Category: Iowa history

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.

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

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

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

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

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

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.

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.

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

Iowa’s Ice Queen: Entrepreneur Caroline Fischer’s Legacy Endures at Hotel Julien Dubuque  

Long before there was an International Women’s Day, there was Caroline (Rhomberg) Fischer, a savvy, spirited entrepreneur from Dubuque. After her husband died in 1875, the 31-year old widow and mother of five literally took the reins of her late husband’s ice delivery business—and you won’t believe what she did next.

You get a taste of Caroline’s remarkable story when you dine at Caroline’s Restaurant (named in her honor) in the historic Hotel Julien Dubuque. As you savor your banana bread French toast (yes, I recommend it!), it’s amazing to think a hotel or inn has occupied the present site of Hotel Julien Dubuque (at the corner of Second and Main Street) since 1839.

Caroline became part of the hotel’s storied history in the late 1800s. While Victorian-era ideals dictated that a woman’s place was in the home, sheer necessity—and a healthy dose of moxie—ensured that Caroline would break the mold.

Cutting ice, a common winter job in Iowa in the 1800s and early 1900s

Death, drinking and destiny
In the days before electric freezers and electric refrigeration, Caroline’s husband, Louis, was a partner in the Fischer ice business. After Louis contracted pneumonia and died in 1875 after falling into the Mississippi River while cutting ice, Caroline took over his ice business. The 31-year-old widow with five young children also took control of her family’s destiny.

Caroline is said to have followed her ice deliverymen around town in her own horse-drawn buggy to be sure her men were doing their work properly. The many taverns to which they delivered would offer drinks to the drivers in an effort to persuade them to leave a little extra ice. On occasion, upon finding the drivers passed out in the ice wagon, Caroline would drive their team of horses and wagon back to the ice storage warehouse herself with her own horse and buggy in tow.

In 1878, long before the Fischer Company owned the Hotel Julien, the Fischer Wheeler & Co. ice business had a contract with the Hotel Julien Dubuque to supply ice to the guesthouse, then under management of W.W. Woodworth. The three-year contract was for “all the ice necessary” for $25 a month or $300 for the entire year.

Leaving a legacy
Caroline eventually bought out her partners, invested in downtown and riverfront property, and brought her family into the business that still exists today. Located in view of the Ice Harbor, where the Fischer family business started, Caroline’s Restaurant at the Hotel Julien Dubuque today honors the family matriarch of the Fischer/Pfohl families.

The Pfohl connection goes back to 1962, when the hotel was purchased by Louis H. Pfohl. After extensive remodeling, many interesting and historic artifacts were incorporated into the décor, including the stunning stained glass that’s now displayed in Caroline’s Restaurant.

The menus at Caroline’s Restaurant are influenced by what’s grown locally and what’s readily available. The talented culinary team at the restaurant also focuses on making dishes as aesthetically pleasing as they are delicious. This attention to detail and commitment to excellence is a fitting tribute Caroline, the great-great-grandmother of the three cousins who today manage the Fischer Companies and the Hotel Julien Dubuque, a landmark of Iowa history.

Savor more Iowa food history
Want more great Iowa food stories, history and recipes? Check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa” book from The History Press, and order your signed copy today. 

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

Hotel Julien Dubuque, circa 1915, Dubuque, Iowa

Shakespeare Club Maintains 123 Years of Good Taste in Small-Town Iowa

While one of Lake City’s oldest clubs likely wouldn’t have had any farm women for members when the group formed the 1890s, a farm wife (who is also my mom) is now the club’s president and has belonged to the group longer than any other member.

Jan Dougherty, Shakespeare Club president

“This was originally a very formal club where the ladies in town served white-tablecloth-style dinners and used their good china and silverware,” said Jan Dougherty of Lake City, president, who joined the Shakespeare Club in 1972. “Now we’re much more relaxed and just like to have fun.”

Part of the fun involves cooking classes, preparing homemade treats for the “lunch” following the meeting and sharing recipes. The group has visited Sweet Things Bakery in Lake City and recently enjoyed a cooking class taught by Robin Qualy of Lake City, who runs La Casa Cuisine and teaches people how to make homemade pasta and more.

“I like the camaraderie and enjoy getting to know people better through Shakespeare Club,” said Pam Feld of Lake City, who joined the group a few years ago.

Organized in 1894, the Shakespeare Club holds the honor of being the second oldest club in Lake City. It was organized by four young women interested in their social and intellectual advancement. Programs were arranged to study the lives and works of famous authors, although the greater part of each year was devoted to the works of Shakespeare. Later, the programs were diversified to include the study of music and the arts, as well as the cultures of Europe and South America.

During World War 1, Shakespeare Club members held benefit teas and auctions to raise money for the Red Cross. In the 1920s, a three-day celebration was held to commemorate the club’s silver anniversary. Parties, picnics, and a presentation of a picture to the library were part of the festivities. “The Shakespeare Club is famous for doing things right,” quoted the Lake City Graphic newspaper in 1923.

