How to Clean Burned Pans in 7 Easy Steps

Hey, it happens. If you cook, you’re going to have burned-on food once in awhile. Fear not! While dish soap is no match for this kitchen foe, arm yourself with baking soda and white vinegar to concoct…

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Get Your Grill On: How to Build a Better Burger

Love the thrill of the grill? I sure do, especially when I’m crafting a thick, juicy burger I can sink my teeth into. While we talk a lot about burgers during May Beef Month, how much do you really know about this American icon?

The classic hamburger we know and love today is very much an American invention. Stemming from German culinary roots, the burger-on-a-bun phenomenon gained widespread fame at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

Disaster struck two years later, however, when Upton Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” (remember the book’s lurid details from high school literature class?) detailed the unsavory side of the American meatpacking industry. Ground beef became a prime suspect, since it could easily be adulterated with questionable additives.

The hamburger might have faded away as a long-forgotten fad were it not for Edgar Ingram and Walter Anderson. When they opened their first White Castle restaurant in Kansas in 1921, White Castle countered the hamburger’s unsavory reputation by becoming bastions of cleanliness, health and hygiene. This paved the way for national hamburger chains founded in the post-World War II boom years, including McDonald’s.

Best burgers, Iowa style
Iowa has made its own distinctive contributions to America’s burger history. Consider the wildly popular Iowa’s Best Burger contest, sponsored by the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association (ICA) and the Iowa Beef Industry Council (IBIC). Iowans submitted more than 9,200 nominations for this year’s contest. Nearly 500 Iowa restaurants were represented in 2017 in the total nominations, setting a new record for the contest.

As a former judge of Iowa’s Best Burger contest, I can tell you how tough it is to pick a winner. Iowans know how to make bodacious burgers, a story I made sure to include in my “Culinary History of Iowa” book.

Size matters when it comes to the Gunderburger at the Irish Shanti, which made the 2017 Top 10 list. The famous Gunderburger started in the late 1970s to put the tiny northeast Iowa community of Gunder on the map. The first Gunderburgers were a smaller version of the one served today. As the Gunderburger started growing in size in the 1990s, its notoriety also grew.

Another 2017 Top 10 Best Burger in Iowa contender is the Ankeny Diner, which offers Maytag Burgers, featuring Iowa’s famous Maytag blue cheese, sautéed onion and Monterey jack cheese. Don’t care for blue cheese? Maybe you’d prefer the Rarebit Burger, served open-faced and topped with spicy Cheddar cheese sauce.

Rarebits were legendary at the iconic Younkers Tea Room in downtown Des Moines for decades. An Iowa-style rarebit burger elevates the traditional Welsh rarebit, which incorporates leftover bits of cheese and the end-of-the-loaf slices of stale bread for a quick supper.

Speaking of Des Moines, the historic East Village is the home of the incomparable Zombie Burger. A previous Top 10 Best Burger in Iowa contender, Zombie Burger serves “gore-met” creations made from the shop’s own custom three-cut beef burger blend. With locations in downtown Des Moines, Ankeny, West Des Moines and the Iowa City area, Zombie Burger is distinguished by classics from the Undead Elvis (a burger paired with peanut butter, fried bananas, bacon, American cheese and mayo) to the Walking Ched (a burger featuring bacon, Cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and mayo on a deep-fried macaroni-and-cheese bun).

Hungry yet?
If all this inspiration has you craving top-quality, Iowa beef, here are my top tips to make your best burgers ever:

• Choose fresh 80/20 ground beef, which provides enough fat to keep your burgers juicy and flavorful.

• Worcestershire sauce adds a whole new depth of flavor to burgers. Add in a healthy dollop and mix it into the meat before forming the patties.

• Use your thumb to create a dimple or well in the center of each patty on the bottom. This helps ensure that the burgers cook evenly. Don’t worry—the indentation will hardly be noticeable by the time the burgers are ready.

• Cook your burgers over medium heat.

• As the patties cook, sprinkle them liberally on both sides with a mixture of salt, fresh-ground pepper, Lawry’s seasoning salt, garlic powder and onion powder.

• Avoid using your spatula to press down on your burgers while cooking. Don’t let all those flavorful juices escape.

• Allow your burgers to rest for a few minutes before serving. This will ensure that the juices redistribute into the meat. Enjoy!

Have any favorite burger recipes or cooking tips? I’d love to hear them. Now go get your grill on!

Hungry for more?
Want more burger inspiration? Check out my blog post on the Lake City Drive-In, where owner Larry Irwin is not only a beef booster, but someone who sees burgers as the perfect palette for culinary creativity with his Burger of the Month flavors. (Don’t miss my recipe for Meatloaf Burgers!)

Larry Irwin shows off some tasty burgers from the Lake City Drive-In.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, Larry is kind enough to carry my books at the Lake City Drive-In. Not close to Lake City? Visit my online store, where you can purchase my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press, as well as my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

One more thing–check out more of my blog posts if you want more Iowa stories, history and recipes, as well as tips to make you a better communicator. If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of the page. Let’s stay in touch!

This originally appeared as one of my weekly columns in Farm News. 

Iowa Beef Booster: Larry Irwin Takes a New Twist on Burgers

Make no mistake, the humble hamburger still reigns supreme from backyard barbecues to fast-food drive-ins across Iowa. But this Iowa icon also provides the perfect palette for culinary creativity when my friend Larry Irwin showcases his Burger of the Month flavors in my hometown of Lake City.

“I’m not doing anything fancy,” said Irwin, who has run the Lake City Drive-In since 2012. “I just like cooking down-home, comfort food.”

While it’s hard to beat a classic bacon cheeseburger, which remains one of the Lake City Drive-In’s top sellers, customers also love the monthly burger specials. Favorites include the Taco Burger (spiced with taco seasoning and chipotle and topped with nacho-cheese flavored chips), Darcy’s Meatloaf Burger, the Swiss Mushroom Burger, and the Ranch Burger (enhanced with homemade ranch dressing, pepper jack cheese and bacon).

“Burgers of all types are always our top sellers,” said Irwin, who serves more than 50 burgers a day, on average. “It’s fun to experiment with new flavors and feature them as the Burger of the Month.”

Top tips for unbeatable burgers
Interestingly, this adventurous spirit in the kitchen isn’t second nature for Irwin, who spent more than 30 years of his career in finance and banking. “I never did much cooking at home,” said Irwin, who grew up on a cattle and grain farm between Lohrville and Rockwell City. “I certainly never thought I’d run a restaurant.”

Irwin has found that offering new men

Larry Irwin shows off some tasty burgers from the Lake City Drive-In.

u items is one of the secrets to keep people coming back to the Lake City Drive-In. Inspiration for the Burger of the Month comes from a variety of sources.
“Sometimes our customers suggest ideas,” Irwin said. “A lot of the Burger of the Month ideas come from my son, Chris, who is an agronomist in northeast Iowa. He travels a lot for his job and tells me about burger flavors he discovers in various cafes.”

While unique flavors are part of the fun, a great burger starts with the basics, said Irwin, who shares the following tips:

• Select an 80/20 ground beef for the best flavor. Irwin always uses fresh beef, never frozen patties, to make his 1/3 pound burgers.

• Preheat the grill before you place the hamburger patties on the grill.

• Cook the hamburger patties over medium heat. If the temperature is too high, it’s easy to burn the outside of the burger and leave the inside undercooked, said Irwin, who cooks his burgers for about five minutes on each side.

• Season the patties on the grill. Irwin sprinkles a mix of garlic powder, onion powder, Lawry’s seasoning salt, table salt, white sugar and black pepper on both sides of each hamburger patty as the meat cooks.

