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Getting a break from busy

By Staff | Dec 9, 2011

Helen Huitink displays her almond coffee cake. She and husband, Dave, operate Pumpkinland, north of Orange City.


Farm News staff writer

ORANGE?CITY – Christmas for most of us is the busiest time of year; but not for Helen Huitink, of this southeastern Sioux County commiunity.

Huitink and her husband, Dave Huitink, own and operate Pumpkinland, a fall attraction for many northwest Iowa families.

The holidays are the beginning or their down time, Huitink said. Last week they took in the Northwest Iowa Fruit and Vegetables Growers Symposium in Sioux City.

“We came to listen to speaker Tim Vala, of rural Omaha, talk about Vala’s Pumpkin Patch, a 212-acre operation, with nearly 55 acres of pumpkins.

“We like to hear about new marketing ideas and to learn about what is working for others,” Huitink said.

The Huitinks are grain farmers and live north of Orange City. Dave Huitink is also a seed dealer selling for DeKalb and Northrop King.

Not only are they harvesting their own crops in the fall, but they are operating Pumpkinland.

They began their pumpkin growing operation 22 years ago.

According to their website, the Huitinks started planting pumpkin plants when their three children were small. They planted the giant pumpkin varieties.

“In 1988, when our children, Sherry Kelly, and Darren were still in high school and middle school,” Huitink wrote on the website, “we harvested a few pumpkins out of our garden and set them on the edge of the garden with corn shocks.

“We had people stopping to ask if those pumpkins were for sale. Our children came up with the idea that the next year they would grow and sell pumpkins, and they sold about 70 off of our front step.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Huitinks have added several attractions as their operation grew in popularity and now offer not only pumpkins, but food vendors, pony rides, a petting zoo, puppet shows and a corn maze.

They recently built a small school house which they use to educate visitors about life on the farm.

The school can also be rented for parties.Pumpkinland opens the first weekend in September and closes at the end of October.

This year 7,000 people ventured into the corn maze.

It’s a good thing that the crops were out early, as the parking area needed to be expanded into Dave’s test plot area, Helen Huitink said.

Now that it is December, Huitink is planning to do some Christmas baking. Her recipes follow.

Almond coffee cake

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 teaspoons almond extract

Pinch of salt

Cream margarine and sugar together and add eggs.Then mix in flour, vanilla, extract and salt. It will be very thick.

Spread mixture in an 8-by-9- inch foil-lined cast iron pan.

Sprinkle with sugar and sliced almonds.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 350 degrees.

Immediately lift cake out of pan to cool.

Caramel corn

This is one of the best recipes for caramel corn I’ve ever had, Helen Huitink said.

3 cups brown sugar

3/4 cup light syrup

3/4 cup butter

3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon salt

Bring to a boil all above ingredients and cook 5 minutes. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons soda and pour over popped corn on two large cookie sheets. Stir well.

Put in 200-degree oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Break up immediately when done.

Peppermint ice cream dessert

During the Christmas season, this very simple frozen dessert has become a yearly tradition and is an absolute must have, Helen Huitink said.

Layer the following in a 9-by- 13-inch pan.

Layer 1: Mix 20 crushed Oreos with 1/2 cup butter and press into pan.Freeze.

Layer 2:Layer 1/2 gallon peppermint stick ice cream over Oreos. Freeze.

Layer 3:Spread 1 can fudge topping over ice cream layer. Freeze.

Layer 4:Cover topping with 1 8-ounce container of Cool Whip.

Layer 5:Sprinkle with Hershey’s chocolate curls.

Dinner in a pumpkin

4 individual pumpkins, about 2 pounds each (or 1 medium-sized pumpkin)

1 onion (chopped)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/2 to 2 pounds ground beef

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 to 1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced (or a 4-ounce can of sliced mushrooms)

110 3/4 ounce can cream of mushroom soup

1 1/2 cups cooked long grain and wild rice blend

1 8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, drained and cut into slivers

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the top off the pumpkins and remove seeds, leaving the flesh.

In a skillet, saute onions in the oil until tender.Add the ground beef and brown.

Mix in soy sauce, brown sugar to taste, mushrooms and soup.Simmer for 10 minutes, then add cooked rice and water chestnuts.

Divide the mixture among the pumpkins and spoon inside. Replace the tops.

Place the pumpkins on a baking sheet and bake for one hour, or until the flesh is tender.

Place the pumpkins on individual plates and serve.If using one pumpkin, place in the center of the table and have guests spoon filling and cooked pumpkin onto individual plates.

Serves four.

Chicken and water

chestnut casserole

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

1 8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts (cut into slivers)

1 10 3/4-ounce can cream of chicken soup

1 cup crushed cornflake crumbs

1 cup real mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)

In a large pot, boil the chicken until tender.Cut into cubes or small pieces.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken with the water chestnuts, soup, mayonnaise and 3/4 of the cornflakes.

Mix well and pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Sprinkle the remaining corn flakes on top of the mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serves 8.

Butternut squash bake

1/3 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 5-ounce can evaporated milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups mashed cooked butternut squash


1/2 cup crisp rice cereal

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons butter, melted

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.

Beat in eggs, milk and vanilla.Stir in squash (mixture will be thin).

Pour into a greased 11-by-7-by-2-inch baking dish. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until almost set.

Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over casserole.

Return to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until bubbly.Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Contact Robyn Kruger at rangerob@hickorytech.net.

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