What’s Cookin’ – Holiday Traditions

With the changing of the seasons to colder weather, thoughts often turn to the upcoming holidays. This year, holidays may be a little different for all of us due to COVID but that doesn’t mean we can’t partake in some of our favorite traditions.

Growing up in north central Iowa, one of my favorite traditions was making Norwegian Lefse with my grandmother. My paternal grandfather passed away when I was in fourth grade but my grandmother did a wonderful job of keeping his memory and Norwegian heritage alive with us grandkids. The family story goes that my grandfather was among the first generation born in the United States so we are relative newcomers on that side for coming to America from Norway. In Norway, we came from a family of farmers but land was scarce and expensive, so our family migrated to the U.S. in search of more land, much like other Norwegian immigrants at the time.

Norwegians began arriving in Iowa during the 1830s and by the 1850s the number increased dramatically. Many of these immigrants settled in northeastern Iowa around Decorah which is why you see such a strong Norwegian heritage in that community today. In 1880, more than 82 percent of the Norwegians living in Iowa were farmers. (Source: Iowa PBS)

While farming didn’t end up being the future for our family, Norwegian traditions still played a part in our upbringing – and one of those was lefse.

What is Lefse?

Image Source: Cheap Recipe Blog: Norwegian Lefse

Lefse is a traditional, soft Norwegian flatbread. Some lefse is made with potatoes but true Norwegians (LOL) know the better version is made with flour. In fact, the original lefse made in Norway was actually made from flour – not potatoes. It wasn’t until potatoes were introduced in Norway more than 200 years ago that people started adding them to lefse. Batches of flour lefse could last a household through the long winter months as it was more of a flat bread or like a tortilla when it dried. The lefse was stored in wooden boxes and dipped in water to soften it when it was needed for use. My family puts butter and sugar on the lefse and then rolls it up for eating. But, other Norwegians have been known to use the lefse like a tortilla and wrap beef, mashed potatoes and peas in it like a burrito, or some put butter and jam on it.

Before we dive into the making of the lefse, let’s take a look at where the ingredients for lefse come from. There are many different types of lefse but the particular one that my grandmother made is quite simple. To make our family’s Norwegian lefsa you’ll need flour, sugar, salt, water, and lard.

Flour is a powder made by grinding different types of grains. Wheat is most commonly used to make flour. Mills use high protein or hard wheat species to make bread flour and lower protein or soft wheat to produce cake and pastry flour. All-purpose flour is made of medium protein. Watch how wheat is grown, harvested, and used in baking products.

Sugar is a type of sucrose derived from sugarcane or sugar beets. Most cane sugar comes from countries with warm climates due to the plant’s intolerance to cold. Sugar beets grow in cooler temperatures but do not tolerate hot climates. In the northern hemisphere, most of our sugar comes from sugar beets. The beet root is composed of 17 percent sucrose. In the spring, farmers plant the seeds and then the sugar beets are harvested in the fall. In the United States, sugar beets are most commonly grown in three regions: Upper Midwest (Michigan, Minnesota, and North Dakota), Great Plains (Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming), and the Far West (California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington) according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. Statista’s Sugar Beet Production Report notes that approximately 28.6 million tons of sugar beets were produced in the United States in 2019.

Salt isn’t thought of as an agriculture product but it is an important component to many recipes. Salt is one of the most widely used and oldest forms of food seasoning. It is processed in several ways – from salt mines, evaporation of seawater, and through mineral-rich spring water in shallow pools.

Lard is a semi-solid white fat product made by rendering the fatty tissue of a pig. While some might think it’s the same thing as Crisco, it’s actually not as Crisco is made of vegetable oils. In the 19th century, lard was used in replacement of butter in North America. But, lard lost its favor in the late 20th century due to its less healthy reputation vs vegetable oils.

All the ingredients are mixed in a large bowl. You’ll need a long wooden turning stick, a pastry board, a special rolling pin with deep grooves and a large, flat griddle. (Pictures courtesy of lefsetime.com)

Lefse Recipe
6 cups flour
½ cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups of boiling water
3-6 tablespoons of soft lard

1. Mix with spoon first since the water is boiling hot then mix with your hands
2. Roll out the lefse as thin as possible
3. Cook on dry skillet until it bubbles
4. Place lefse in between thin towels to cool (each lefse separated by a towel or they’ll stick together). Once cool, the lefse can be wrapped in aluminum foil, placed in a freezer bag and be pulled out later for use.
5. To make it soft again, drip warm water on the lefse and place them separated by towels until ready to eat.