• Don’t forget to butter and toast the bun before serving the burger.

Time-saving systems in the kitchen are also invaluable. Since the Lake City Drive-In is located on Main Street across from South Central Calhoun High School, things can get hectic when hungry crowds stop by, especially during volleyball tournaments and home football games. Irwin plans ahead on these days and cooks each hamburger patty for two minutes per side before placing the partially-cooked patties in a warm slow cooker. When the crowds arrive, it only takes a couple more minutes of grilling time before the burgers are ready.

This strategy also pays off during planting and harvest, when the drive through becomes one of the busiest places at the Lake City Drive-In. “You can always tell when an order is going out to farmers, because there are at least five or six cheeseburgers in there,” said Irwin, who farmed at one point in his career.

Keeping things simple while adding a little variety is the key to a great burger, Irwin added. “I love the flavor of beef. If I could only have one meat for the rest of my life, I’d choose hamburger, because I can make anything out of it.”

Darcy’s Meatloaf Burger

Darcy’s Meatloaf Burgers
Larry Irwin will be featuring these Meatloaf Burgers, made from my recipe, as the Burger of the Month in June 2017. 

2 pounds ground beef
1 1 / 2 to 2 cups herb-seasoned stuffing mix (experiment to find what amount helps the burger patties stick together the best)
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 /4 cup milk
2 tablespoons barbecue sauce
1 / 4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard

Combine ground beef, stuffing mix, onion, salt, pepper and garlic powder. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, milk, and barbecue sauce. Combine barbecue sauce mixture with meat mixture.
In a separate bowl, combine ketchup, brown sugar and dry mustard. This mixture can either be spread as a glaze while the burgers are cooking on the grill, or the glaze can be mixed into the burger patty mixture before the burgers are grilled.

Shape beef mixture into patties. Grill over medium heat to desired doneness. If using the ketchup mixture as a glaze, spread over the top of each burger during the final minutes of cooking on the grill.

Ranch Dressing
While this makes restaurant-sized quantities, scale down the recipe for home use.
1 gallon regular mayonnaise
1 / 2 gallon buttermilk
2 packages (3.2 ounces each) powdered ranch dressing mix

Combine all ingredients and stir with an electric mixer. Refrigerate.

Boom Boom Sauce
This spicy sauce has a kick and tastes great on burgers and salads.
4 cups Thousand Island dressing
3 / 4 cup buffalo hot sauce
1 / 4 cup red pepper flakes
Combine dressing, buffalo sauce and red pepper flakes; refrigerate.

Sloppy Joes
1 pound hamburger
1 can chicken gumbo soup
Ketchup and mustard, to taste
Brown sugar, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Brown the hamburger; drain. Add soup and season with ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, salt and pepper until the desired flavor is achieved.

This story first ran on Farm News, May 2017. 

Want more Iowa culture and history?
Read more of my blog posts if you want more Iowa stories, history and recipes, as well as tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, Larry is kind enough to carry my books at the Lake City Drive-In. You can also check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press, as well as my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

How to Clean a Burned Pan in 6 Simple Steps

Hey, it happens. If you cook, you’re going to have burned-on food once in awhile. Fear not! While dish soap is no match for this kitchen foe, arm yourself with baking soda and white vinegar to concoct an inexpensive, all-natural, non-toxic way to clean up the mess with as little hassle as possible.

I’m speaking from experience here. When the crew from the “State Plate” TV show hosted by Taylor Hicks came to my family’s Iowa farm recently, I was in the field filming with them as my pot of homemade Italian-Bean Soup simmered on the kitchen stove. The trouble started when I didn’t get back to the kitchen in time to turn down the heat. While the soup was still tasty, a scorched portion had formed on the bottom of the stainless steel soup kettle. Ugh.

If you end up in a predicament like this, you’ll need:

  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Sturdy plastic spatula
  • Scouring pad

Here’s how to take control of that scorched pan in 6 simple steps:

1. Fill the bottom of the pan with a layer of water to cover the scorched food.

2. Add 1 cup vinegar.

3. Bring the pan to the boil. (Some of the debris will probably start breaking loose–yeah!)

4. Remove the pan from the heat and add two generous shakes of baking soda. Watch it fizz and work its magic!

5. Empty the pan and scrub with a scouring pad. The plastic spatula can also come in handy to help loosen the scorched food. If necessary, add an extra bit of dry baking soda and keep scrubbing.

6. If there any stubborn marks don’t come off, make a paste of baking soda and a couple of drops of water. Leave the paste on the marks for a while and scrub again.

Depending on how tough the scorched food is, you may need to repeat this entire process a second time. You will get good results, though–I promise.

Congratulations, and good job! Now you’re ready to cook again.

Want more food for thought?
Check out my blog posts if you want more handy kitchen tips, recipes, culinary history, and Iowa food stories, along with simple tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for even more, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press, as well as my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too. Coming soon in September 2017–my third Iowa history book! Watch for more details on “Dallas County” from Arcadia Publishing.

Coming Soon–“Dallas County,” a New Iowa History Book!

No Iowa county has influenced American history more than Dallas County. It propelled Harry Truman to an unlikely victory in the 1948 presidential campaign, following a fiery speech he delivered to 100,000 farmers on a sweltering September day at the National Plowing Match near Dexter. Just 15 years earlier, a shoot-out near Dexfield Park marked the beginning of the end for infamous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde and the notorious Barrow gang.

Dallas County, located just west of Des Moines, is a study in contrasts, from its key role on the Underground Railroad in the 1850s to the revival of the KKK in the 1920s. Dallas County has also produced several Major League Baseball players (including cousins Bob Feller and Hal Manders), a US congressman (David Young), and Nile Kinnick, the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner and University of Iowa football legend whose grandfather, George Clarke of Adel, served as Iowa’s governor from 1913 to 1917.

I’m very excited to announce that “Dallas County,” my third Iowa history book, will be released by Arcadia Publishing on Sept. 4, 2017! This will also be one of the publisher’s first books to be available in a hard cover version for $26.99. Want to know the story behind the cover? These dynamic ladies of the Van Meter Matrons Club (founded in 1909) socialized while improving their knowledge of Iowa heritage and current events. When the group celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1959-1960, historian Hazel Lauterbach said the group “helped me be a better homemaker, citizen, and community member and has taught me the true meaning of teamwork.”

Discover the fascinating stories of Dallas County, which is one of the fastest-growing counties in America and remains a region of opportunity with a rich heritage of small-town living, farming, coal mining, and the immigrant experience.

More details coming soon!

Want more Iowa culture and history?
Read more of my blog posts if you want more Iowa stories, history and recipes, as well as tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press, as well as my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

Iowa’s Lost History from the Titanic

I perished on the Titanic, yet I’ve lived to tell the forgotten stories of Iowa’s ties to one of the most famous luxury liners in history. It all started when I attended the Johnson County Historical Society’s “Afternoon Tea on the Titanic” in April 2, 2017, and my boarding pass said I was third-class passenger Frances Lefebvre, 40, of Lievin, France.

As Lefebvre, my four youngest children and I were traveling to Mystic, Iowa, to join my husband, Franck, and our for older children who had moved to Iowa a year prior. I died, along with my four youngest kids, during the sinking of Titanic in the early-morning hours of April 15, 1912.

I was not alone. Of the approximately 2,207 passengers who boarded the Titanic, only an estimated 705 survived. Like Frances Lefebvre, a number of Titanic’s passengers had ties to Iowa. Here are their stories.

Titanic survivor, Orphan Train rider kept low profile in Council Bluffs
One of Titanic’s last living survivors lived in Council Bluffs for decades and rarely spoke of the maritime tragedy or her connection to the Orphan Train Movement.

