Jell-O Trophies
If you tire of the clutter, recycle trophies from years past by leaving them on the hostess' front porch.

Hoedown song sheets

Ohio Avenue

Updated April 8, 2009
Posted Jan. 12, 2007

Frequently answered questions about the Hotdish Hoedown

Why does the hostess insist on using "hotdish" as one word? Doesn't she know that all the authorities say it is two words?
"Hotdish" ought to be one word. That usage is much more elegant, the hostess says, and a hyphen in a party's name would be just plain awkward: Hot-Dish Hoedown.* Really.

In selecting this editorial style, the hostess allies herself with Howard Mohr's "How to Talk Minnesotan," which proudly uses "hotdish" as one word in its chapter "Eating in Minnesota."

So we thumb our noses at the two-word usage* in Ann L. Burckhardt's "Hot Dish Heaven" and Therese Millang's "The Great Minnesota Hot Dish."

* This usage requires a hyphen because "hot" and "dish" are a compound modifier, two words working together to describe "hoedown." See how nicely that rule works in "two-word usage"?

Why is cake never served? I thought this was the hostess' birthday party
The Hotdish Hoedown is not a birthday party. Rather, the annual gathering marks the anniversary of the hostess buying a house in the Schenk-Atwood neighborhood in November 1990. The first Hotdish Hoedown, in January 1991, was her housewarming party. Since she doesn't find cooking relaxing, she had a potluck party. It was so much fun, she had a second one a year later. The third Hoedown in 1993 was too big for her then-950-square-foot house, so she moved the party to the Atwood Community Center.

I'm from east of the Poconos and west of the moon. What is hotdish?
"A traditional main course, hotdish is cooked and served hot in a single baking dish and commonly appears at family reunions and church suppers. Hotdish is constructed on a base of canned cream of mushroom soup and canned vegetables. The other ingredients are as varied as the Minnesota landscape," reports Howard Mohr in "How to Talk Minnesotan."

What's with the Jell-O?
The hostess added the Jell-O contest with the second Hotdish Hoedown, back when the party still fit inside her house. That was the year of the goldfish -- real (dead) goldfish fixed in an-under-Jell-O sea scene. A protest entry featured a hummus beach. That creator now lives in southern California near a real beach.

Contestants are strongly advised to make their entries the weekend before the Hoedown. Jell-O is a difficult medium to work in, and it always takes longer to set than one anticipates, even if one uses less water than the recipe calls for.

And why Jell-O? It complements hotdish.

What's with the Spam?
Sometime in the late 1990s, the Atwood Community Center's assistant director, a longtime Hoedown guest, asked the hostess to implore guests to donate Spam at the Hoedown. This isn't a joke. For people who are homeless and hungry, Spam is a great food item. It doesn't need refrigeration. It is portable. It contains protein It is easy to open. It provides a lot of calories and fat, which folks who don't get enough to eat need to stay alive. People with money generally don't buy products like Spam to donate to food pantries often because they think people shouldn't or don't eat that kind of stuff. Well, demand for Spam is high, and until our society addresses poverty in a better way, the food pantry needs Spam.

Can I give the hostess money to help out with the party?
No. The Hotdish Hoedown is a gift. Instead, buy Spam and donate it to the food pantry. Stay to the end and help clean up. Keep an eye out for Jell-O molds, used trophies and toys to glue to trophies at garage sales and thrift stores (don't spend more than $1 each; the hostess will reimburse you if you ask).

Do we have to give the Jell-O trophies back every year?
No. Trophy winners are encouraged to keep their honors for as long as they will enjoy them. However, please don't throw them away when you tire of them. Please return them to the hostess' front porch any time during the year. She knows when people are doing their fall cleaning.

Parents should be aware that sometimes letting go of a trophy can be diffcult for some children. They are proud of their achievements and perhaps are envy of their friends. Parents should balance their needs to reduce household clutter with the children's desire to hold on to these symbols of their participation in the life of the larger community.

Why must children have a parent present at the party?
One year some former Hoedown guests dropped off their toddlers in the basement and went off to dinner. They ostensibly had a young teen in charge of them, but the goings-on upstairs often distracted her. The hostess felt like she was taken advantage of. Having older kids come with a hotdish and perhaps a Jell-O entry is OK, but there needs to be an adult other than the hostess who is in charge in case they inadvertently run amok.

Why can't we just invite people from around the neighborhood to the party? Isn't this a community event?
The Hotdish Hoedown is not a public event, it is a private, invitation-only party that the hostess considers to be a gift to people she cares about. The guests are current and former coworkers, neighbors, former neighbors and other folks the hostess has met in Madison. She has more people she'd like to invite, but there isn't enough room -- if the Hoedown gets too crowded, guests (and the fire department) get cranky. A couple of years, strangers have just shown up and didn't even bother to seek out the hostess, who then had to avoid them for the evening. Being Minnesotan, it's not like she can ask them to leave.

If guests would like to invite someone, they should ask the hostess before the party.

If I can't attend, why should I bother to let the hostess know?
The hostess loves to count guests. Not showing up and not telling her suggests that the wayward guest doesn't not care about the party and whether s/he is invited again. After a couple of years, the hostess may drop people from the guest list if they don't show and don't send their regrets, especially if they are people the hostess doesn't see regularly. If you forget to go (it's happened), or you get sick, or life becomes too complicated on the day of the party, and you forget to RSVP, you can always contact the hostess in the weeks after and let her know. Then she knows the party is still important to you.