Food is often at the heart of family, holiday traditions. As we sit around our tables this holiday season, maybe we can all take a moment to thank those who make our family traditions possible – farmers. Without farmers, we wouldn’t have the food to enjoy on our holiday tables.

What are some of your family’s holiday traditions?


Additional Learning

Iowa Pathways: Norwegians
Lefse History
Exploring our Fluid Earth: Weird Science – Salt is Essential to Life
Cane Sugar: How It’s Made
Beet Sugar: How It’s Made
All About Sugar and Baking
How It’s Made: Flour
Wheat Harvest
U.S. Sugar Industry
Make Your Own Lefse – Lefse Equipment

What’s Cookin’? – Corn Custard brûlée

The second of our annual cooking demonstrations in the Elwell Family Food building at the Iowa State Fair featured an unusual dish. This recipe was adapted from a recipe that was originally submitted as part of the Iowa’s Big Four Cooking competition at the 2018 Iowa State Fair. The original recipe was submitted by Sharon Gates of Des Moines and won 2nd prize in the sweet division of that contest. We’ve made some slight modifications from the original. But first, where do all of the ingredients come from? Here is the farm-to-fork story.

Bacon:  This tasty pork product comes from the side and belly of the pig. Pork bellies are cured in a salt brine and flavorings to provide the rich taste. The curing process evolved before refrigeration as a way of preserving the meat. Iowa is the number one producer of pork in the U.S. Companies like Farmland Foods and JBS Swift have meat packing plants in Iowa and employ hundreds of Iowans.

Sugar: Granulated sugar can be refined from either sugar cane grown in tropical climates or from sugar beets. Many sugar beets are grown in Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana. After the beets are harvested, they are sliced and soaked in water which extracts the sugar. The beets are pressed to remove additional sugar. The syrup is filtered and then boiled to reduce to sugar crystals. The crystals are then packaged as sugar.

Corn syrup: Corn syrup comes from field corn. Field corn is harvested after it is dried in the field. The corn kernels can then be ground up and the starches removed. Using enzymes, the starches can be converted into a mix of fructose and sucrose sugars – or corn syrup. Field corn can be used for a variety of human foods (everything from corn meal in tortilla chips to the corn syrup in ketchup), but it can also be used to feed livestock or turned into ethanol as fuel for vehicles

Sweet Corn: Although Iowa farmers do raise some of the best-tasting sweet corn in the country, less than 1% of the corn in our state is sweet corn. Although one is considered a vegetable and the other a grain, sweet corn and field corn are close relatives. Sweet corn is a naturally occurring genetic mutation of field corn. The sweet corn plant is shorter, matures faster, and its kernels have a higher sugar content.

Milk:  Milk or heavy cream is a great source of protein and vitamin D in our diets. Most dairy cows in the U.S. are Holstein (the black and white ones) which are prized for their ability to produce up to 8 gallons of milk per day. Once milk is collected from the cow it is trucked to a processing plant where it is homogenized and pasteurized before bottling. Once bottled it is sent off to grocery stores or other consumer outlets. The whole process takes less than 48 hours and the milk is never touched by human hands.

Eggs: Iowa is the number one producer of eggs in the U.S. There are three different categories of chickens raised with many different species in each category. Chickens are broilers (raised for meat), ornamentals (raised for feathers), and layers (raised for eggs). Chickens typically produce one egg approximately every 27 hours (roughly one per day).  The color of the egg shell has no bearing on the nutritional value of the egg or the flavor. The color of the shell is the same as the chicken’s ear lobe. White skinned chickens produce white eggs. Brown skinned chickens produce brown eggs. Eggs can even come in shades of blue and green. The quality of egg is largely determined by the chicken’s diet. A protein rich diet with various vitamins and minerals will usually yield a richly yellowed yolk. Eggs are one of the best sources of protein in the human diet. Eggs are cleaned and checked for impurities before being packaged and sold to consumers.

Pepper:  Black pepper comes from the fruit of a pepper plant species which grows in hot and humid tropical climates. The unripe dried fruit, called peppercorns, are ground into the spice we call pepper. Pepper was one of the spices that early explores traded because of its high value. It came from the spice islands of southeast Asia which also were known for nutmeg, mace and cloves.

Salt: Salt isn’t exactly an agricultural product. But, is an important component because it is the only rock that humans seek out and regularly consume. Salt can be harvested from salt pans (dried lakes) or mined from underground

Chipotle powder: Chipotle powder is the dried and crushed Chipotle pepper fruit.


  • 1/2 Cup Bacon Chopped
  • 2T Brown Sugar
  • 1T Light Corn Syrup
  • 1 Cup Fresh Sweet Corn
  • 3/4 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 Cup Whole Milk
  • 6T White Sugar
  • 3 Egg Yolks
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 T Salt
  • 1/4 T Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/8 T Chipotle Chile Morita Powder


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Stir together bacon, brown sugar and corn syrup. Spread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven. Set aside to cool.
  3. Combine ¾ cup sweet corn, whole milk, 3T white sugar, egg yolks, egg, salt, pepper, and chipotle powder sugar into blender and liquify all. Add heavy cream pulse blender to incorporate.
  4. Pour through a fine mesh strainer. Mix in ¼ cup of sweet corn. Pour liquid mixture into ramekins that have been sprayed with non-stick spray.
  5. Place ramekin in a baking dish on the middle rack of oven.
  6. Carefully pour boiling water into the baking dish to halfway up the outside of the ramekins. Bake 30-45 minutes or until the center of the custard registers an internal temperature of 170°F. Cooking time will vary based on the size of the ramekins used. Remove from oven and let cool.
  7. Just before serving, sprinkle a layer of sugar over the top of each custard and brûlée with a torch. Garnish with candied bacon.



What’s Cookin’: Angel Food Cake

angel food cakeHomemade Angel Food Cake is a staple for birthday celebrations in my family. It started many years ago when my grandmother would make a homemade angel food cake for each child’s birthday. She even made homemade 7-minute frosting to go with it!

When I was in 4-H, I wanted to learn how to make a homemade angel food cake so I could make the next family birthday cake just like my grandmother! I was determined to have a blue ribbon entry at the Louisa County Fair. Each week for two months I made an angel food cake to perfect my cake baking skills. My mom and dad were expert taste testers by fair time. My cake went on to receive a blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair!

Learn about each ingredient so you can make a blue ribbon angel food cake for your next birthday celebration!

cake flourCake Four- Cake flour is similar to regular all-purpose flour, but is more refined. Cake flour starts as wheat, then millers find the wheat germ’s endosperm, the softest part of the kernel. The endosperm is extracted, then ground into a fine powder. It is usually so refined that the end result is a light, powdery substance. It often has the texture of baby powder. Cake flour is also bright white due to the intensive bleaching process that it undergoes as it is being made. The gluten content affects the density of baked goods. Gluten is related to the protein content. Bread flour has about 15% protein content, whereas cake flour has 7%. Cake flour’s lower protein content creates lighter, fluffier products, perfect for angel food cake!

Egg Whites- Eggs are produced by chickens. It is important to only use the egg whites when making an angel food cake for optimum results. Egg whites contain almost no fat and 50% of the protein found in eggs. It is a clear liquid contained within an egg formed around the egg yolk. The final product will result in a light, fluffy angel food cake with no fat! You can separate the egg whites from the yolks by using an egg separator.

cream of tartarCream of Tartar- Cream of Tartar is a byproduct from the wine industry. When tartaric acid is partially neutralized with potassium hydroxide, Cream of Tartar is formed.  In baking, Cream of Tartar is used to stabilize egg whites and whipped cream.

pure cane sugarWhite Sugar- White sugar can be produced from sugar cane or sugar beets. Check out this video to see how sugar beets are made into sugar. The process includes harvesting the sugar cane or sugar beets, extracting the juice, evaporating the excess water, boiling the syrup, drying the sugar crystals, and finally storing the sugar in the paper packaging like we see in the grocery store.

vanilla extractVanilla- Vanilla extract is made by percolating chopped vanilla beans with ethyl alcohol and water in large steel containers. The beans stay with the extracts for about 48 hours then the extract is filtered and stored in a holding tank until it is time to be bottled.

almond extractAlmond Extract- Pure almond extract is made from bitter almond oil, water, and alcohol. Almond oil is extracted from almond drupes. The strong almond flavor comes from benzaldehyde, a substance found in the kernels of drupes.

iodized saltSalt- Salt is obtained in three ways: evaporation from sea water, mining salt from the earth, and creating salt brines. Table salt is most commonly a product of salt brines. Salt brines are made by pumping water below earth’s surface to dissolve salt deposits and to create a brine. The brine is then pumped to the earth’s surface and evaporated to create salt. This method produces a very clean, inexpensive, high yielding table salt.

angel food cake suppliesfolding in flourangel food cake batter

Angel Food Cake- 

Recipe from: Merry Welsch, Winfield, Iowa 

1 1/4 Cups sifted cake flour

1 1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar

1/2 Cup white sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/2 Cups egg whites (about 12 eggs)*

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 Cups sugar

Measure sifted flour. Add 1/2 cup sugar and sift four times. Combine egg whites, salt, cream of tartar, and flavorings. Beat until soft moist peaks form. Beating slowly, add the remaining sugar in four additions. Fold in flour mixture with a wire whisk. Pour into an ungreased tube pan. Cut through batter. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes. Invert to cool. Remove from pan once cool.

*Set eggs out 2 hours ahead to allow them to reach room temperature for optimum results.

angel food cake goodsStrawberries and vanilla ice cream are the perfect pair to your homemade angel food cake! Enjoy!



What’s Cookin’: Chocolate Pudding

pudding - small

One of my favorite comfort foods is chocolate pudding.  Not the kind from a box, but the rich and creamy home-made goodness that can only be made by starting from scratch.  If I’m going to indulge in chocolate pudding, I want the good stuff!

While there are many great recipes for chocolate pudding, my favorite is a simple one that even my 8-year-old son can make without help!  Before I share the recipe, here’s the agricultural story behind it’s simple ingredients.

cocoa beansCocoa Powder is made from beans of the cacao tree grown in tropical climates. After harvesting the beans are fermented, dried, and roasted.  The beans are then ground into a paste to separate the cocoa solids from the fat, or cocoa butter. Once the butter is removed the cocoa solids are ground into a fine powder.  The bitter powder can be packaged and sold for as unsweetened coca powder for baking cooking, or mixed with cocoa butter, milk and sugar to create the chocolate bars and chips.

Sugar for home cooking and baking can come from two agricultural crops, sugar cane and sugar beets. Sugar beets are a root crop grown in the upper Midwest.  Sugar cane is a tall perennial grass grown in more tropical environments like Florida, Latin America, and South America.  Although the plants are very different, the process of turning juice from sugar beets and sugar cane into granulated sugar is very similar.  After the juice is extracted, it is purified, and the crystals form as the water is removed through several stages of evaporation.

cornCorn Starch is a fine white powder made from the starchy center, or endosperm, of corn kernels.  In the kitchen, corn starch is used as a thickening agent for sauce, gravy, pudding, and more. Corn starch is comprised of long chains of starch molecules that will unravel and swell when heated in a liquid. This swelling causes the liquid to thicken.

Milk: Long gone are the days that cows are milked by hand. Today’s dairy farms are high-tech and efficient, using mechanical milking parlors and even robots to improve the efficiency of the milking process. Once milk is collected from the cow it is quickly cooled and trucked to a processing plant where it is homogenized and pasteurized before bottling. Once bottled it is sent off to grocery stores or other consumer outlets. The whole process takes less than 48 hours and the milk is never touched by human hands.

vanilla beansVanilla extract is made from the seed pod, or bean, of the flat leaved vanilla orchid.  They are picked unripe, submerged into hot water and then laid out to dry.  Vanilla extract is made by macerating the vanilla beans and mixing them with water and alcohol.

Butter: Fresh whole milk from dairy farms is collected and brought to the creamery. The cream is separated from the milk and rapidly heated to a high temperature. Pasteurization removes any disease-causing bacteria and helps the butter stay fresh longer.  The cream is then churned by shaking or beating it vigorously until it thickens. The remaining liquid, appropriately called buttermilk, is removed. The clumps of butter are then washed and formed into sticks or blocks. Check out this video to see exactly how butter is made.

Chocolate Pudding
½ cups white sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup corn starch
2¾ cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoons vanilla

Mix the sugar, cocoa powder, corn starch and salt together in a saucepan.

Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer. Continue to whisk and cook until it is thick. It will not take long after it comes to a boil.

Take it off the burner and mix in the vanilla and butter. Pour into a bowl or serving dishes to cool.



Holiday Favorite Full of Rich, Creamy Flavor & Agriculture

I love this time of year. There’s a crispness in the air. People seem just a little bit lighter and joy-filled. We all seem to have traditions that we do every year. In my house, it’s the time spent laughing while decorating cookies or making personal gifts with the grand kids to give to family. We enjoy special kinds of foods like cranberries, pumpkins, and eggnog.

I only get to enjoy eggnog at Christmas time. It is a special treat that is sweet and reminds me of the holiday. My dad and I would drink eggnog every Christmas. It was the store-bought kind…but still very special because it was shared with dad. Now it’s my turn to share it with my children and grandchildren. This year I decided to make it at home. I liked the idea of being able to make it and share it with themeggnog.

Eggnog is not a difficult beverage to make and the ingredients are easy to find in the grocery store. Just a few items that when blended together make a rich and creamy treat. It contains the same ingredients as ice cream. Maybe that’s why I like it so much!

Before I share the recipe, I will share a little agricultural close-up-of-brown-eggs-in-crate-597185291-593ad8085f9b58d58a2d0ef2information about the ingredients.

The main ingredient in eggnog is the eggs. Iowa is the number one egg producing state. Eggs are full of vitamins, and protein.

Sugar comes from two agricultural crops, sugar beets and sugar cane. Masugar-cane-and-sugar-beet1ny people associate sugar cane with Hawaii. It is a tropical crop because it grows best with lots of sun and water. It is harvested by chopping down the cane, but leaving the roots for the next crop of sugar cane. Sugar can also be made from sugar beets. Grown in soils of the upper Midwest, the sugar beet plant’s root is harvested to produce the sugar.

Salt: Not really an agriculture product, but it is a product that people use every day. The great source of salt is in our seas and oceans, but salt can also be mined from underground beds.

Milk: Milk or heavy cream provides a perfect source of calcium and vitamins. Iowa ranks 12th in the United States in production of milk. What’s the difference between milk and heavy cream? Both are made from cow’s milk, consisting of water milk and butterfat.  Cream has a much higher butterfat content. Remove butterfat and you have lower fat milk products like low-fat milk and skim milk.

Vanilla extract is made from the seed pod, or bean, of the flat leaved vanilla orchid. They are picked unripe, submerged into hot water and then laid out to dry. Vanilla extract is made by macerating the vanilla beans and mixing them with water and alcohol.

Nutmeg: Nutmeg is the seed of a dark leaved evergreen tree – myristica fragrans. It is cultivated for the two spices made from its fruit  – nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is made from the seed and mace is made from the dried shell of the seed. Nutmeg is a sweeter spice full of vitamins and essential oils.

Eggnog Recipe:

6 eggs

¾ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

4 cups whole milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup heavy whipping cream


In a heavy saucepan, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and salt. Gradually add 2 cups of milk and cook over low heat until thermometer reads 160 degrees – 170 degrees. (This will take 30+ minutes. – Do not let the mixture boil.)

Transfer to a bowl when temperature is reached.

Stir in vanilla, nutmeg and remaining milk. Place bowl in shallow ice water bath and stir until the mixture is cool. If the mixture separates, it can be processed in a blender until mixture is smooth. Refrigerate 3 or more hours.

To serve the eggnog: Beat the heavy cream until peaks form and gently whisk into cooled mixture. Sprinkle with extra nutmeg just to make it look festive. Enjoy!



What’s Cookin’: Fresh Cranberry Sauce


I often take advantage of shortcuts when cooking during the holidays.  I think a pumpkin pie made with canned pumpkin puree, is just as good if not better than starting with a whole fresh pumpkin.  Cranberry sauce, on the other hand, is worth the extra effort to start with fresh cranberries.  Cranberry sauce is simple to make, you can adjust the amount of sugar to your tartness to your family’s liking, and the flavor and texture far exceeds that of any canned sauce.  With just a few ingredients and 15 minutes, it is guaranteed to be a hit on your holiday table!

Before I share the recipe, here’s the agriculture story behind the ingredients.

cranberreis2CranberriesCranberries are one of only a few fruits in the grocery store that are native to North America. Native Americans used wild cranberries long before Europeans arrived and the first thanksgiving was celebrated. They ate them fresh, dried the fruit for longer storage, and made tea out of cranberry leaves. The also used the versatile fruit to cure meats, dye fabric, and treat wounds.

You probably think of water when you picture where cranberries grow. Cranberries naturally grow in bogs and wetlands, water-soaked areas that create a transition from dry land to open water.  But cranberries do not grow directly in water. Wild cranberries naturally grow right at the edge of the water, taking advantage of the rich and acidic soil there.

