Friday, April 21, 2017

Save Room for Pie!

On a perfect spring day I drove through the rolling hills of Northeast Iowa to the rural home of the Pie Lady near Gladbrook.

The flowers and trees were popping with color.

The cows rested in green pastures.

In the middle of Paradise,  I found Laura Bru, aka the Pie Lady, mixing up an order of apple and raspberry pies.

Laura believes in finding the freshest ingredients.  Some of the key ingredients are right outside her back door.

The eggs for her pies, rolls, breads, muffin and cookies come from her beautiful backyard flock.

While Laura won't give away her secret pie crust recipe, she will share that in addition to the freshest eggs possible she uses real lard......

Some of which comes from her children's 4-H show pigs.  This is the second year for the pig project for Lilly, 11 and Jay, almost 10.  

Laura Bru, The Pie Lady

To supplement the lard from her own pigs, she purchases lard from local lockers. "Everything that comes out of my kitchen is baked fresh and from scratch and as fresh as it can be," Laura says.

The secret to her crust, Laura says, is the local lard.

 She's experimented with store bought lard, but she says it's full of preservatives.  "You know it's good (lard) if it goes bad.  If it goes bad, it's fresh!"

Fresh and locally sourced are the guiding philosophy for the Pie Lady. The fruit for most of her pies comes from local farms and apple orchards.  

Jay Bru, Photo: Pie Lady

The Pie Lady's top seller is strawberry-rhubarb, son Jay's favorite too.  

Lilly and Jay Bru, Photo: Pie Lady

Daughter, Lilly prefers the raspberry, and husband Ryan favors the coconut cream.

Laura is generous with tips on making pies. She showed me how to use a knife to get perfectly fluted edges.  The secret to her smooth pie crust?

Rolling the dough out on waxed paper.

This project is bigger than providing the best, freshest baked goods and ice cream (more on that in a minute) to her customers at the farmer's markets in Cedar Falls on College Hill on Thursdays and at Overman Park on Saturdays, it's a way to teach Lilly and Jay about business, people skills and incorporate them into the life and business of farming.

Photo: Pie Lady

"The biggest thing I wanted them to get out of it is the people skills. I want them to learn to talk with people and remember their manners."

Pie Lady's Jay and Lilly at work, Photo: Pie Lady
 Laura is a stickler about money management too, teaching the kids how to count back change, an art lost to most.

Photo: Pie Lady, market day

Lilly is following in her mother's footsteps in the pie making business.  Last year, her first in 4-H, she won the top award for her age category.  This year, she's got her sights set on making it to the state fair.

Photo: Pie Lady
In addition to pies, Pie Lady specializes in what she calls gourmet rolls.  She puts raspberry, apple butter or mixed berries in the rolls.  Jay and Lilly cross their fingers that the rolls don't all sell so they have some at home. "The kids are the quality assurance team.  They take their roles very seriously. They are my testers."

You'll find the Pie Lady at the farmers markets by listening for the sound of her motorized churner making home made ice cream which she sells to go with the pies, breads, rolls and cookies.

"It's not just a business. It's a way to raise a family," Laura says. The Pie Lady will also take custom orders and deliver for free within a 30-mile radius (including the Cedar Valley) of her farm.  Fruit pies sell for $11, pecan for $13 and cream pies for $15.  She bakes the day before market, or the day the order is due to get the freshest product to her customers.

You can reach Laura by calling 641.473.2429 or emailing her at It's the best tasting, freshest pie I've tasted in ages.

Know someone with a passion for growing or making the freshest, best local food?  Drop me a line at

Friday, April 14, 2017

Tour Middleton Plantation

Photo courtesy of Middleton Place
Put on your best bonnet as we're touring Middleton Place today. It's a historic plantation across the Ashley River from North Charleston, about 10 miles outside of Charleston.

Middleton Place consists of 65 acres of the oldest landscaped gardens in the United States.  They have one of the largest and centuries old collection of camellia's in the U.S.

The weather was so warm in February when we toured that both the camellias and azaleas were blooming.

