Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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


Oh, the interesting topics you’ll find in small town newspapers…of bullets, burgers & babies… August 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:51 AM
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SMALL TOWN NEWSPAPERS make for some interesting reading. Stories can get downright personal and to the point.

For example, I found a gem last week online at The Redwood Falls Gazette, a twice-a-week newspaper published in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota. It’s the newspaper I grew up reading.

The Redwood Falls Gazette editor Troy Krause, right, interviews Todd Bol, co-founder of the Little Free Library in Vesta in early July. Bol gave a LFL to my hometown and installed it at the Vesta Cafe.

In the “Backward Glance” section of the newspaper, under 1987—25 years ago, this tidbit of information was published:

In the listings of the Redwood County 4-H county fair champions, Troy Krause of the Loyal Scotties was overall grand champion in flower gardens, while Kelly Zwaschka of the Vesta Vikings won champion child development.

(Note: Troy is editor of the Redwood Gazette, while wife Kelly gave birth to their seventh child, Gideon, this week. Congrats from the Gazette staff!)

How’s that for a birth announcement? Obviously Kelly’s interest in child development, even as a 4-Her, was a clear indicator of her future. As for Todd, I believe flower gardening could be connected to creativity/writing.

You’ll also find a brief about a game warden, shot through the head in 1937 by another game warden who mistook him for a bear. That’s listed in the 50 years ago section of “Backward Glances.” So, yes, apparently Merle Shields survived the incident as he was celebrating his 20th year as a Redwood County game warden in 1962. (BTW, since writing this post, I discovered that The Gazette has upgraded its website and the “Backward Glance” I reference here cannot be found, or I couldn’t find it.)

The third piece of interest was published in last week’s The Gaylord Hub, where I worked for two years as a news reporter and photographer right out of college. Avery Grochow, past president of The Gaylord Chamber of Commerce, penned a letter to the editor which I am certain is the current coffee shop talk of Gaylord.

I’ll summarize parts of his lengthy, six-paragraph letter and quote directly when needed. Grochow begins:

We, as the chamber board, are constantly trying to do our best for our community and are constantly being criticized by some for our decisions.

Apparently locals were grumbling about the food—who supplied it and how it tasted—at the community’s annual Eggstravaganza summer festival. New volunteers, replaced Dewey (whoever that is; my words here, not Avery’s), who “wanted a year off from all the arguments.” They stepped up and worked through a new bidding process for the supplies, awarding the bid to the lowest bidder.

Grochow continues:

We have had comments both ways about the supplying of hamburger. Some have criticized us in the past because the hamburger was too spicy, that they would rather have plain burgers, and we are now being criticized that we are having plain burgers and not spiced burgers.

No matter what we do as volunteers and directors for the Chamber, we can’t please everyone…We did what we thought was fair to everyone by taking bids on everything and stand by our decision.

Now, just imagine how difficult it must have been for Grochow to write this letter. Not an easy thing to do when you live in a small town like Gaylord where everyone’s lives are intertwined.

I give Grochow credit for having the guts to publicly voice his opinion in print. He doesn’t just vent, though. He offers a solution. And therein lies the point best taken by those who read his letter.

…if anyone has better ideas for us, we still are short of directors and could use all the help we can get to make our Chamber even more successful. We also have openings on the board so you can be part of the decision making, instead of just always making bad comments because you don’t like what we did. Remember, we, as the Chamber Board of Directors, are just volunteers trying to make Gaylord a better place to live and hopefully to have a great celebration.

Those closing remarks are words we could all heed because I expect you, like me, are guilty of occasional grumbling and complaining.