Through the years, club members have been instrumental in supporting the progress of schools and the local library, as well as civic improvements. As it has for years, the group continues to meet in members’ homes, and each meeting includes a program or special activity and ends with a luncheon.

“I like meeting in people’s homes,” said Pat Albright of Lake City. “It’s a comfortable feeling where we can be ourselves and enjoy each other’s company.”

Members of Lake City’s Shakespeare Club enjoy homemade food and lots of laughs during this holiday celebration at Jan McClue’s home.

This also appeals to Jan McClue, who hosted the group’s 2016 Christmas party at her home near Lanesboro. “I like that we’re a group for fun, and I enjoy the interesting outings we go on around the area.”

One of the group’s favorite destinations is Studio Fusion in Fort Dodge, where members design their own glass picture frames, dishes, jewelry and more.  No matter where they meet, however, snacks and homemade treats are always on the agenda. “Good food has always been part of Shakespeare Club, and I think it’s neat the club has lasted all these years,” Dougherty said. “Our motto could be, ‘We don’t meet if we don’t eat.’”

Darcy’s Corn Tortellini

Healthy Tortellini Corn Chowder

Smoky bacon combines with tender cheese tortellini for a creamy and comforting take on the usual corn chowder, which is one of my favorite soup recipes. I served it at the Shakespeare Club’s 2016 Christmas party at Jan McClue’s home near Lanesboro. 

5 slices bacon
1 large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 cup red, orange, yellow peppers, diced
2 cups fresh, canned or frozen corn kernels (about one and a half cans of canned corn)
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup sliced carrots
⅓ c unbleached or all-purpose flour or Wondra flour
3 cups 1% milk
⅓ cup chopped fresh basil, or 1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
8 ounces low-fat fresh or frozen cheese tortellini, cooked and drained
1 cup frozen green beans
1 to 2 cups diced ham, optional

Set a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon. Cook for 1 minute, or until it releases some of its moisture. Add the onion, celery, and bell peppers. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add the corn, broth and carrots. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Place the flour in a medium bowl. Gradually add the milk, whisking until smooth. Pour mixture into the Dutch oven. Stir until well-blended. Add the basil, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes, or until the soup thickens. Add the tortellini, green beans and ham, if desired. Cook for 2 minutes, or until heated through.

Jan McClue’s Beef Dill Dip

Beef Dill Dip
This tasty dip from Jan McClue is simple to make and can be served with bagel wedges or crackers. 

1 16-ounce carton sour cream
2 tablespoons parsley
2 teaspoons Accent seasoning
2 packages dried beef, chopped
1 1 / 2 cup Miracle Whip
2 teaspoons dill weed
1 medium onion, finely chopped

Mix all ingredients together. Serve with crackers or bagel wedges.



Cheesy Artichoke Dip
This three-ingredient appetizer from Jan Dougherty of Lake City takes only minutes to make.

1 package cream cheese
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Combine all ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees, or until top of the dip lightly browns.

Celebration Slush is oh-so-tasty!

Celebration Slush
This simple slush from Jan McClue, a Shakespeare Club member who lives on a farm near Lanesboro, makes any party more festive.

12 ounces frozen lemonade
12 ounces frozen limeade
1 1 /2 quarts cranberry-apple juice
1 / 2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups strawberry schnapps
2 cups water

Combine all ingredients and freeze in a plastic container, like an ice cream bucket. To serve, add a splash of lemon-lime soda pop, raspberry vodka or strawberry daiquiri.








Taco Soup
This flavorful soup from Marie Schwarm of Lake City is sure to please on a cold winter day.

1 pound of ground beef (cooked and drained)
1 can of corn 1 can great northern beans
1 can black beans
1 can red beans
1 medium size can of diced tomatoes
1 packet of Hidden Valley dressing mix
1 packet of taco seasoning
1 cup of water
Tortilla chips
Sour cream
Shredded cheese
Combine all ingredients in crockpot (do not drain the beans) except tortilla chips, sour cream and cheese.  Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Serve with chips, sour cream and cheese. To spice up the soup, add a small can of diced green peppers.

Chili Bean Salad

This fresh, healthy recipe comes from Sharon Richardson of Lake City.

1 15-ounce can chili beans, heated Chopped tomatoes
Fresh spinach or lettuce, chopped
Corn chips

Make a bed of fresh spinach or chopped lettuce on plate. Top with chopped tomatoes and chili beans that have been heated. Top with crushed corn chips.


This luscious, rich dessert is a sweet symphony of creamy goodness.

Peanut Butter Dessert
This creamy, sweet Peanut Butter Dessert from Shakespeare Club member Pam Feld of Lake City offers an enticing ending for any meal. 

For the crust:

1 cup finely-chopped cashews
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 / 2 cup butter

Cream cashews, flour and butter together. Press mixture into baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 28 minutes.

First layer of filling:
8 ounces cream cheese
1 / 3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup whipped cream topping

Combine cream cheese, peanut butter, powdered sugar and whipped cream topping. Spread over cooled crust.

Second layer of filling:
2 2 / 3 cups milk
1 package chocolate instant pudding
1 package vanilla instant pudding

Combine milk and the two pudding mixes. Chill in refrigerator. When set, layer mixture on top of peanut butter layer.

Top dessert with whipped cream topping and pieces of chopped candy bars. Butterfinger and Heath work well.

Savor more Iowa food history

Want more great recipes and Iowa food stories? Check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa” book from The History Press, and order your signed copy today. 

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

Growing with Grow: Iowa 4-H Leader Guides 100-Year-Old 4-H Club for 50 Years

With more than 50 years of experience leading the century-old Sugar Grove Sunshine 4-H Club in Dallas County, Iowa, Lorna Grow knows what it takes to help kids succeed. It doesn’t mean giving everyone a participation ribbon.


Lorna Grow has led the Sugar Grove Sunshine 4-H Club near Dallas Center, Iowa, since 1966.

“You gain confidence when you achieve,” said Grow, 84, a retired teacher who has guided Sugar Grove Sunshine 4-Hers since 1966 when her oldest daughter, Glenace, joined the club. “I expect high-quality work from my 4-H kids, and I coach them to help them learn.”

With her high-energy style, quick smile and lively personality, Grow is a hands-on instructor, whether she’s helping the kids refinish furniture, re-cane vintage chairs, bake a pie from scratch, sew on a button, hem pants, sew flannel-lined, zippered gun cases or complete basic home repairs like fixing a hole in the wall. While she coordinates 30- to 45-minute educational workshops that are held during the club’s meetings on the first Monday evening of the month, Grow doesn’t stop there.

“Because I’m retired, I can devote additional time for extra activities,” said Grow, a great-grandmother who marches in local parades with her 4-Hers, helps her club sponsor a county-wide cooking challenge for 4-Hers and their friends, inspires 4-Hers in design-a-room competitions, works with them throughout the Dallas County Fair and supports them at the Iowa State Fair.

Whenever there’s a local 4-H activity going on, Grow is there, said Aleta Cochran, county youth coordinator for Dallas County Extension. “The kids love Lorna. She always supports the kids, listens to them, encourages them and helps them grow.”


Refinishing furniture and chair caning offer Sugar Grove Sunshine 4-H Club members like Isabel Simpson the chance to learn skills they may not learn anywhere else.

A century of believing, a future of achieving
Grow has been involved with 4-H since 1943, when she joined the Union Lassies 4-H Club in Indianola. The all-girls club followed the traditional three-year program rotation of food, clothing and home improvement.

The club that Grow would become most affiliated with, however, is the Sugar Grove Sunshine 4-H Club in Dallas County. This group dates back to 1917, when a 4-H club led by Mrs. A.J. (Mary) Hayes was founded at Sugar Grove No. 9, a one-room country school near Dallas Center. This 4-H sewing club had 10 members, met weekly and wore blue uniforms with white caps. The entire club traveled to the Iowa State Fair by car (quite an outing in those days) and marched in the state fair parade behind the 168th Infantry.

The club evolved in 1922 into the Oblegro (Observe, Learn, Grow) Club. After an A.B.C. Club was organized in 1929, the two clubs joined and eventually became the Sugar Grove Sunshine 4-H Club, named after the local township. From 1918 through about 1965, the Dallas County Farm Bureau sponsored local 4-H clubs, which were separated into girls’ clubs and boys’ clubs.

“We are the oldest documented 4-H club in Dallas County,” said Grow, who added that 4-H clubs began to integrate in the 1990s. “I think the club’s founders would be surprised their group is still going all these years later when so many other 4-H clubs have died out.”


Sugar Grove Sunshine 4-H Club members, 1966-67

Today, the Sugar Grove Sunshine 4-H Club includes 42 boys and girls in grades 4 through 12 from Dallas Center, Adel, Van Meter, DeSoto, Perry, Grimes, Johnston and Urbandale. While it can be challenging for kids to find time for 4-H, due to busy schedules packed with sports, dance lessons and more, Grow refuses to schedule meetings on Sundays. “That’s family time,” she said.

Families are the key to success with any 4-H activity, she added. “I have wonderful 4-H kids because I have wonderful parents who care about their kids.”

Learning skills for life
These parents value the life lessons that 4-H teaches, including decision-making skills, goal setting, leadership and teamwork. To enhance the learning, Grow assigns older 4-Hers to help mentor younger club members.




Members of the Sugar Grove Sunshine 4-H Club, along with club leader Lorna Grow, represented 4-H in this 2015 parade.

The Sugar Grove Sunshine 4-H members have also gained a new appreciation for history by helping plan the club’s 100-year-anniversary celebration, which was held Sept. 24, 2016, at the iconic Lake Robbins Ballroom near Woodward.

During the program, club members performed some of the songs that earlier generations of 4-Hers enjoyed from the 4-H Song Book. “The emphasis on music back then reflected people’s desire to get more culture into the rural areas,” said Grow, who added that the Adel Live Wires 4-H Club had an orchestra at one time.

Club members also researched local 4-H club record books dating back to the 1930s, when club projects included altering dress patterns and answering roll-call questions like “my favorite radio program.” Club members also scanned photos of previous generations of 4-Hers, including a group of girls showing off their baked goods for the 1934 Achievement Day. “Back then, you had to go through Achievement Day to have your project qualify for the Dallas County Fair,” Grow said.

While those early 4-H members used to meet in club members’ homes, today’s Sugar Grove Sunshine 4-H members meet in the basement of the Dallas Center Church of the Brethren. They also gather once a year at the Dallas Center-Grimes school to cook a meal and host an appreciation dinner for parents and guests. “We’ve served everything from Mexican to Chinese and prepare a four-course meal, including appetizers,” Grow said.

The learning opportunities that Grow offers 4-Hers are exceptional, emphasized Cochran with Dallas County Extension. “Lorna has done so much for 4-H. A volunteer like her is priceless.”
Grow said she’ll continue to serve as a club leader until she’s no longer effective. “Why do I keep doing this? Because I’m having fun. I love watching these kids grow and develop skills that will benefit them throughout their life.”

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 


Members of the Sugar Grove Sunshine 4-H Club, like Jacob Storey, enjoy hands-on learning for pie baking and other skills.

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Style at a Classic Iowa Ballroom

There was a time when THE hottest place to be for New Year’s Eve was at one of Iowa’s ballrooms, which could be found across the state in cities, small towns and even in the country. While most of these iconic places are gone, Lake Robbins south of Woodward carries on a proud Dallas County tradition since 1931.

Here’s a glimpse of what makes Lake Robbins such a remarkable piece of Iowa history (photos courtesy Lake Robbins Ballroom):

Ringing in the New Year. The legendary Lake Robbins Ballroom opened Nov. 11, 1931, and soon became one of the hottest entertainment venues in Dallas County. With its 10,000-square-foot white oak dance floor (which is still in place), spacious interior and music from popular dance bands of the day, the ballroom became a destination. The photo at the top of this blog post which shows people dancing was likely taken on New Year’s Eve, circa 1933. Notice what appears to be confetti on the dance floor.



The beginnings of Lake Robbins. Located southwest of Woodward, Lake Robbins started as a natural pond. In the 1920s, Riley Robbins and his son, Mervin, built a man-made lake dredged out by teams of horses. Robbins built an eight-sided cabin with a boardwalk to the edge of the area that would become the famous Lake Robbins Ballroom. A drought in 1936 decimated the lake, which was not rebuilt.






One of Iowa’s last ballrooms. Lake Robbins has always been in the country, and there’s only one way to get there—an unpaved country road. While the ballroom has always had a simple exterior, the magic occurs inside. Through the years, countless married couples first met at Lake Robbins. While many Iowa towns used to have ballrooms, Lake Robbins is one of the few that remains.





Soon-to-be-married dance champions. While they were not yet married when this photo was taken in 1938, Jacob Cushing of Adel and his future bride, Florence, won a dance contest at Lake Robbins Ballroom. The event was sponsored by Chaplin Gas & Oil. This photo was taken by Edmondson Studio in Perry.









Celebrating the good times. Young people from Dallas County and beyond flocked to Lake Robbins Ballroom, which was one of the few places in the country that had electricity in the early 1930s. Some say future president Ronald “Dutch” Reagan patronized the ballroom when he was a broadcaster at WHO Radio in Des Moines. Lake Robbins was inducted into the Iowa Rock & Roll Music Association in 2007.



lake-robbins-poster-low-resLet’s have a party! While some Lake Robbins performers slipped into obscurity, others became stars. Herbie Kay’s orchestra from Chicago that played opening night in 1931 featured 17-year-old vocalist Dorothy Lamour. In 1936, Lamour moved to Hollywood and made a series of successful comedies starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Another Lake Robbins singer, Perry Como, had huge hits in the 1950s with “Magic Moments” and “Catch a Falling Star.”







Kip Shannon’s 80+-year career. While she didn’t work on the opening night (Nov. 11, 1931), 23-year-old Coloma “Kip” Shannon stopped by the new Lake Robbins Balloom with her family. She got a job selling tickets there soon after and also handled practically every job at the ballroom during her career, which spanned nearly 80 years at Lake Robbins. Kip died at age 105 in 2014.