Camellia in foreground, Azalea in background

The camellias come in a stunning array of colors from white

to pink

to red

John Williams first established the plantation in 1730 with it's stunning views of the Ashley River.  He situated the house to catch summer breezes. At his death, the plantation passed to his daughter Mary as part of her dowry.  She married Henry Middleton who eventually became one of the wealthiest South Carolina planters, owning 50,000 acres and 800 slaves.

The remaining south flanker (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The main house was completed in 1741 with two flankers built in 1755.  The main house and north flanker were destroyed by Union troops in 1865.

The Middleton family played a large part in U.S history.  Mary and Henry's son, Arthur, signed the Declaration of Independence. Later Arthur was imprisoned for several years by the British during the Revolution.  He was eventually freed.  The British signed the terms of surrender to leave the southern colonies at the Middleton Plantation in 1783.

Arthur's son, Henry, experimented with both plants an animals, importing water buffalo from Constantinople to use in the mucky rice paddies.  Henry entertained the French botanist Andre Michaux. He presented Henry with a house gift of Camellia's, the first in America.

Oldest Camellia
Three of the four Camellia's presented still grow in the gardens today.

Williams Middleton inherited the plantation from Henry.  Williams was one of the signers of the Ordinance of Secession, igniting the Civil War.

South Carolina's Century Live Oak

Middleton Plantation fell on hard times after the Civil War, the houses and gardens in ruins. A new roof on the south flanker kept the family in place until 1900 when the house passed to Williams daughter, Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth died in 1915, she passed the plantation on to her cousin, John Julius Pringle Smith, a great-great-grandson of the original Henry.

Smith and his wife, Heningham, labored for years to restore the house and gardens, using the house as their winter retreat.  In 1920, they opened the gardens for public tours.

In the 1970's, the house restored, the plantation was transferred to the Middleton Place Foundation, and is now run as a non-profit.

In addition to the house and extensive gardens, visitors can tour the stable yards home to heritage breeds which would have been part of the plantation.  

Visitors can also see the many contributions of the slaves to the plantation, where they lived and how they worked.

Hope you enjoyed this tour of the Middleton Plantation.  If you missed the Brookgreen tour last week, you can find it here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Easter Eggs

Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever if of good repute, 

if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. Philippians: 4 v.8

During this holy week when we celebrate both Passover and Easter it's a wonderful time to remind ourselves of Henry James' four rules for life: 

  • Be kind
  • Be kind
  • Be kind
  • Be kind
Kindness as the poet Michael Blumenthal reminds us is "the best audition for a worthier world."

Each of us tends our own corner of the world and tames our own heart's wild and woolly impulses the wicked witches of our impulses eclipsed as the winds of spring and hope blow across our patch.

A housekeeping note, at the end of this post you'll find a recipe for tarragon deviled eggs. This recipe is my dear, sweet friend Kae's favorite deviled egg recipe which I made this week just for her. If you're in a hurry, scroll to the bottom of this post for the recipe.

My own patch of the world was blessed this week by a visit with Lindsay Kaiser from Kaiser Farm. Lyndsay spends her time cultivating tasty delicious and soon to be organically certified vegetables for 60 families who subscribe to her Consumer Supported Agriculture shares.

Lyndsay, her husband, Travis and son, (photo courtesy of
Lyndsay and Travis have been cultivating their own patch of earth; three acres on Travis' third-generation family dairy farm about eight miles north of Waverly for the past four years. 

(photo courtesy of
"We believe that it is essential to feed our community safe and nutritious fruits and vegetables. Our farm specializes in growing heirloom and European varieties that should inspire new culinary adventures in all of the households we feed," Lyndsay says.

(photo courtesy of

What I wanted to talk with Lyndsay about this week is their chicken flock.

Since 2015, Kaiser Farms has been experimenting with adding chickens to their mix of produce available for purchase as an a la carte item for their CSA customers for $3 per dozen .

(photo courtesy of

The chickens are free range and also eat some the leftover produce. They produce beautiful eggs.

 (photo courtesy of

Egg comparison, the one on the left is a store-bought egg, the one on the right is a Kaiser Farm egg from what Lyndsay calls "our runaround chickens".

 (photo courtesy of
The chicken flock consists of Buff Orpington, Australorp and what Lyndsay calls "random breeds". The birds are both meat and laying hens.

How do brown eggs take Easter egg dyes? Beautifully is the answer.

 (photo courtesy of

The brown eggs when dipped create these luscious jewel toned eggs.

I'm off to dye my own eggs, but before you go, Lyndsay has a few slots left in her CSA.  If you'd like to sign up you can contact her through Kaiser Farm's website sign-up, or by texting Lyndsay at (319) 325-0606. Or stop and say "hi" to Lyndsay at the Cedar Falls Farmer's Market, opening May 6th for the season on in Overman Park.

(photo courtesy of

New this year in the CSA boxes are two tomatoes; Pink Boar, a pink and green striped tomato and Jaune Flame, a yellow medium-sized tomato that reminds Lyndsay of every one's favorite sweet orange cherry tomato. 

(photo courtesy of
They also have two new green beans; E-Z Pick and Striped, as well as bringing back a German Butter Ball potato that Lyndsay says is "the best tasting potato ever."

As promised here is Kae's favorite tarragon deviled egg recipe, courtesy of Epicurious.

    • 6 hard-boiled eggs
    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
    • 2 tablespoons minced celery
    • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
    • 1 tablespoon minced drained capers
    • 2 teaspoons minced shallot
    • Sliced celery

      1. Shell eggs, then cut in half lengthwise. Transfer yolks to small bowl and mash with fork. Mix in oil, mayonnaise, and mustard. Stir in minced celery, tarragon, capers, and shallot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
      2. Spoon yolk mixture into whites. Garnish each with celery slice. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover loosely and refrigerate.)

    1. photo courtesy of
  2. Hoppy spring!

If you know a local producer or great cook I should interview, drop me a note at, I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Road Trip

The sun broke through after 16 or 17 days of gloom and rain and we're finally going to get above 50 degrees.  So let's saddle up and take a trip to Brookgreen Gardens just outside of Myrtle Beach near the quaint, South Carolina town of Murrells Inlet.

We visited these gardens in January during our stay in Winter Quarters.  Since returning home, I've finally gotten enough spring cleaning done that I'm turning my attention to organizing pictures from our time away.

The weather in North and South Carolina was especially warm during our trip in January and February.  Look at all  that was blooming on the late January day we visited the gardens!

Even the magnolias were blooming.  And who can ever get enough of the camellia's?

This was my second visit to Brookgreen Gardens.  We'd been through here five years ago.  Prince Charming declined to go with me on the first visit, the idea of visiting a sculpture garden left him cold.  I convinced him to give the gardens a shot on this trip, and was he glad he did.  Brookgreen has the largest collection of American sculptures in an outdoor garden in  the world with about 1,445 works situated on 551 acres.  The whole complex is over 9,000 acres.  Wear comfortable shoes as you'll do a lot of walking through beautifully manicured lawns.  

Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington purchase four plantations which included forests, swamps, rice plantations and beach front, intending this as their winter home.  But Anna quickly saw the potential to create the first sculpture garden in the U.S.  The gardens originally featured Anna and her sister, Harriet Randolph Hyatt Mayor.

If you've visited Riverside Park in New York City, you may be familiar with Anna Hyatt Huntington's work.

Joan of Arc Photo courtesy of New York Parks' website
The gardens provide a peaceful retreat from the hub-bub of Myrtle Beach, letting you walk through allies of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

The colors of the gardens are muted in January, but after months of brown  grass and gray skies of a Midwest winter, sunlight filtering softly through the trees is such a delight.

After a couple of hours of walking, drive into Murrells Inlet along Business 17.  We've eaten in several of the restaurants lining the salt marsh.  You can't pick a bad restaurant and the views are stunning.

Come back next week when our road trip takes us to Middleton Plantation just outside of Charleston for a tour of the worlds largest collection of camellia's at the height of bloom.