Helen Delaney’s remarkable story began when she was thrown overboard as Titanic sank. Someone caught the 4-year-old, and she survived the night, although her parents perished. While the family had boarded the ship in England, the names of Delaney’s birth parents are unknown, and Delaney’s didn’t know her exact birth date, according to a 2012 news report in the Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil.

With the other Titanic survivors, Delaney arrived in New York on April 18, 1912, where she was placed in an orphanage. James P. Delaney, a Council Bluffs locomotive engineer for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Rail Company (now BNSF), and his wife adopted the girl after she arrived in Council Bluffs via an orphan train sometime in the mid to late 1910s.

Orphan trains brought thousands of children to Iowa and beyond
Children on these orphan trains ranged in age from about six to 18, and they shared a common grim existence. There was little hope of a successful future for these kids if they stayed in the streets, slums and orphanages of New York City.

Their numbers were staggering. An estimated 30,000 children were homeless in New York City as early as the 1850s. The plight of these abandoned, neglected children commanded the attention of a young minister named Charles Loring Brace. He believed that by removing youngsters from the poverty of the city and placing them with Christian farm families, these children could have a chance of escaping a lifetime of suffering.

Brace, who founded the Children’s Aid Society, proposed that these children be sent by train to live and work on farms out west. They would be placed in homes for free but they wouldn’t be indentured.

Children like Helen Delaney boarded westbound trains in groups of up to 40, accompanied by two agents from the Children’s Aid Society. Advertisements appeared in local newspapers along the route in advance of each orphan train’s arrival. When the trains stopped, the children were paraded in front of the crowd and took turns giving their names, singing a song or “saying a piece,” according to “Lost Children: Riders on the Orphan Train,” an article that appeared in HUMANITIES magazine in November/December 2007.

Although the strong demand for the orphans was often motivated by a need for labor, the Children’s Aid Society took pains to ensure the children were well cared for. Families applying to take children had to be endorsed by a committee of local business owners, doctors and other respected community members. Representatives from the society would visit each family once a year to check on conditions, and children were expected to write letters back to the society twice a year, noted the “Lost Children” article.

The Orphan Train Movement, which lasted from 1853 to 1929, placed nearly a quarter of a million children in new homes across the country. This ambitious, unusual social experiment is now recognized as the beginning of the foster care concept in the United States. While some of the children struggled in their newfound surroundings, many others like Helen Delaney went on to lead successful, normal lives as they worked towards the American dream.

Delaney attended school in Council Bluffs, including Mount Loretto Catholic High School. She remained in Council Bluffs, never married and never had children. She lived in anonymity in an apartment at Regal Towers on South Sixth Street, according to the Council Bluffs Nonpareil.

For much of her adult life, Delaney worked as a sales clerk at the Kresge’s five-and-dime store. Only a few people in town knew that this petite, shy, nice clerk had survived Titanic. “She rarely talked about her Titanic legacy,” Dick Warner of the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County told the Council Bluffs Nonpareil in 2012. “Most people who knew her weren’t even aware of it.”

Delaney died on January 26, 1982, at age 74 and was buried at St. Joseph Cemetery off McPherson Avenue in Council Bluffs. She was the only known passenger on Titanic to live in Council Bluffs.

Picture from the book “Not My Time to Die” by Lilly Setterdahl

“Life no longer has any value for me”
Like Delaney, many of Titanic’s survivors and victims were immigrants headed to America to begin a new life. In other cases, the travelers were only planning to visit before returning to Europe. Such was the story of second-class passenger Dagmar Lustig Bryhl, 20, who looked forward to attending a wedding in Red Oak, Iowa, and visiting her uncle Oscar Lustig in Rockford, Illinois, before returning to Sweden.

Author Lilly Setterdahl of East Moline, Illinois, has captured the often heartbreaking—and sometimes heroic—stories of Bryhl and the 122 other Swedes on board Titanic in her fascinating 2012 book, Not My Time to Die. I listened for any tidbits connected to Iowa as Setterdahl related many of these stories during the “Afternoon Tea on the Titanic” in Iowa City.

Consider the letter Bryhl wrote to her uncle while she recuperated in New York following the Titanic disaster (as documented in Not My Time to Die, page 119). Bryhl became so distraught that she wished she had been permitted to die on Titanic with her fiancé, Ingvar Enander, and brother, Kurt.

Dear Uncle,
Titanic has gone down. I don’t know whether my fiancé and my brother Kurt are saved. Evidently, they are not, for most of the men went under. I am at a hospital but am not sick, although very feeble. I have lost everything. I have no clothes, and so cannot get up, so must lie in bed for present.

I would have been glad if I had been permitted to die, because life no longer has any value for me since I lost my beloved. I feel myself so dreadfully alone in this land. These people are certainly good, but nevertheless do not understand me.”

Bryhl asked her uncle to come find her, which he did. Bryhl required bed rest after the long, tiresome journey to Rockford, and she refused to talk to reporters. Her uncle related bits and pieces of her story to local newspapers.

“I was in my berth when the Titanic hit the berg. I noticed the jar and soon I heard Ingvar [her fiancé] knocking on the door of my cabin.“Get up, Dagmar,” he said. “The ship has hit something.” I put on a skirt and coat as quickly as possible and hurried up to the deck. But the officers said, “Go back, there is no danger, you go to your cabins.”

Bryhl returned to her berth and went back to bed. Soon there was more knocking on her door.

“Get up, Dagmar, we are in danger!” Ingvar yelled. “I don’t care what the ship’s officers say. The boat is sinking.”

After pulling on her skirt and coat and running from her berth, Bryhl heard awful screaming and yelling. Women and children were being loaded into lifeboats. Men and women were kissing each other farewell. Ingvar and Kurt led Bryhl to a lifeboat, and Ingvar lifted his fiancé into the boat. She seized his hands and wouldn’t let go. “Come with me!” Bryhl screamed as loud as she could, still holding Ingvar’s hands tight. There was room in the lifeboat, which was only half full. Suddenly an officer ran forward and clubbed back Ingvar.

“This officer tore our hands apart, and the lifeboat was let down. As it went down, I looked up. There, leaning over the rail stood Kurt and Ingvar side by side. I screamed to them again, but it was no use. They waved their hands and smiled. That was the last glimpse I had of them.”

As the men in the lifeboat rowed the boat away from Titanic, the passengers shivered in the frigid night air as they watched the great ship sink.

“Then more dreadful screams,” said Bryhl, who recalled that the sea was so still it was clear as a mirror beneath the cloudless sky. “The water filled with crying people. Some of them climbed in our boat and so saved their lives.”

The small group of survivors huddled in the lifeboat until 6 a.m. on Monday, April 15, when the Carpathia arrived. Hours in the freezing air without adequate clothing to protect against the stinging cold numbed Bryhl’s body.

According to her uncle, Bryhl declared repeatedly between hysterical sobs that she never would have allowed her brother and fiancé to put her in the lifeboat if she thought the two men would be lost. She said she would rather have died with them when the great ship settled into the depths than to live with the memory of all that took place.

Bryhl returned home to Sweden in May 1912 after only a short time in Rockford. She later married a teacher named Eric Holmberg. She died in August 1969, Setterdahl noted.

“Not my time to die”
During “Afternoon Tea on the Titanic,” Setterdahl (a native Swede herself) also detailed the life of 22-year-old Anna Nysten, the woman whose story provided the title for Setterdahl’s book.

Nysten had planned to leave Sweden in the summer of 1912 to visit her sister Klara in Passaic, New Jersey. However, some of Nysten’s friends who were headed to America that spring persuaded her to go with them. Nysten traveled with the Andersson family from Kisa, Sweden, and the Danbom family from Stanton, Iowa. Nysten would be the lone survivor of the 11-member group.

