 ½ hours later we’d harvested 21 pounds of fruit. We most definitely had to work for what we got. The berries really needed another day or two of sunshine. But we’ve come to expect that; all the berries cannot possibly ripen at the same time.

We usually have a competition to see who picks the most strawberries. This year we tied and picked a total of 21 pounds. See that fold-up garden kneeler in the right corner. I find picking much easier when I use that. But then I have an artificial right hip and I need to be careful how I bend and manipulate my body.

After dropping our two boxes of berries off at home, we took in the Faribault Heritage Days Soap Box Derby trial run and a garage sale before eating lunch and then getting down to the task of cleaning and bagging the strawberries.

My husband and I worked as a team to prepare the berries for freezing.

Plucking berries is the easy part. I’d rather creep between rows, back bent to the sky, than stand in the kitchen for hours washing, hulling, slicing and finally bagging berries. I’d rather chat with other berry pickers—including the young family next to us and the Florida retiree recently returned to his native Minnesota—than shut myself away in the kitchen on a gorgeous summer afternoon.

But such is the destiny of the berry picker.

I sliced and froze 13 three-cup bags of strawberries, no sugar added. I also saved some for eating fresh.

A shipped-in, store-bought strawberry can never match the taste of a fresh Minnesota berry, like those pictured here in this file photo of Straight River Farm berries.

FYI: We’ve been picking berries at Straight River Farm, 3733 220th Street East, Faribault, for years. To learn more about this multi-fruit and vegetable farm, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Tasteless strawberries and wilting lettuce March 10, 2011


But I don’t always love the quality of the fruits and vegetables I find in the grocery store. In my opinion, they are often sub-par.

Because I live in Minnesota, I am not all that educated about fresh fruits and vegetables. Our cold climate and short growing season limit our native selections. We rely on “imports” from Florida and California and other much warmer places.

That said, I have no idea when growers pick oranges or strawberries or fill in the blank here. How mature, or immature, is the fruit?

Are oranges, like bananas, harvested when they are green? How about strawberries? Muskmelon? Is all fruit plucked before it’s ripened?

I raise that question because I bought a pound of Florida strawberries the other day that looked oddly, unnaturally overripe. Yet, I didn’t see any telltale mold. My husband theorized that they were “picked green and gassed.”

Is fruit really “gassed,” and what does that mean?


A few of the Florida strawberries from the pound I purchased.

The strawberries were rather tasteless, but added a jolt of color to my lettuce salad. If you live in Minnesota or any other cold climate, you’ll understand the need for a jolt of color this time of year. (It’s been a long, cold and snowy winter.)

That brings me to the lettuce. I doled out $2.99 for a bunch of Romaine lettuce at the same time I bought the strawberries. Normally I would pass on Romaine priced so exorbitantly high or even consider substituting iceberg lettuce (which I quit buying years ago because I prefer whole wheat to Wonder bread).

I was willing, though, to pay the $3. I wanted, needed, a Romaine salad. Unfortunately, the selection was not good. Small bunches. Wilted leaves and leaves edged with black. I chose the best and hoped I wasn’t throwing away my money.


I had already peeled off several layers of lettuce leaves before I took this photo. What are those brownish spots?

Well, I threw away about three salads worth of lettuce as I peeled off the layers of leaves to reveal what I term “rust.” I have no idea what the brown spots are inside lettuce leaves, nor do I know why leaves are sometimes tipped with black. I just know that I can’t eat it.

This frustrates me.

How many times have you purchased bad lettuce or fresh fruit that ends up in the garbage? I bet you’ve all tasted “baseball” hard peaches or pears and nectarines that never ripen and are as crunchy and dry as cardboard. One bite and in the trash they go.

So why are fruits and vegetables like this?

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on the quality of today’s fresh fruits and vegetables? I’d like to hear your insights and your experiences.


Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce made a perfect salad. I topped the salad with lemon poppyseed dressing.

FYI: Amablu Gorgonzola cheese is made at Faribault Dairy in Faribault, Minnesota, where it is aged in sandstone caves along the Straight River. This is home to America’s first blue cheese plant, dating back to 1936. The award-winning cheeses produced in my community are among my favorite cheeses.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


They serve the best food in Minnesota church basements July 1, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:36 AM
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FOR ALL OF YOU FOODIES out there, here’s a little secret. Some of Minnesota’s best down-home food is served in church basements.

Whether a chicken and ham dinner, an annual lutefisk meal, a soup supper or simply an old-fashioned ice cream social, the faithful serve up some mighty heavenly culinary delights. I know. I’ve indulged—uh, sinfully overindulged—at plenty of these church-sponsored social events.

Take last Sunday, for example, when my husband and I church-hopped from a worship service at the Old Stone Church along Monkey Valley Road south of Kenyon to Moland Lutheran Church several miles further south and west.

“Are you going to the Strawberry Festival at Moland?” a fellow worshiper asks Randy while I’m off shooting photos of the historic stone church.

Moland Church, near the Dodge, Goodhue, Rice and Steele County lines, held its first Strawberry Festival in 1955.

After hearing this man rave about Moland’s festival and how he never misses a dinner there, Randy and I decide we’re heading south. With the clock ticking toward noon, we’re hungry and tempted to eat of the tasty, unforbidden fruit.

However, I secretly question our decision since we picked nearly 20 pounds of strawberries a day earlier and still have about five pounds sitting on the counter at home. We really don’t need more strawberries.

But the promise of pulled pork sandwiches, and for me the promise of getting inside another old country church, entices us to Moland.

I expect the fest to be held outdoors in tents strategically-placed under towering shade trees. But this church, ringed by a graveyard, stands in the full sun, exposed to the elements.

So we head inside, down the narrow stairs to the church basement where tables are crammed together and a serving line awaits us. We both choose a pork sandwich, a generous spoonful of potato salad and two scoops of vanilla ice cream (not homemade; I ask) topped with a mountain of fresh, sliced strawberries.

A sign in the church entry lists the food choices at The Strawberry Festival.

I am surprised at the quantity of strawberries, but shouldn’t be given this is a Strawberry Festival. For $12, we’ve gotten more than enough food to fill our stomachs. The two homemade baby dill pickles I spear onto my plate seal the deal for me.

We weave our way past tables and support posts to a table along the north wall. Despite the din (why is it always so hard to hear in these church basements?), we strike up a conversation with our dining companions, Angie who has driven down from Eagan to visit her aunt and uncle and the aunt and uncle from Owatonna whose names now elude me. They are a cordial trio.

We discuss church dinners, churches, pastors, computers, cursive writing, strawberry picking, diverticulosis (where food gets stuck in pockets of the colon, namely strawberry seeds in the case of the unnamed uncle) and whether it’s OK to eat our strawberries and ice cream before we eat our sandwiches.

We are served a generous amount of strawberries with two scoops of ice cream.

Randy and I agree that sampling our quickly melting ice cream before we finish our savory pulled pork sandwiches is no sin.

Before we part, our new friends make a confession. In a few hours, they’ll drive over to St. John’s Lutheran Church in Claremont for, uh, some strawberry pie.


IN A FUTURE POST, I’ll take you on a photographic journey inside Moland Lutheran Church.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling