Plains Folk

Green Onion Brats


I’m thinking maybe, green onion brats on the grill tonight. You haven’t heard of green onion brats? Well, the story of these brats has to do with something to understand about traveling the northern plains. The lesson is, it’s a good idea to let yourself be diverted and just follow your nose.

We had some business in Ellendale having to do with the old opera house, and we were planning also to stop by the Whitestone Hill Battlefield, which led to a previous Plains Folk column. With us was Arnie, the History Dog, who makes a habit of following his nose-one of the few pieces of actual wisdom you can glean from a Labrador retriever.

For piece and quiet, we took a room at the Carroll House, in Fullerton. This wonderfully restored hotel is a great place to hole up, with the Ranch House, a congenial watering hole, just a block up the street. The only interruption in the peace and quiet at the Carroll House comes from the grain elevator across the street, but that drawback is offset by the fact you can piggyback on the co-op’s wireless internet network, if nobody tells them about it.

From Ellendale we looped around to a place I had visited a few years ago, Johnson’s Gulch, a wooded coulee on the east face of the Missouri Coteau, overlooking the Drift Prairie to the east. This is a lovely, little-known place for birding (Arnie did a little birding himself this day, come to think of it), berry-picking, and other such regenerative recreation. I had forgotten, though, about the home-grown historical monument on the north side of the gulch.

For a little while I got lost in reflection on the legend of the brass plaque affixed to the big boulder. It says,

Dedicated to all people who occupied this area that left tangible evidence-the writers of the petroglyphic, the mound builders, American Indians, early fur traders-first white settler Peter Johnson-and more recent settlers & local historians. . . .

And then it goes on to name a number such settlers and historians. What I thought about was the requirement, as the plaque said, that in order to be remembered, you had to leave behind “tangible evidence.” This is exactly what takes me, as a historian, into the field, not just into the archives. Just written documents aren’t enough. I want to touch things, maybe even smell things.

Which is how, later that day, we followed our noses into the People’s Meat Market, on the main drag in Kulm. Say it right now, that’s K-u-l-m, two syllables, Kullum. The People’s Meat Market is an interesting shop, carrying a variety of goods, haphazardly arranged, besides meat, and also containing a table of lingerers. I asked the gal at the counter, what do you have that you brag about, and she said, the brats. Do you want the plain or the onion, she asked, and then commenced the story of the green onion brats.

Her husband, she says, loves winter onions, and a woman in town said she would bring him some. Well, she brought a huge bagful, which somewhat dismayed the gal who was telling the story, because her husband said to peel them all. Then it turned out that those he couldn’t eat fresh, he intended to put into a batch of brats, which he did. Hence the green onion brats on sale when we visited. We picked up a couple of packages.

And should have bought more. The next day we boiled a batch of the green onion brats in beer and then grilled them, and they were great.

As we departed, the woman in the meat market was carrying to the table a big pot of knoepfle soup that sure looked, and smelled, good.

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