Today, owner Lyn Wilkinson carries on the Lake Robbins Ballroom Iowa legacy, caring for the beloved ballroom that she has owned since 1993. Stop by this remarkable venue for an evening of music, dancing and an unforgettable piece of Iowa history.

Want more Iowa culture and history? Lake Robbins Ballroom will be featured in my upcoming book, Dallas County, a pictorial history from Arcadia Publishing, which will be released in the summer of 2017. In the meantime, check out my top-selling “Calhoun County” book, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa, as well as my “Culinary History of Iowa” book from The History Press. Order your signed copy today!

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 

Adel Barn Accents Penoach Winery in Iowa

It started as a dairy barn in the 1920s on a farm north of Adel. By the mid-1990s, the farm was gone but the barn remained part of an acreage surrounded by new housing developments. In 2006, the barn became the hub of Penoach Winery and remains a big draw at this central Iowa destination.

“I like the fact that the barn is rustic and has lasted all these years,” said Joanie Olson, who runs Penoach Winery with her husband, Stan. “Our customers also love the old barn.”
The clay-tile barn was built on the H.B. Kinnick farm north of Adel to house dairy cattle. It was likely constructed with clay-tile blocks made in Adel. Olson recently met an 89-year-old gentleman from Arizona who is related to the Kinnick family and grew up on the farm.

“His father lost the farm during the Great Depression of the 1930s,” Olson said. “This man recalled sitting on the back porch and crying during the farm auction.”


Stan Olson and his wife, Joanie, run Penoach Winery in this historic barn at their acreage north of Adel, Iowa.

In 1960, Olson’s parents, Paul and Mildred Hufferd, purchased the 240-acre farm, where they raised crops, cattle and hogs. Olson moved back to her family’s farm around 1980-81 with her husband, Stan, who had grown up on a farm near Lake Mills. The couple farmed for about 15 years. “My dad raised pigs in the barn, and then Stan did, too,” Olson said.

Although Stan began selling insurance after he quit farming, he never lost his passion for agriculture. “Stan missed growing things, so he planted 50 grape plants in 1999,” Olson said. In 2000, the Olsons started a grape nursery to supply grape vines to wineries that were taking root across Iowa.

Within a few years, the Olsons decided to start their own vineyard and winery. Penoach Winery, which reflects Adel’s original name, opened in 2006. Today, the operation includes 4 acres of grapes behind the barn, not far from areas once covered by cornfields and a hog lot.

“The barn was in pretty good shape when we started remodeling it for the winery,” Olson said. “We worked from top to bottom, starting with cleaning out the hay and pressure washing the barn.”
The transformation also included new floors, electrical wiring, plumbing, windows, doors and a covered patio on the south side of the barn. “Stan did most of the work,” Olson added.


Penoach Winery offers a variety of Iowa wines produced from grapes grown on the Olson’s acreage north of Adel, Iowa.

While couple installed their wine-making equipment in the back of the barn, the space wasn’t quite large enough. About four years ago, the couple moved this equipment to a nearby shed and transformed the back room of the barn into a gathering space, complete with comfortable chairs. In the adjoining room, guests can browse the gift shop, which showcases 18 varieties of wine made at Penoach Winery.

“We enjoy meeting lots of people who visit our winery,” Olson said. “We’re glad we can share our barn with them.”

Want more Iowa culture and history? The barn at Penoach Winery will be featured in my upcoming book, Dallas County, a pictorial history from Arcadia Publishing, which will be released in the summer of 2017. In the meantime, check out my top-selling “Calhoun County” book, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa, as well as my “Culinary History of Iowa” book from The History Press. Order your signed copy today!

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 


The interior of this former dairy barn is now an inviting, relaxing place to sample Iowa wines.

Slaves Escaped Through Dallas County on Iowa’s Underground Railroad

Imagine you’re a fugitive slave on the run in 1850s Iowa. You’ve managed to escape from Missouri and have made it all the way to Dallas County, but your owner and bounty hunters are close behind. If youor the people who are helping you escape on the Underground Railroad—get caught, the consequences are terrifying.

This really happened near the Quaker Divide northeast of Dexter, Iowa, around 160 years ago. It occurred after the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it easier for southern slave owners to recovery their property and levied harsher punishments for anyone interfering in the capture of runaway slaves.

I’m going to include the story in my upcoming “Dallas County” book from Arcadia Publishing, which will be released in the summer of 2017. This will be my third book that helps bring Iowa history to life, along with Calhoun County and A Culinary History of Iowa.

Here’s a first-person look into the Underground Railroad in Iowa, as told by those who lived it. This excerpt comes from the “History of the Quaker Divide” by Darius B. Cook, published by the Dexter Sentinel, Dexter, Iowa, 1914. The story of the Underground Railroad documented here was written by Harmon Cook, who shared his personal experiences as one of its conductors:

Running away to freedom
In the days before the Civil War, Dallas County was on the frontier. Slavery was recognized as a product of Missouri. Iowa being a free state naturally proved a highway for the Underground Railroad. John Brown came through the area. The route started from Tabor in Fremont County and crossed diagonally Adair County, striking Summit Grove, where Stuart is now located.