Cranberries grown for juice, dried fruit, and other processed foods are wet harvested. This technique takes advantage of the fruit’s natural ability to float.  Farmers flood the bogs with water and use machines to shake the berries loose form the plants.  The floating berries are then corralled together and loaded into trucks.  Fresh cranberries, like the ones used in this recipe, are dry harvested using a mechanical picker.

sugarSugar:  Sugar you buy for baking and other sweet treats can come from two agricultural crops,  sugar cane and sugar beets. Sugar beets are a root crop grown in the upper Midwest.  Sugar cane is a tall perennial grass grown in more tropical environments like Florida, Latin America, and South America.  Although the plants are very different, the process of turning juice from sugar beets and sugar cane into granulated sugar is very similar.  After the juice is extracted, it is purified, and the crystals form as the water is removed through several stages of evaporation.

lemonsLemon Juice:  Lemons are the fruit of a small evergreen tree, native to Asia. In the United States, California is the land of lemons, producing 92% of U.S. lemons!  Even though we think of lemon as summer fruit, winter and early spring is when lemons and other citrus fruits are harvested.

The juice of the lemon is about 5% to 6% citric acid, with a pH of around 2.2, giving this fruit its distinctive sour taste. Lemons are a great source of calcium, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium, minerals and antioxidants.

butterButter: Fresh whole milk from dairy farms is collected and brought to the creamery. The cream is separated from the milk and rapidly heated to a high temperature. Pasteurization removes any disease-causing bacteria and helps the butter stay fresh longer.  The cream is then churned by shaking or beating it vigorously until it thickens. The remaining liquid, appropriately called buttermilk, is removed. The clumps of butter are then washed and formed into sticks or blocks. Check out this video to see exactly how butter is made.

Fresh Cranberry Sauceingredients

12 ounces fresh cranberries

1 ¼ cup sugar

1 cup water

1 T butter

1 T lemon juice


20171122_100619Bring water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan.  Add cranberries and return to boil.  Reduce heat and bil gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and butter.  Pour into a bowl, cover, and cool completely at room temperature.  Refrigerate until serving.



What’s Cookin’? – Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Nothing says love quite like hot, fresh cookies straight out of the oven. There is something soothing about the combination of oatmeal and raisins. The hearty oats pair perfectly with the sweet, juicy raisins. This recipe is sure to delight the kid and the kid-at-heart. Here is the agricultural story behind this simple recipe.

oat-pile.pngOatmeal or rolled oats are one of those simple food products. Processing is minimal and they more or less just run the oat seed through large rollers to crush the seed flat. Oats used to be grown throughout Iowa as part of a regular crop rotation system. But as farmers in Iowa started growing more corn and soybeans, oats slowly fell out of the crop rotation cycle. Companies like the Quaker Oats company originally set up shop in Iowa because of the quick access to the base ingredients of their products. Now Quaker Oats (located in Cedar Rapids) sources raw ingredients from all over the Midwest.

sugar-beets.jpgIn any sweet treat, sugar plays a star role. Sugar that most people are familiar with has two primary sources – sugar cane or sugar beets. Sugar cane is grown in more tropical environments like Florida, Latin America, and South America. But in the upper Midwest, we grow sugar beets. Minnesota is the top sugar beet producing state. Sugar beets are much bigger than the beets bought in the store. They look like a large, misshapen potato. Once washed, the beets are thinly sliced. They are soaked in water releasing much of the natural sugar. The sugary water is then purified. Through several stages of evaporation, sugar crystals start to form as water is removed.

raisins.jpgRaisins provide a burst of flavor to these cookies. Raisins are dried grapes. Raisins are preserved and sweetened by the drying process. The grape industry is growing in Iowa. Most of the grapes in Iowa are going into the growing wine industry. This means that most of the raisins we eat are still grown in California vineyards. Raisins are made from seedless varieties of grapes and a vine will take up to three years before it produces fruit. The fruit are dried on the vines to minimize the energy needed to process them.

wheat2.jpgFlour helps give these cookies form and texture. Flour is wheat that has been finely milled. Some wheat is grown in Iowa, but much more wheat is grown in some of our near neighboring states like Kansas, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota. There are many different types of wheat flour that can be used for different purposes. Wheat used for bread may have a high gluten content so that the bread will be light and fluffy in texture. Different types of wheat can be mixed together to get different properties in the flour. For this recipe, a simple all-purpose flour will work.

IMG_0731.JPGAnd now, here is the recipe to make these delicious cookies.

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dark raisins


  1. Melt butter and stir in sugars until blended. Add vanilla and egg until combined. Set aside.
  2. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Mix into wet ingredients.
  3. Stir in oats, walnuts and raisins. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  4. Drop cookie dough onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. Place into a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven. Bake for 12-15 minutes.
  5. Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.