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Day loves cooking for a crew

By Staff | Apr 1, 2011

Mary Beth Day removes a chicken and broccoli casserole from the oven.

GRIMES – Any day now, the phone from their real estate broker could ring and Mary Beth and Dale Day could get the call that would move them from the ground their family has owned since 1928.

The Days live on 40 acres in a booming area of the northwest Des Moines suburbs, where farmland and wide open spaces suddenly converge with huge warehouses, bustling office buildings, strip malls and acre upon acre of look-a-like homes.

After watching their farm home become an island among the development over the past few years, they decided in December to put their land up for sale.

“When we bought it, we knew someday it would be worth a million dollars. Now someday is here,” Mary Beth Day said. She recalled the day when a neighboring field, one formerly owned by family, first was graded with a convoy of Caterpillars and scrapers. “My husband pulled up and watched them for the longest time in his pickup,” she said.

Finally, a foreman walked out and asked what he needed. Dale explained that the land belonged to his family and he needed just to watch.

Mary Beth Day prepares to serve a strawberry angel food trifle. Day said she started cooking as an 8-year-old.

The encroaching development has forced them to rent land scattered among four counties to grow their corn and soybean crops, but the Days will continue as growers.

“We’re farmers. That’s all we know,” Mary Beth Day said.

Dale Day and his younger son, Calvin, handle the day-to-day farming duties, while Mary Beth handles the bookkeeping for the operation and eagerly serves however she’s needed.

The Days’ older son, Benjamin Day, is a video game artist for a defense contractor in Alabama. Calvin Day, who recently decided to join Dale on the farm after exploring other career paths, is the family’s sixth generation to farm in Iowa.

Mary Beth Day grew up on what she calls “a full-fledged farm” near Minburn – a century farm. The farm had cattle, hogs, fryer chickens, laying chickens, and corn and soybean fields.

Dale Day also grew up on a century farm.

Mary Beth Day said that cooking started for her as a necessity, but has since evolved into a passion. When Mary Beth was growing up, her mother worked in the barns doing chores and would leave a list of chores for her to do after school.

Typically, her mother started dinner and she finished it. “That’s a farm family. If I didn’t do it, we didn’t eat,” Day said. “I’ve been cooking since I was 8 years old.”

Now that her children have left the home, she enjoys planting and harvest times, so she can cook for a whole crew of workers.

“I really look forward to family parties or spring and fall so I can roll up my sleeves and make a big pot of something,” Day said. She makes a variety of dishes that are relatively easy to pack up, including fried chicken, jambalaya, spaghetti and a variety of casseroles.

“The hardest part of cooking is trying to decide what to cook,” Day said.

Eager to please, Day takes notes on the likes and dislikes of family members and workers alike when she brings out food to the field. “Everyone likes brownies, and nobody likes peas,” Day said.

Day said she doesn’t get tired of cooking because she’s always trying new things, and finds many of her new recipes online. “When my kids come home, the most terrifying phrase in the English language is ‘it’s a new recipe,'” she said. “Some of those have become favorites and some were requested that I not make it again.”

Day also is a Polk County Master Gardener and grows a bountiful crop of tomatoes each year, which she prefers to can, rather than eat on salads or sandwiches.

She makes 50 quarts of spaghetti sauce every summer, most of which she gives away to family and friends. Day offered three recipes, including her homemade spaghetti sauce

Homemade spaghetti sauce

1/2 bushel tomatoes or 8 quarts tomato juice

2 garlic bulbs, crushed

2 green peppers – chopped

4 to 5 onions – chopped

1 cup oil

4 12-ounce cans tomato paste

1/2 cup salt

1 tablespoon dried sweet basil

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar

6 to 8 large tomatoes, peeled, cut in large chunks and remove majority of seeds.

Cook tomatoes and juice. Saute onion, peppers and garlic in oil until tender. Add to juice. Add all remaining ingredients and bring to boil.

Adding extra tomatoes at this point makes the sauce richer. Pour into quarts. Process in hot water bath 20 minutes. Makes 10 quarts.

Chicken broccoli lasagna

1 12-ounce package lasagna noodles

2 cans cream of mushroom soup

3 cups heavy cream

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup butter

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 large onion, sliced

4 cloves garlic, sliced

5 mushrooms, diced

4 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 package broccoli

3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil and add lasagna noodles. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.

Combine soup, heavy cream, Parmesan cheese and butter. Simmer slowly until butter is completely melted. Mix well.

In a medium-sized skillet heat olive oil. Saute onion until lightly browned then add garlic and mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms are tender.

Drain excess oil. Combine shredded chicken with onion mixture and season with salt and pepper; mix well.

Spoon enough alfredo sauce in bottom of 9-by-13-inch baking dish to lightly coat. Place a layer of lasagna noodles, half of ricotta then 1/2 broccoli.

Spread half of chicken mixture over broccoli and sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese.

Place another layer of noodles, chicken mixture and rest of ricotta with a large amount of alfredo sauce leaving enough to coat top layer of noodles.

Spread with last layer of broccoli and remaining chicken. Cover chicken with 1 cup mozzarella. Then add last layer of lasagna noodles and cover with remaining alfredo sauce.

Bake for one hour or until brown and bubbling. Place remaining mozzarella on top and bake until brown.

Serves 6-8

Heavenly cherry angel food trifle

5 cups angel food cake cubes (about 2 cakes)

1 cup powdered sugar

1 3-ounce package softened cream cheese

8 ounces frozen Cool Whip-divided

1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans

1 21-ounce can cherry pie filling

Place cubes in large bowl.

Combine powdered sugar and cream cheese. Beat until blended.

Reserve 2 tablespoons Cool Whip, fold rest of Cool Whip into cheese mixture.

Mix angel food cake cubes and cheese mixture. Place 1/2 cake mixture in pretty glass pedestal bowl with half of cherry pie filling, repeated with rest of cake mixture and pie filling.

Garnish with dollop of Cool Whip. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Use whatever fruit is in season. Fresh strawberries are terrific in this recipe.

Contact Dave DeValois at dwdevalois@yahoo.com.

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