“From there, one line went east down Quaker Divide, and the other crossed the Raccoon River near Redfield, then through Adel. Both lines came together at Des Moines, on to Grinnell to Muscatine and up to Canada. Many times I have seen colored men and women crossing the prairie…slaves running away to freedom.

In the winter of 1859-60, I was going to school to Darius Bowles, and one Friday evening I was told if I wanted to go to Bear Creek, I would not have to walk, if I wanted to drive a carriage and return it Monday morning. I drove the carriage, and in it were two young colored women. They were sisters and from the west border of Missouri. Their master was their father, and they had both been reared in the family.

War was apparent, and their master decided to sell them “down south.” They heard the plotting, and found out that they were to go on the auction block, and made a run for the North Star. They had been on the road seven weeks when they arrived at A.W.L’s at Summit Grove. Before daylight Saturday morning, they were housed at Uncle Martin’s.

You won’t find any slaves here
One Monday afternoon, one of the sisters, Maggie, who had been out in the yard came running in and told grandmother, “Master is coming up the road!” Grandfather went out in the front and sat down in his chair against the side of the door.

By this time, a number of men had ridden up and asked him if he had seen any slaves around. He told them slaves were not known in Iowa.

Then one of them said, “I am told that you are an old Quaker and have been suspected of harboring black folks as they run away to Canada. I have traced two girls across the country, and have reasons to believe they have been here.”

Grandfather said, “I never turn anyone away who wants lodging, but I keep no slaves.”

“Then I’ll come in and see,” said the man, who jumped off his horse and started for the house. Grandfather stood up with his cane in his hand and stepped into the door when the man attempted to enter. Grandfather said, “Has thee a warrant to search my house?”

“No, I have not,” replied the man.

“Then thee cannot do so,” Grandfather said.

“But I will show you,” said the man. “I will search for my girls.”

While this parley was going on, and loud words were coming thick and fast, Grandmother came up and said, “Father, if the man wants to look through the house, let him do so. Thee ought to know he won’t find any slaves here.”

Grandfather turned and started at her a minute, then turning to the men, said, “I ask thy forgiveness for speaking so harshly. Thee can go through the house, if Mother says so.”

Grandfather showed him through all the rooms but stayed close to him all the time. After satisfying himself that they were not there, he begged the old man’s forgiveness, mounted his horse and rode away.

When the coast was clear, it was found that when Maggie and rushed in and said, “Master is coming,” Grandmother hastily snatched off the large feather bed, telling both the girls to get in and lie perfectly still. She took the feather bed, spread it all over them, put on the covers and pillows, patted out the wrinkles—and so—no slaves were seen.

Almost caught
One time a big load was being taken down the south side of the Coon River and had reached the timber on the bluffs near Des Moines. About 3 o’clock in the morning as the carriage was leisurely going along, the sound of distant hoofbeats were heard coming behind. At first it was thought the carriage could outrun its pursuers, but prudence forbade.

A narrow road at one side was hastily followed a few rods, and the carriage stopped. The horseman passed on, swearing eternal vengeance on the whole “caboodle,” if captured. When sounds were lost in the distance, a dash was made for the depot in Des Moines, and all safely landed before daylight.



John Brown, abolitionist, aided the Underground Railroad in Dallas County, Iowa

John Brown came to Dallas County
One evening some months after I was returning from Adel on horseback and when opposite Mr. Murry’s farm east of Redfield when I saw Old Man Murry and a stranger back of the barn. I was met by an old man, rather stoop-shouldered and of stern aspect. “Mr. Murry said, “Here’s the youngster who came so near getting caught going to Des Moines.” The stern man with shaggy eyebrows almost in my face said, “Young man, when you are out on the Lord’s business, you must be more discreet. You must always listen backwards, as you are always followed. I’m responsible for that track of the Underground Railroad, and I want my conductors to be more careful in the future, as things are coming to a head, and somebody is going to get hurt.”

I was dismissed with this admonition: “Young man, never do so rash a thing again as to talk and laugh out loud on the way.” A few months later, when Harper’s Ferry was known to fame, I remembered John Brown as the old man at Murry’s.

Editor’s note: In 1859, John Brown led a small group of men who plotted to overthrow the institution of slavery by violent means, starting with a raid on the U.S. arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Brown intended to incite a slave insurrection. Although he was suppressed by federal forces, Brown became a martyr in the eyes of the Abolitionist movement. Brown’s unsuccessful raid, along with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, led Southern states to believe that they could never survive under an anti-slavery president. South Carolina led the Southern states in secession from the Union in December 1860, followed by Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

Reconnecting with a fugitive slave
Harmon Cook continued with his memories of the Underground Railroad in Dallas County:

When I enlisted in Company C, 46th Iowa Infantry, and arrived at Memphis, Tennessee, in 1864, I first saw a regiment of colored soldiers. They were in camp and the first opportunity I was over to see how they looked as soldiers. One of the camp scenes was some of the soldiers conducting a school to teach these poor people their ABCs.

