Take one humorously kitschy Minnesota mom, mix in a headful of pink hair rollers and an armload of Cool-Whip containers and Jell-O packages, and what have you got? A deliciously funny serving of That Midwestern Mom.
In her popular TikTok videos, this perfectly-coiffed connoisseur of vintage dessert salads is usually poised over a Tupperware mixing bowl in the kitchen of her home, smiling sweetly and singing like a bird about “Minne-SOOO-ta salads, that aren’t really salads!”
She then fills that big bowl with a strange brew of ingredients galore -- canned pineapple and cold pasta? Alrighty, sounds good! Grapes and Snickers bars? You betcha, throw ‘em in! Add a sweet substance that’ll stick it all together (like Cool-Whip or Jell-O) and you've got yourself a scrumptious salad, dontcha know!
The concoctions she cooks up are endearingly familiar to any Midwesterner, who’s used to seeing these kinds of salads at family reunions, church fundraisers and neighborhood potlucks. To non-Midwesterners, the recipes are uncharted territory that can bring on a case of the cringes, and That Midwestern Mom says she gets a lot of questions from curious fans from other parts of the country -- like, “What is going on in Minnesota? Are y’all alright up there?!”
She films herself out of the kitchen at times, too, at places like her local grocery store, where she happily shops in her hair rollers, or in front of her bathroom mirror, where she “curses” at makeup mishaps like smeared lipstick and fallen fake eyelashes (“Holy buckets!” and “Cheese and biscuits!” are a couple of her more obscene expressions).
Wherever she’s filming from, she always serves up a lot of laughs, and her fast-growing fan base on TikTok is eating it up. Her number of followers on the famous video-sharing app has jumped from less than 1,000 just a few months ago to 55,000 today, and her videos have been viewed millions of times.
“It’s been a super fun ride,” she told the Tribune on Monday. “I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but it’s been a hoot, ya know?!”
Hearing herself speak in her character’s over-the-top Minnesota accent, she can’t help but laugh. Off camera, That Midwestern Mom doesn't sound like that. Her real accent is much more subtle. Her mannerisms are more subtle, too, and she's got a more easygoing look -- one that doesn't require hair rollers. She's Amber Schwarzrock, a Frazee mom of three, and she admits she's nothing like her onscreen persona.
“She’s the organized, perfect Midwestern mom, and I am definitely not,” Schwarzrock says. “She’s my alter ego.”
Schwarzrock is able to play the role so well because she knows so many women who are like That Midwestern Mom -- namely, her own mother, Jay Estenson. Estenson owns the Yak-Shack beauty salon in Frazee, and has made countless dessert salads over the years. Her kitchen pantry is always bursting with Cool-Whip containers, Jell-O mixes, and “cream of something soups,” says Schwarzrock: “It’s just so normal to me. I grew up eating these salads.”
Born and raised in Frazee, Schwarzrock graduated from Detroit Lakes High School in 2000 and then, over the next couple decades, went to college, got married, started a family, and lived all over the world for school and work. She moved back to her hometown a few years ago, with her husband and their three kids, to be closer to family.
While still relatively new to TikTok, she’s long been accustomed to big audiences. As a kid, she embraced the spotlight during school choir and local theatre productions, and as a young adult, she became a conservatory-trained opera singer, performing with 300-piece orchestras and even recording a few albums.
She looks back on that now and jokes about the irony of her latest pursuit: “I went to school for . . . diction, to get rid of my Minnesota accent, and now I’m making goofy videos in a strong Minnesota accent. But, you know, the pandemic forces you to reinvent yourself, so there you go.”
It was the isolation of COVID-19 that turned Schwarzrock's attention to TikTok. She downloaded the app one day out of boredom and just started playing around with it. She started by uploading quick clips of herself and her cats doing funny things, and then, around St. Patrick’s Day, she decided to make a video of herself making a Watergate salad (a mint green mix of pistachio pudding, pineapple, marshmallows, nuts and whipped topping). That video got a lot of views, and That Midwestern Mom rapidly evolved from there.
Schwarzrock’s success on TikTok has led to a flurry of recent media coverage, including articles in local newspapers, an appearance on the Twin Cities-based talk show, The Jason Show, on April 12, and a segment on WDAY's evening news on April 20.
With That Midwestern Mom on a hot streak, Schwarzrock wants to keep the momentum going and further build up her brand. She’s creating at least one new video every day, and has plans to expand her efforts in the future. She’s collaborating with other content creators on TikTok to reach new audiences, and is also seeking out sponsorships. She hopes to add new dimensions to her videos, too, such as by featuring recipes from community and church cookbooks, or by documenting trips to oddball Midwestern sites and events. She may eventually branch out onto other platforms, like YouTube.
For now, though, Schwarzrock is still just taking it all in. She leads a busy life, raising three kids, working a regular day job, and filming her TikTok videos at night. It’s not always easy, she says -- sometimes there are 17 takes behind one good 30-second video -- but it’s always fun.
As an added bonus, being That Midwestern Mom gives Schwarzrock a good excuse to visit her own Midwestern mom at the Yak-Shack every day, to chat and get her hair done. Those perfect coifs don’t come naturally, fer cryin' out loud. That’s what those hair rollers are for.