“I can hardly describe how it happened,” Nysten wrote to her parents in the wake of the Titanic disaster. “There was terrible screaming and groaning, but you and I ought to thank God that I am alive. I managed to get into a lifeboat because I don’t think it was my time to die. I’m supposed to experience more of the world.”

Nysten offered more details of the disaster after Titanic struck the iceberg (as documented in Not My Time to Die, pages 167-169).

“There was a terrible jolt, so we nearly fell out of bed. But then they said it was not serious, so the passengers calmed down until the ship began to sink and the deck was full of people.”

After someone took Nysten’s lifebelt and she began crying, a sailor gave her his life jacket. While her traveling companions proclaimed they would all go down together with the ship, a sailor pushed Nysten into a lifeboat.

“Oh, how terrible it was when everything went dark,” said Nysten, who recalled that her lifeboat could have held 63 people but only had about 40 passengers when it was lowered into the sea. “When the ship went down we were not far away and were almost sucked under.”

Nysten and the others in the lifeboat heard an awful rumbling noise as the great ship sank. They sat in the lifeboat from 1:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., but “fortunately the sea was calm,” she recalled.

“You can imagine how happy we were to see the steamer Carpathia close in on us and we could come aboard. They were so good to us.”

The survivors were given blankets, coffee and brandy (“as much as we wanted,” Nysten noted).

“But there was still much groaning and crying because most of us had lost a dear relative,” Nysten recalled. “Many became hysterical.”

In New York, Nysten was taken to the Swedish Immigrant Home, where she received $25 from the Women’s Relief Committee. Nysten spent three years in New York with friends and intended to return to Sweden, but when the Lusitania was torpedoed in 1915, she changed her mind. She came to Boone, Iowa, and moved to Des Moines in 1916, where she married Arvid Gustafson in 1917. The couple had three sons and were members of the First Lutheran Church in Des Moines.

Nysten was one of the few Titanic survivors who married, had children and was not reluctant to talk about her Titanic experience, although it took several years after the sinking before she was willing to share many of those haunting memories, Setterdahl noted. In 1937 on the 25th anniversary of the tragedy, Nysten said in a newspaper interview that she no longer dreamed about the disaster.

Nysten passed away March 28, 1977, and is buried in Resthaven Cemetery in West Des Moines.

“The lifeboats were all gone”

Some Swedes on the Titanic like Gunnar Tenglin were returning to their adopted home in Iowa. Tenglin, 25, had grown up in Sweden and emigrated to America around 1903 at age 16. He settled in Burlington, Iowa. Until he learned to speak English he worked with crews cutting ice on the Mississippi River. He learned English while working at the Horace Patterson farm.

Tenglin returned to Sweden in 1908 where he married his wife, Anna. A year after the couple’s son, Gunnar, was born in Stockholm in 1911, Tenglin made plans to return to Burlington. He acquired a third-class ticket to travel on Titanic. Tenglin considered third class on Titanic equal to first class on most other steamers, noted Setterdahl, who documents his story in Not My Time to Die, pages 191-194.

Late in the evening of April 14, 1912, Tenglin and his traveling companion, August Wennerstrom (a fellow Swede who would also survive the sinking) had come back from a party on board Titanic. Tenglin had just taken off his shoes and was preparing for bed when he felt a thud. He put his jacket on but left his shoes in his bunk and his lifejacket under his pillow. He never returned for them.

When he came up on deck, all the lifeboats were gone. An officer on deck engaged Tenglin as an interpreter since the Swede knew English. Tenglin thought that saved him, as noted in a 2012 Burlington Hawk Eye article, because he was still on deck translating the officer’s commands to other Swedes. Otherwise, he may have been below deck when the ship when down.

Tenglin, a tall man of medium build with light blue eyes and brown hair, provided specific details of that unforgettable night to the Burlington Daily Gazette in 1912:

“It looked to us as if we were doomed to perish with the ship when a collapsible lifeboat was discovered. This boat would hold about 50 people, and we had considerable trouble getting it loose from its fastenings. The boat was on the second deck, and the ship settled the question of its launching, as the water suddenly came up over the deck and the boat floated.”

The terror was far from over, though.

“There must have been 150 people swimming around or clinging to the boat, and we feared it would collapse or sink,” Tenglin said. “We had no oars or anything else to handle the boat and were at the mercy of the waves, but the sea was calm.”

There was no way to sit down, so the boats passengers stood up in knee-deep, ice-cold water. Basic survival instincts dominated the horrific scene.

“Those on the edges pushed the frantic people in the water back to their fates, it being feared they would doom us all,” Tenglin said.

A big Swede named Johnson was kept busy throwing corpses overboard, Tenglin added, since the survivors wanted to make the boat as light as possible to increase its buoyancy.

Tenglin and other passengers in Collapsible A were rescued by the Carpathia. When the ship arrived in New York, the American Red Cross and the Swedish American Society took pictures of the surviving immigrants and printed the images as picture postcards. Tenglin sent one of those postcards to his mother in Sweden, mailing it from Burlington on April 29, 1912.

Tenglin lived the rest of his life in Iowa, where he was joined by his wife and son who arrived from Sweden in 1913. Tenglin worked various jobs during his career, from the railroad to the local utility plant that supplied Burlington with gas. Tenglin passed away in 1974 at age 86 in Burlington and is buried in Aspen Grove Cemetery.

Immigrant recruiter buried in Stanton, Iowa
Other Swedes on board Titanic did not have the opportunity to live a long, full life. On pages 231-233 of Not My Time to Die, Setterdahl relates the sad fate of Ernest Danbom, a 34-year-old farmer and immigrant recruiter who was born and raised in Montgomery County, Iowa.

The son of two Swedish immigrants who farmed in southwest Iowa, Danbom married his wife, Anna, in 1910. The newlyweds traveled to Sweden for their honeymoon and remained with Anna’s family for a number of months. During this time, Anna gave birth to the couple’s son, Gilbert, in Kisa, Sweden, on November 16, 1911.

By April 1912, the young family prepared to return to America. Danbom also assumed the role of tour conductor for a group of 11 Swedes (including Anna Nysten and the Andersson family) who were traveling on Titanic.

As an immigrant recruiter, Danbom received a commission from each person he encouraged to come to America. Even after paying approximately $68 for a family cabin on Titanic, Danbom was carrying a substantial amount of money (including $276 in cash and $30 in gold) when he left Sweden, according to Not My Time to Die. He hoped that the money would help his family acquire a fruit farm in Turlock, California.

Tragically, none of the young family would survive the sinking of Titanic. Danbom’s wife and young son were lost at sea. Danbom’s body was recovered and brought to Halifax in Canada before being sent to Stanton, Iowa, for burial.

The Halifax coroner listed among his personal effects a black overcoat, dark suit, white pleated shirt, black boots, wedding ring marked “S.B.T.E.G.D., June 6, ’10,” gold watch and chain, knife, keys, opal and ruby ring, fountain pen, bracelet, ladies watch and chain, 3 memo books, solitaire diamond ring, scissors, U.S. naturalization papers, pocketbook, jewel case, and a check for $1,315.79, Security Bank, Sioux City.

Danbom is buried in the cemetery in Stanton. The inscription on his tombstone reads, “Ernest Danbom, 26 Oct 1877, died 15 April 1912, in Titanic disaster, his remains were recovered from the ocean. “Nearer My God to Thee.”

“No, I must be a gentleman”
In Cedar Rapids, attention focused on the well-known Douglas family, who endured an excruciating wait to learn the fate of Walter Douglas, 50, and his second wife, Mahala, first-class passengers on Titanic.