Chaplain Ham and I had gone together, and the teacher, who was the lieutenant colonel, asked us to speak to the colored school. When I had spoken, a strapping fellow in blue uniform came rushing up to me, shouting, “I know you! You belong to the Quaker Divide in Iowa. You drove me one night when we were trying to get into town and were followed by our masters, and you drove off into the woods and we got out and hid.”

It was Henry who had been one of the party in that wild midnight ride. He never got to Canada, but stopped in Wisconsin, and when the war came on he enlisted. He was lieutenant of the colored regiment and was a trusted scout for the general of our division.”

Background notes on the Underground Railroad in Dallas County
The Bear Creek Settlement, also known as the “Quaker divide” in southern Dallas County north of Dexter, is located between the South Raccoon River on the north and Bear Creek on the south.

In the early 1850s this area was open prairie without a single settler. But a Quaker family (including Richard Mendenhall and his wife, Elizabeth) from Marion County, Indiana, settled in Dallas County in 1853 in Union Township in what would become the Quaker Divide.

While the Quakers were among the most prominent slave traders during the early days of America, paradoxically, they were also among the first religious denominations to protest slavery. While not all Quakers participated in the organized anti-slavery movement, many did—including many in Iowa.

Traces of the Underground Railroad remain in Iowa—see for yourself
There are remarkable places across Iowa where you can see the few remaining stops on the Underground Railroad that are still standing and open to the public. I’ve toured many of these remarkable sites, and they are well worth a road trip. Click here to get more details on the Hitchcock House in Lewis, the Jordan House in West Des Moines and the Lewelling House in Salem and more. I encourage you to visit these Underground Railroad sites and reconnect with this powerful chapter of Iowa history.

Want more Iowa culture and history? Check out my top-selling “Calhoun County” book, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa, as well as my “Culinary History of Iowa” book from The History Press. Order your signed copy today!

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 


O, Christmas Tree! Small Iowa Towns Celebrate with Trees in the Middle of the Street

For a select group of small Iowa towns, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without a lighted tree downtown—right in the middle in the street. In Story City, the community has celebrated this beloved holiday custom for more than 100 years.

“I’m not surprised this tradition has lasted all these years,” said Kate Feil, director of the Story City Historical Society. “Keeping traditions alive are a big part of Story City, from the annual Scandinavian Days Festival to the municipal Christmas tree.”

This year’s evergreen tree was donated by Ole and Jackie Skaar of Story City and was installed by the Municipal Electric Company at the corner of Broad Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Hundreds of people attended the Yulefest tree lighting ceremony on the evening of Nov. 25. Excitement intensified during countdown from 10 to 1 before the lights were flipped on. Then the high school choir led the singing of Christmas carols, and guests could warm up with cups of hot chocolate. The Story City Fire Department hosted their annual chili supper following the tree lighting ceremony.

“Families plan their Thanksgiving gatherings each year so they can attend the tree lighting ceremony,” said Abby Huff, executive director at Story City Greater Chamber Connection. “It’s a tradition we hope to carry on for many more years to come.”


Hundreds of people attended the Yulefest tree lighting ceremony in Story City, Iowa, on the evening of Nov. 25. Excitement intensified during countdown from 10 to 1 before the lights were flipped on. Then the high school choir led the singing of Christmas carols, and guests could warm up with cups of hot chocolate.

Let there be light

In 1914, Story City became one of the first towns in Iowa to display a municipal Christmas tree with electric lights. While many Iowa communities had begun to offer electrical service in the late 1890s and early 1900s, electricity was still a novelty that held the power to fascinate, especially in rural areas.

At that time, electricity was out of reach for thousands of farm families, many of whom wouldn’t receive electrical service until the federal Rural Electrification Act of 1936 brought power to rural America in the late 1930s and into the 1940s.

When Story City harvested its first municipal Christmas tree in town in 1914, local citizens decorated the tree with large, multi-colored lights. The lighting of the tree became a memorable event for a town that had not fully integrated electricity into all homes. A man who was visiting Story City during the Christmas season in 1914 described the tree as “the biggest stunt the town ever pulled off.”

Other communities took note. After Story City celebrated its first lighted Christmas tree, the event attracted newspaper coverage across the Midwest, and the concept of municipal Christmas trees started gaining popularity in small towns across Iowa and beyond.

Story City’s municipal Christmas tree has even reflected noteworthy moments in American history. No municipal Christmas trees were displayed in Story during World War 2 from 1942 to 1944, Feil said. Also, there was no tree in 1973, and no street ornaments were lit that year, due to the nation’s energy crisis.

Nothing caused more consternation, however, than a decision in 1948 to place a decorative Santa and sleigh with four horses from the town’s iconic carousel at intersection of Broad Street and Pennsylvania Avenue instead of a tree. It didn’t go over well, Feil said. “People like the tree.”

Today, many community members, including Mayor Mike Jensen, have helped make sure Story City has a municipal Christmas tree each year. Since it can be a little difficult to find trees that are right for the municipal tree, community leaders have begun planting evergreens near the soccer fields in the northwest part of Story City, said Huff, who noted that Story City is a member of Trees Forever. These trees will help ensure this beloved tradition lives on.

“From the first tree in 1914 to our current tree, I love the feeling of community our municipal Christmas tree continues to bring each year,” Feil said.


The municipal Christmas tree is unique feature of Exira, Iowa, population 840, which is also known for its 4th of July celebration. “It’s a proud tradition we want to keep around for years to come,” says the city clerk.

Christmas tree helps define Exira

On the other side of the state in Exira, population 840, local residents also cherish the tradition of a municipal Christmas tree that stands tall in an intersection downtown near the town square.

“We’ve had a tree each Christmas for many years,” said Lexi Christensen, Exira’s city clerk. “A lot of people compliment us on this tradition.”

This year’s tree, which was donated by Lana Wiges of Hamlin, was set up the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The tree was officially lit when Santa Claus came to town during the first weekend in December. Has anyone ever crashed into the holiday icon? “Fortunately not,” Christensen said.

As part of the tree lighting celebration, guests enjoyed soup and homemade treats at the local recreation center, while the Exira Community Club collected food and toys to donate to local families in need. “The Christmas tree is unique feature of Exira,” said Christensen, who added that Exira is also known for its 4th of July celebration. “It’s a proud tradition we want to keep around for years to come.”

Remsen revives Christmas tree tradition

Municipal Christmas trees used to be a much more common sight in small Iowa towns, but the tradition faded away in many communities due to the work involved, declining populations and other factors. To Tammy Maaff-Portz, it was a tradition worth reviving in her hometown of Remsen, population 1,663.

“I’d say the tradition had died out by the mid-1960s, but a group of us wanted to bring back an old-fashioned Christmas with a tree in the middle of the road. We made it happen in 2003 and have been carrying on this tradition ever since.”

This year’s municipal Christmas tree stands about 30 feet tall on Main Street and is covered with an array of oversized green and red ornaments and approximately 3,000 lights, including a lighted star on top. The massive tree sits in a permanent hole dug into the street downtown and is held in place with a support system designed for this purpose. The hole in the street is covered with a steel plate the rest of the year.

The lighting of the municipal Christmas tree, which took place the first Monday evening in December, started with a blessing of the tree by local religious leaders. Then Santa arrived on a vintage fire truck and lit the tree before heading to the Remsen Heritage Museum, where children could share their wish list with him and receive a candy cane.

Remsen’s businesses stayed open that evening until about 8 p.m. Carolers walked from shop to shop, singing songs of the season, while visitors enjoyed horse-drawn wagon rides as sleigh bells rang throughout Main Street. Children took advantage of Kids’ Korner, where they could shop for gifts for their family and either wrap the presents themselves or get a little help from the business owners.

“Living windows” in local stores have also become a popular part of the celebration. This year, members of the St. Mary’s boys’ basketball team were at Schorg’s Custom Cabinetry, where visitors could visit with them while decorating their own Christmas cookies.

“All these events are free and open to the public,” said Maaff-Portz, who owns Furnishings on Second At Muller’s. “People of all ages love it.”

Remsen’s municipal Christmas tree stays lit all through the night, every night, until the tree is taken down during the first few weeks of January. Maaff-Portz is already looking forward to a gala event in a few years to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the municipal Christmas tree’s triumphant return to Remsen. “It’s definitely a community effort. We want to make this a family and community tradition as long as we can.”

Christmas Trees Thrive in Iowa

The modern Christmas tree is believed to have originated in Germany in the 16th century. Here are some other Christmas tree facts from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship:

  • Iowa has more than 100 Christmas tree farms in all parts of the state.
  • These farms devote more than 1,500 acres to Christmas tree production in Iowa and harvest approximately 39,500 Christmas trees each year.
  • It takes 6 to 12 years to grow a Christmas tree before it is ready to be sold.
  • Christmas tree farms in Iowa are part of a $1 million industry that contribute to the state’s economy.


*This article first appeared in Farm News, December 2016 

Want more Iowa culture and history? Check out my top-selling “Calhoun County” book, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa, as well as my “Culinary History of Iowa” book from The History Press. Order your signed copy today!

P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. 

@Copyright 2016 Darcy Maulsby & Co.