Walter Douglas was son of the founding partner of The Quaker Oats Company in Cedar Rapids. In 1903, Douglas and his brother George, founded the Douglas Starch Works, which produced cooking starch and oil, laundry starch, animal feed, soap stock and industrial starches.

After celebrating Christmas 1911 with the Douglas family at the Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids, Walter and Mahala traveled to Europe for a three-month vacation to celebrate Walter’s retirement, according to Brucemore historic site and community cultural center, which has preserved this history. While in Europe, the couple also purchased furnishings for their mansion on a bluff overlooking Lake Minnetonka near Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The couple bought first-class tickets for themselves and their French maid, Berthe Leroy, to return home aboard Titanic in time to celebrate Walter’s birthday on April 21 with family. First-class tickets on Titanic ranged from roughly $150 for a simple berth–about $3,600 today, based on current inflation tables, to $4,350 (more than $100,000) for one of the two Parlour suites.

On the night Titanic struck the iceberg, Walter and Mahala had just returned to their suite from the first-class dining room when they heard the engines stop. After Mahala asked Walter to find out what was going on, she donned her fur coat and boots to wait in the hallway. Seeing no officers and receiving no orders, Mahala grew concerned and returned to her cabin for a life preserver. Walter returned and teased her about the preserver, but agreed they should go on deck together. The couple watched as the distress rockets shot high into the air and burst into a shower of light.

Passengers on deck remained calm as they boarded the lifeboats. As Mahala climbed into a lifeboat, she requested that Walter join her. “No, I must be a gentleman,” he said before joining a group of men waiting for another lifeboat.  Dressed in his tuxedo, Walter was last seen helping women and children into the final lifeboats.

After Titanic sank, initial reports of the disaster were sparse and contradictory. The limits of wireless communication and the isolation of the disaster limited accurate information. When news of the tragedy reached Cedar Rapids, the magnitude of the disaster and the fate of Walter and Mahala were unknown.

“The news of Titanic’s disaster came at noon while we were at luncheon,” noted an April 15 diary entry written by Irene Douglas, Walter’s sister-in-law who lived at Brucemore. “Did not seem serious until evening about 7:30 – spent the evening at the [Cedar Rapids] Republican [newspaper] office.”

Hearing no news, Irene and her husband, George, left Cedar Rapids on April 16 to meet the Carpathia, which was carrying Titanic survivors to New York. On April 17, the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette reported:

“Up to 1 o’clock today no definite news had been received in Cedar Rapids concerning the fate of Mr. Walter D. Douglas…. The wireless telegraph companies having great trouble in effecting communication with the Carpathia…. It appears that a considerable number of the first and second cabin passengers, especially the men, must have perished, but it is still hoped that Mr. Douglas was among the ones rescued. Mrs. Douglas is on the Carpathia, but whether Mr. Douglas went down with the boat, as did many others of the male passengers, remains to be determined.”

On April 18, thousands of people waited in the rain in New York as the ship bearing approximately 700 Titanic survivors slowly approached the dock.

“Carpathia landed 7 in the eve.,” Irene noted in her diary. “Walter not with Mahala.”

Eight days after the sinking, the Douglas family received word on April 23 that Walter’s body had been recovered by the cable ship MacKay Bennett, the same ship that recovered the body of Wallace Hartley, whose seven-member band played as Titanic sank.

The Mackay-Bennett recovered 306 bodies near the scene of the sinking, including the body of Walter Douglas, who was identified by his monogrammed shirt and cigarette case. The ship’s crew recorded the following information:

• No. 62 – MALE – Estimated age, 55 – Hair grey
• Clothing – Evening dress, with “W.D.D.” on shirt.
• Effects – Gold watch; chain; gold cigarette case “W.D.D.”; five gold studs; wedding ring on finger engraved “May 19th ’84”; pocket letter case with $551

 

(Interesting side note: The Mackay-Bennett was at sea working on a French trans-Atlantic cable when it got the charter from Titanic’s owners, White Star Line, to join the recovery efforts. After returning to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada to pick up a hold full of ice to refrigerate bodies, 100 coffins, canvas sacks, an undertaker, and embalming fluids and equipment, the Mackay-Bennett headed out to sea to search for Titanic victims in a mission continually hampered by fog, heavy waves and wind. With its supply of coffins quickly filled and a steady stream of bodies being brought aboard by crewmen who went out in lifeboats, the Mackay-Bennett had to borrow canvas sacks and more embalming supplies from other recovery ships. The Mackay-Bennett buried at sea 116 of the 306 bodies it recovered, likely because they were not in good enough shape to be taken to Halifax. The ship took 190 victims to Halifax, where unclaimed bodies were buried in various cemeteries.)

Walter Douglas’ remains were taken first to his home in Minneapolis, then via a special train to Cedar Rapids for entombment in the Douglas family vault at Oak Hill Cemetery.

Mahala returned to her home on Lake Minnetonka, accompanied only by her maid, Berthe Leroy. An advocate of arts and culture, Mahala supported many local charities and made a donation in Walter’s name to Coe College in Cedar Rapids.  A talented writer, Mahala published a collection of stories and poems in 1932. One copy, inscribed to George and Irene Douglas, is stored in the Brucemore archives. The last poem in the book is a haunting account of Titanic’s demise.

Titanic
The sea velvet smooth, blue-black,
The sky set thick with stars unbelievably brilliant.
The horizon a clean-cut circle.
The air motionless, cold – cold as death.
Boundless space.
A small boat waiting, waiting in this vast stillness,
Waiting heart-breakingly.
In the offing a vast ship, light streaming from her portholes.

Her prow on an incline.

Darkness comes to her suddenly.
The huge black hulk stands out in silhouette against the star-lit sky.

Silently the prow sinks deeper,

As if some Titan’s hand,
Inexorable as Fate,
Were drawing the great ship down to her death.

Slowly, slowly, with hardly a ripple

Of that velvet sea,
She sinks out of sight.

Then that vast emptiness

Was suddenly rent
With a terrifying sound.

It rose like a column of heavy smoke.

It was so strong, so imploring, so insistent
One thought it would even reach
The throne of grace on high.

Slowly it lost its force,

Thinned to a tiny wisp of sound,
Then to a pitiful whisper….
Silence.


Food for thought as Titanic’s legacy lives on

While more than 100 years have passed since Titanic plunged to the bottom of the sea, interest in the magnificent ship never wanes. In fact, Titanic II, a faithful replica of the doomed ship, is preparing for passengers by 2018.

The brainchild of Australian billionaire Clive Palmer, Titanic II will have practically the same dimensions of the original Titanic, which would be on the smaller side of modern cruise ships. (Shrewdly, the Titanic II will have more lifeboat capacity than the original ship.)

When Titanic II makes its maiden voyage from Jiangsu, China, to Dubai, no doubt it will offer exceptional meals, just as its predecessor did. The original Titanic’s provisions included 75,000 pounds of fresh meat, 11,000 pounds of fresh fish, 4,000 pounds of salted and dried fish, 7,500 pounds of bacon and ham, 40,000 fresh eggs, 40 tons of potatoes, 2,200 pounds of coffee, 10,000 pounds of sugar and 250 barrels of flour.

When I sampled an unforgettable taste of Titanic in Iowa City during the Johnson County Historical Society’s “Afternoon Tea on the Titanic,” one of my favorite menu items was the Victoria Sponge Cake.

“This cake is everyone’s favorite,” declares Penelope Carlevato in her book Tea on the Titanic: 100 Years Later. “No leftovers when you serve this cake.” I can see why, especially with this cake’s light texture and sweet filling that’s perfect with homemade jam (my favorite) or your best store-brought preserves.

Victoria Sponge Cake served at the Johnson County Historical Society’s “Afternoon Tea on the Titanic” in Iowa City on April 2, 2017

Victoria Sponge Cake
Cake:
1 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups self-rising flour, sifted flour

Filling:
1 cup jam, preserves or lemon curd (or whipping cream, if you desire)
Powdered sugar

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and mix well. Grease and line two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Divide batter between the pans and smooth the tops for evenness.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool for 10 to 15 minutes in pans; then turn cakes out onto wire racks to continue cooling.
Place a paper doily on a footed cake plate. Sandwich bottoms of cake together with jam or preserves (strawberry preserves, raspberry preserves or apricot jam work well). Whipping cream could be substituted for the jam, if desired. Sprinkle top of cake with powdered sugar.

Decorate cake plate with chemical-free flowers such as violets or nasturtiums, if desired. (Wash the flowers well before use.)

Want more Iowa culture and history?
Read more of my blog posts if you want more Iowa stories, history and recipes, as well as tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press, as well as my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too. Coming soon in September 2017–my third Iowa history book! Watch for more details on “Dallas County” from Arcadia Publishing.

Leftover Ham? Make This Amazing Crustless Spinach and Ham Quiche

A ham for Easter dinner has been a tradition in my family for as long as I can remember.  It’s no wonder, since I grew up on a farrow-to-finish hog farm in Calhoun County, Iowa. Ever wonder why ham became an Easter tradition?

In the days before refrigeration, hogs were harvested in the fall. The hams were preserved by curing (salting and/or smoking). This process took a long time, and the first hams were ready to eat in the spring. Ham, then, was a natural choice for the Easter celebration.

The National Pork Board recently conducted a Ham Research Study (wouldn’t you love that job?) and found that that 69 percent of Americans served ham for Easter dinner in 2016. Also, 55 percent of consumers enjoy ham as an everyday meal. I’m certainly one of them.

If you have leftover ham this Easter, why not power up your next meal with my Crustless Quiche? This recipe is incredibly simple, flavorful and packed with veggies and protein. What more could you ask for?

Crustless Spinach and Ham Quiche
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms (or 2 cans sliced mushrooms)
Diced red and orange peppers, if desired
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup chopped, fully cooked ham
5 large eggs
3 cups shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground pepper

In a large skillet, saute onion and mushrooms in oil until tender. Add spinach and ham; cook and stir until the excess moisture is evaporated. Cool slightly. Beat eggs; add cheese and mix well. Stir in spinach mixture and pepper; blend well. Spread evenly into a greased 9-in. pie plate or quiche dish. Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Yield: 8 servings. Enjoy!

Want more Iowa culture and history?
Read more of my blog posts if you want more Iowa stories, history and recipes, as well as tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press, as well as my Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

 

Learning from the Land: 9 Surprising Ways Farmers Make Conservation a Priority

Spring planting will soon arrive here in Iowa, but planting our Calhoun County fields isn’t the only thing on my mind. My family is always looking for ways to embrace conservation and better manage our land, because we understand the benefits of improved water quality and soil sustainability extend far beyond our fields.

This mindset defines any true steward of the land, and Iowa is blessed with an abundance of conservation-minded farmers. This is reflected in the Iowa Environmental Leader Award, which recognizes the exemplary voluntary efforts of Iowa’s farmers who are committed to healthy soils and improved water quality.

We were honored to receive a 2016 Iowa Environmental Leader Award last August at the Iowa State Fair from Iowa’s governor, lieutenant governor, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship staff and Iowa Department of Natural Resources staff. It was inspiring to see how many other progressive, dedicated farm families across Iowa are redefining the sustainable nature of modern agriculture.

Learning from the land is just part of my DNA. My great-great grandfather, John Dougherty, emigrated from Ireland and settled in Calhoun County north of Lake City in 1889. He purchased 200 acres, and history records that he “placed the land under a high state of cultivation,” a legacy my family carries on today with our Century Farm.

I’m also guided by the philosophy of another Iowan, Aldo Leopold, whose “land ethic” called for a principled, caring relationship with nature. “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect,” noted Leopold, author of the Sand County Almanac.

The residue of the previous year’s crop helps hold our precious soil in place and builds organic matter in the soil.

Here are 9 ways that Iowa farm families like mine are putting this land ethic into practice:

1. Building on a legacy of conservation. Iowa agriculture reflects a long history of people helping the land. The process accelerated in 1935, when the Soil Conservation Service was created in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In this era, young men with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked on hundreds of Iowa farms to assist with soil-erosion-control projects, such as terracing hills, digging ponds, repairing gullies and planting trees for wind breaks. In 1948, more than 100,000 farmers from across the Midwest flocked to the National Soil Conservation Field Days in Dexter, Iowa, to learn new conservation practices. Even President Harry Truman made an appearance see farmers’ conservation efforts first-hand. (You can read more about it in my blog post “Riding with Harry,” where I interviewed a young Iowan who escorted Truman on a bulldozer in the fields.) While much has changed in farming since the 1930s and 1940s, one thing endures—our commitment to be good stewards of the land and keep our land productive for generations to come.

2. Prioritizing soil health. I’m convinced that unlocking the secrets of the soil is the next frontier in farming. As world population and food production demands rise, keeping our soil healthy and productive is of paramount importance. By using cover crops, diverse rotations and other systems, more Iowa farmers are increasing their soil’s organic matter while improving microbial activity. As a result, farmers are increasing water infiltration, controlling runoff and enhancing soil health—all while harvesting better yield and profit potential.

3. Balancing the three-legged stool of sustainability. Successful farm management involves environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and social sustainability that benefits not only our farm, but our community, state and beyond. Without all of those three legs, the sustainability stool falls down. That’s why my family has invested in a number of best-management practices, including soil testing to better manage fertilizer applications, grassed waterways and grassed field borders to help control soil erosion, conservation tillage, drainage water management, and the addition of windbreaks and shelterbelts. These practices help improve soil health, prevent erosion, boost yield potential and keep nutrients in place where they can nourish our crop and protect Iowa’s water quality.

4. Learning from others. I’m blessed to live in the epicenter of agriculture, where farmers have a strong support network to help enhance their conservation and farm management strategies. I value input from Iowa State University Extension, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, MaxYield Cooperative’s SciMax Solutions, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Practical Farmers of Iowa and other trusted organizations. In my roles as a freelance ag journalist and president of the Calhoun County Farm Bureau and Calhoun County Corn Growers, I enjoy meeting with other conservation-minded farmers across the state who are willing to question current management practices and never stop asking, “Is there a better way?”

5. Finding conservation-minded urban partners. As Iowans, we’re all in this together when it comes to conservation. I applaud the City of Storm Lake for its city-wide plan emphasizing green infrastructure practices. These practices include bioreactors, which essentially function like large “coffee filters” to help improve water quality. The results are impressive. City manager Jim Patrick tells me that Storm Lake has seen a bioreactor remove 45 percent of the nitrates coming off agricultural land in the area. Storm Lake has also hosted “reverse field days” so farmers, soil and water conservation groups and others can see the progress that’s being made. “These partnerships are vital, because rural and urban communities are in this together,” Patrick told me. “It’s not city water or ag water; it’s all our water.”

6. Focusing on continuous improvement. A spirit of continuous improvement contributes to long-term success in any business, including our farm. My dad, Jim Dougherty, served as a township committee member with the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, the forerunner of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Dad was also quick to see the value of conservation tillage and other practices that make the farm productive and sustainable. Today, we are using precision ag tools to maximize production and conservation. We never stop seeking solutions.

7. Developing a conservation philosophy. If you never try something different, how do you know if you’re maximizing your investment on every acre? My conservation philosophy is to keep learning, help my family do our best to protect Iowa’s precious soil and water resources, and pass on a legacy of conservation to future generations.

8. Providing leadership. We’ve hosted numerous media professionals at our farm, from the local newspaper to USA Today and “Market to Market,” to share what we’re doing to promote conservation and protect soil and water quality. In 2015, I also worked with the Iowa Food and Family Project to coordinate and host Expedition Yetter, a bus tour of farms in west-central Iowa that allowed urban Iowans to see conservation in action. (Watch “Market to Market’s” Expedition Yetter and water quality video here.) That same year, I also testified before the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee in Washington, D.C. to explain to federal lawmakers how conservation plays a key role on my family’s farm.

9. Enjoying the journey. Enhanced conservation, like improved farm management, is a quest that never ends. I value the legacy of farmland that was passed on to my family from previous generations and enjoy the challenge of maximizing our acres. With all the technology available today, it’s exciting to see what’s next as we keep learning from the land to enhance the sustainable nature of modern agriculture.

Darcy Dougherty Maulsby is a proud member of a Century Farm family, author, entrepreneur, business owner, and farm leader from Lake City. Visit her online at www.darcymaulsby.com.

* This editorial first appeared in the April 9, 2017, Sunday edition of the Fort Dodge Messenger.

My family (including my dad, Jim, my mom, Jan, me and my younger brother, Jason, on our Calhoun County Century Farm.

The “No BS” Way to Protect Yourself from Rude, Obnoxious People

Ever get a nasty email or comment from a co-worker, client, or other acquaintance? You know you shouldn’t let it bother you, but it does.

It’s called being human. It happened to me recently when someone told me my writing is impersonal and I need to work on learning how to tell a story. (Kind of ironic to chastise a published author, but hey, crap happens.)

When you’re verbally attacked, here are some “No BS” ways to handle it from this Iowa farm girl, who knows a thing or two about BS:

1. Stay calm, and try to uncover any miscommunication. While a rude person makes you want to dish it right back to them, don’t respond with the first rebuttal that pops into your mind. Remember that sometimes rude comments stem from simple misunderstandings. If that’s the case, take a deep breath, ask questions and try to clear up the miscommunication. (This situation still isn’t an excuse for rudeness, but don’t succumb to the temptation to be rude in return.)

2. Don’t feed the trolls. When you’re attacked online, don’t take the bait. Trolls deliberately post inflammatory comments and start arguments to provoke, disrupt and upset others. Trolls love to create conflict for their own amusement. Don’t reward this bad behavior. Just ignore the trolls’ taunts.

3. Avoid the word “you.” If you’re dealing with a rude person who is not a troll, you don’t have to put up with his or her verbal abuse. Stand your ground. I say, “I don’t accept what I’m hearing, and I don’t deserve to be treated like this.” Notice I didn’t say “you.” Using that word in this case often escalates this situation, because “you” tends to make the other person feel attacked. When a person feels threatened, they often quit listening and get ready to fight.

4. Fire the person. If you have the choice to “fire” a rude person (such as an obnoxious client), do it. Life is too short to waste time with people like this. I usually say, “I really appreciate that you came to me with your marketing needs. I work hard to listen to you and share my writing skills to help you reach your business goals. It looks like we’re just not a good fit, though. Feel free to find someone else who’s better suited to you, and I wish you well.” If you can’t fire the rude person, try to minimize your time around him or her. If this person is negatively affecting your productivity and/or mental health, it’s worth it to remove him or her as much as possible from your life.

5. Be grateful. That’s right—be grateful. Once you’ve gotten immersed in a bad situation with an obnoxious person, start noticing how you interact with friends, family members, clients or colleagues who are pleasant to be around. Makes you pretty darn grateful for all the good, uplifting people in your life, right?

Do you have any “No BS” ways you deal with rude, obnoxious people? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Top 10 Tips to Find the Right Writer to Tell Your Company’s Stories

Few business tools are more powerful than a compelling story. I’d argue that the most effective social media posts, news releases, magazines, advertorials, videos, podcasts and other marketing tools tell an interesting story. Are you maximizing this amazing resource?

The power of a story well-told can present your company in a memorable, accurate, persuasive way that:

• Gets you noticed
• Distinguishes you from the competition
• Positions you as an expert and an industry leader
• Turns prospects into customers
• Builds customer loyalty
• Boosts sales

Here’s a feature story I wrote about Penoach Winery in Adel, Iowa. Instead of being a shill (“buy our wine!”), we chose to tell the unique story of the winery’s historic barn.

Adel Barn Accents Penoach Winery in Iowa

Even though we’ve been enjoying stories since we were kids, there’s an art to great storytelling. How do you keep you keep your story from sounding like a boring, amateur-hour product pitch?

You need the right writer.

Someone who can uncover remarkable stories about your brand. Someone who can spark conversations among your target audience about your company and its products and services. Someone who understands the craft of writing and knows how to harness its power for maximum impact.

But–how do you avoid hiring a hack?

Business professionals trained in journalism are a good option, because they know how to find remarkable stories and tell them effectively to reach your target audience. Note–you don’t have to look for a full-time employee if that doesn’t fit your current situation. The right freelancer can help you save money (no health insurance, vacation time or other benefits to worry about!) and get the job done right. Freelancers with a journalism background can be invaluable to you, thanks to their outsider’s perspective—an asset that can sometimes elude marketers.

Top 10 checklist to find the right writer
After working with business clients of all sizes in a variety of industries across America for the past 20 years, I urge you to look for these top 10 traits to help you spot the right writer for your business:

1. Proven writing ability. While lots of people call themselves writers, not everyone is a skilled storyteller. Check out writers’ blog updates, as well as their writing samples (including the copy on their website) to get a sense of their skill and style. If their headlines are boring, their intro paragraphs fall flat, the text is rambling, the content is inaccurate, and/or the ending fails to pack a punch or include call to action, keep looking.

2. An audience-centric writing philosophy. Great writers know it’s essential to always focus on the target audience and their needs. They know how to present your message so it resonates with the needs, fears, hopes and dreams of your target audience. If you ask prospective writers to describe their writing philosophy and they don’t mention a focus on the reader, be afraid—be very afraid.

3. Talent for spotting a good story. The best writers and content creators can smell a good story. They also know how to organize the “bones” of the story for maximum impact. Plus, they are masters of humanizing the content to make it interesting and fun to read. If you give prospective writers some background about your company, its mission and its success stories, and they can’t envision a story idea or two, keep looking.

4. Good listener. Listening is the secret to spotting great stories. It’s also essential to the art of the interview. Only by asking the right questions can a writer get the best answers to understand your company’s culture, figure out your company’s goals and create stories that resonate with your target audience. Look for writers who ask plenty of smart questions and know how to put you at ease. If a writer talks more than he or she listens, fails to ask relevant questions or makes you uncomfortable, keep looking.

5. Passion. The best writing touches people at an emotional level, not just an intellectual level. A skilled writer who is passionate about life can tap into the passion to add the human element to stories and make them memorable. Ask prospective writers about their hobbies and interests to get a better sense about their passions and motivations. If you come across a writer who is as bland as stale popcorn, keep looking.

6. Marketing mindset. It never hurts when writers have a flair for marketing. See how prospective writers promote their own work. The best writers promote their own content. They build and nurture relationships. They might even be a social butterfly online. If you can’t find a writer who knows the basics of how to sell, keep looking.

7. Ability to think in pictures (and other multi-media). In today’s digital world, it’s usually not enough for a writer to just crank out stories. The most highly sought-after writers are multi-media content creators who not only have a flair for words, but are well-versed in photography. Some may also be experienced with podcasting and video storytelling, too. If you find a prospective writer who can’t convey stories beyond the printed word, keep looking.

8. Interest in re-imagining content. Great writers offer suggestions of how stories can be illustrated with photos, charts, infographics, info boxes, pull quotes, subheads, and other design elements to capture the audience’s attention. These writers also understand the cost-saving potential of re-imagining content. They can run a digital “chop shop” that turns a magazine article into a series of blog posts or transforms a blog post content into an array of social media posts. If a prospective writer can’t re-imagine content beyond the original assignment, keep looking.

9. Coachable, but willing to coach you, too. The kind of writer you want to work with is polite, listens carefully and won’t throw a fit if you ask for a round of editing. They’re coachable as they learn about your business and its unique needs. By the same token, though, the best writers won’t take all of your suggestions as gospel truth. These are skilled professionals with extensive writing knowledge to help coach you and show you the best ways to help your project to succeed. That’s why you hired a professional writer, right? If a prospective writer balks at the idea of edits or doesn’t offer any of his or her own insights to help strengthen your marketing content, keep looking.

10. A spirit of service. Every piece of strong writing makes a promise to the audience. That promise might be to share knowledge, make them smarter, solve a problem, help them make more money or save money, help them do their job better, save them time or accelerate their success. This kind of valuable content gets read, shared and helps your company reach its goals. If a prospective writer doesn’t convey a spirit of service focused on helping your company and your audience succeed, keep looking.

So there you go—my top 10 tips to separate so-called “writers” from skilled content creators. You’re well on your way to finding the right writer to tell stories that matter and set your company apart from the competition.

If you want to learn more about how I can help your business tell your story effectively and get results, let’s start the conversation. First, I listen. Then I put my 20 years of experience to work for you. E-mail me, or call me at 515-971-4415. I appreciate your time and look forward to hearing from you.

One last story before you go
Oh–one more thing. I’m passionate about history and am always looking for ways to reach a wider audience and sell my books, including “A Culinary History of Iowa.” History is NOT boring when it’s presented in a compelling story:

Riding with Harry: 2016 Presidential Election Reflects Truman’s Iowa Revival at 1948 Plowing Match in Dexter

 

Cooking with Iowa’s Radio Homemakers

Long before there was Martha Stewart, there were KMA’s radio homemakers. These creative, talented ladies from southwest Iowa revolutionized women’s roles far beyond their humble farm kitchens starting in the 1920s. As they delighted Midwestern audiences by sharing their favorite recipes and providing down-home, daily visits with their radio friends, some of the women also became successful entrepreneurs along the way.

Their story begins in the early 1920s with the debut of a fabulous new invention called radio. In 1925, when a local businessman named Earl May began broadcasting KMA Radio-960 from Shenandoah, Iowa, to promote his seed and garden business. The station gained a following by airing practical information designed to help with the day-to-day life in Midwestern farm kitchens.

Before long, KMA was a trusted friend throughout the wide listening area, offering inspiration, companionship, and all manners of domestic counsel. The power of this connection can’t be understated when you consider the era—a time when farm wives were much more isolated than today due to poor roads, limited social opportunities and long days filled with endless chores.

A roster of personable, lively women who quickly became known as the KMA Radio Homemakers hosted KMA’s daily radio programs, including the Home Hour, the Stitch and Chat Club, and the KMA Party Line, while live cooking demonstrations drew thousands to the KMA auditorium in Shenandoah.

Evelyn Birkby was one of the beloved radio homemakers from southwest Iowa.

Broadcasts reached across the Midwest
The radio homemakers’ history is also linked to Earl May’s local competitor, Henry Field, another nursery and garden entrepreneur who seized on the power of radio to help expand his business. Field recruited family members to go on the air, including his sister, Leanna Field Driftmier, who began broadcasting “The Mother’s Hour,” which became “Kitchen Klatter.” Without any training, Leanna sat down at the microphone and just started talking about her home, family, recipes, household tips, advice for child- rearing and whatever news seemed worth sharing during the afternoon show.

In 1930, Leanna broke her back in a car accident but wanted to continue her show, despite her injuries. The radio equipment was brought to her home, and she broadcast from her bed and later from her kitchen table. The show became so popular amongst listeners that it was eventually was broadcast in six Midwestern states.
Neighboring on the air

As the radio homemakers’ concept gained momentum, local farm women like Evelyn Birkby began broadcasting from their kitchens in the 1950s. In her show “Down a Country Lane” on KMA Radio, Birkby would discuss her family and share snippets from her daily life, as well as offer suggestions for making the home a more pleasant place to live. Birkby called this phenomenon “neighboring on the air,” and it met a vital need when farm life could often be isolating.

Fans would follow the doings of favorite homemakers for years, tuning in each day the same way they’d listen to episodes of radio soap operas. Of course, recipes figured prominently in the broadcasts, with old-fashioned, Midwestern fare focused on meat and potatoes, hearty casseroles, cakes, pies, cookies and more.
Kitchen Klatter became home-grown success

Through the years, a line of Kitchen Klatter products (including food flavorings, bleach and more) was developed and sold over the radio by broadcasters like Leanna Driftmier. In addition, a monthly Kitchen Klatter magazine was circulated to thousands of Midwestern readers who enjoyed the articles, letters and recipes like Company Ham and Potatoes, Emerald Mint Sauce (made from Kitchen Klatter Mint Flavoring), Mary’s Pineapple Pie and Grandma’s Oatmeal Cookies. The Kitchen Klatter enterprise and the radio homemakers endured for a number of years, with some of the broadcasts lasting until the 1990s.

Recipes preserve a taste of Iowa history

In 1991, Evelyn Birkby published the fascinating book “Neighboring on the Air,” where you can almost hear the voices of the KMA homemakers while you get a taste of their philosophy of life and sample their recipes. You can learn how to make hearty Midwestern fare ranging from Sour Cream Apple Pie from Florence Falk, “The Farmer’s Wife,” to Six-Layer Washday Dinner from Doris Murphy, who took to the air in 1949 with her “Party Line” broadcast.

You’ll get a sense what a grueling schedule the radio homemakers often endured as they broadcast radio shows out of their kitchen while their own family life went on about them. These ladies also knew the needs and interests of their audience, because they, too, were well acquainted with hard work, hard times and making do.

Through it all, the radio homemakers were Martha Stewart and Dear Abby all rolled into one as they shared news about their children, home beautification tips and their trusted recipes. Thousands of devoted listeners depended on them for weekly entertainment, information, humor and continuity. These listeners considered the radio homemakers a valued part of their lives, which is reflected in the longevity of the radio shows. The radio homemakers’ remarkable contributions are an enduring legacy to power of Iowa farm women and add unforgettable flavor to Iowa’s rich culinary heritage.

Six-Layer Washday Dinner
Like today’s busy working women, Iowa’s radio homemakers like Doris Murphy knew the value of being able to put a hearty, nutritious meal on the table without a lot of fuss. No doubt her recipe featured home-grown and home-canned vegetables.

2 cups hamburger
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups diced potatoes, raw
½ cup uncooked rice
1 cup sweet peppers, cut fine
1 cup diced carrots, raw
1 pint tomatoes

Brown hamburger and onion together. Combine meat, onion, potatoes, rice, peppers, carrots and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with water. Cook 2 hours in 350-degree oven.

 

Want more Iowa culture and history?
Read more of my blog posts if you want more Iowa stories, history and recipes, as well as tips to make you a better communicator.

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