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Iowa’s Storyteller focuses on history, food and farming

By Kriss Nelson - Farm News editor | Dec 9, 2020

There’s a saying that people forget; books don’t. This resonates with author Darcy Dougherty Maulsby, of rural Lake City.

“In my 20-plus career as an ag journalist, I’ve come across many remarkable stories that need to be protected in a format that will endure,” said Maulsby, “Iowa’s Storyteller” who has published five illustrated, non-fiction books of Iowa history. “A printed book is a survivor. It preserves stories and photos in a way that a webpage or social media post likely will never be able to safeguard.”

All of Maulsby’s books focus on true stories well told to capture the interest of readers of all ages. Her first book, “Calhoun County”, published in 2015 by Arcadia Publishing, encourages readers to view the history of small-town, rural Iowa through the eyes of those who lived it.

“This book helps people discover the region’s pioneer heritage, the birth of the railroad and prairie towns, and the growth of some of most productive farms in the world,” Maulsby said.

Maulsby has also written “Dallas County”, which is filled with stories and more than 200 photos, in the same format as “Calhoun County”.

“No Iowa county has influenced American history more than Dallas County,” said Maulsby, who lived near Granger and Woodward from 2001 to 2006. “It propelled Harry Truman to an unlikely victory in the 1948 presidential campaign, following a fiery speech he delivered to 100,000 farmers on a sweltering September day at the National Plowing Match near Dexter.”

Just 15 years earlier, a shoot-out near Dexfield Park marked the beginning of the end for infamous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde and the notorious Barrow Gang. Dallas County has also produced several outstanding athletes, including Major League Baseball pitcher Bob Feller of Van Meter, and Nile Kinnick of Adel, the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner and University of Iowa football legend.

One of Maulsby’s best-selling books is “A Culinary History of Iowa”, a combination story book/cookbook with recipes and vintage photos.

“Iowa’s delectable cuisine is quintessentially Midwestern, grounded in its rich farming heritage and spiced with diverse ethnic influences,” said Maulsby, who has been featured on the Iowa PBS show “Iowa Ingredient.”

The 192-page book delves into Iowa classics from breaded pork tenderloins to Maid-Rites to the culinary phenomenon of cinnamon rolls served with chili.

“A lot of non-Iowans have never heard of serving cinnamon rolls with chili,” Maulsby said. “A friend of mine from Minnesota said, ‘That makes no sense. That’s like eating birthday cake and scrambled eggs together.’ I assured her it’s still a school-lunch favorite in many places across Iowa.”

Maulsby’s love of Iowa food and the people who grow it led to her latest two books, both of which were published in 2020. The 224-page “Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food” explores how Iowa’s agricultural history influences countless aspects of modern life.

“To truly understand Iowa, you have to understand the culture of agriculture –the stories of the people of the land,” Maulsby said. “These are the greatest stories never told, especially as more generations of families are further removed from living or working on Iowa farms.”

From the birth of the modern tractor to the Iowa State Fair to the 1980s farm crisis and beyond, Maulsby traces how agriculture continues to shape not only Iowa’s farms, but its small towns and cities.

“Anyone who eats will find value in this book,” said Maulsby, who recipes in this book, as well.

Her latest book, “Classic Restaurants of Des Moines,” shares Iowa stories and recipes from Iowa’s capital city. With Italian steakhouses, the Younkers Tea Room and Stella’s Blue Sky Diner, Des Moines’s culinary history is tantalizingly diverse. It’s also filled with colorful characters, from bootlegger/“millionaire bus boy” Babe Bisignano who ran Babe’s restaurant, to future president of the United States Ronald Reagan.

“The savory details shared in this book reveal deeper stories of race relations, women’s rights, Iowa caucus politics, the arts, immigration and assimilation,” Maulsby said. “Don’t be surprised if you experience sudden cravings for cheese frenchees from King’s Food Host, or chocolate ambrosia pie, a’ la Bishop’s Buffet.”

Maulsby is looking forward to the March 2021 publication of her next Iowa history book, Madison County, which details the famous covered bridges, John Wayne and more. She is also finishing her non-fiction book “Iowa’s Lost History on the Titanic,” which tells the stories of people with ties to Iowa and the doomed ocean liner.

Signed copies of Maulsby’s books are available through her online store at www.darcymaulsby.com.

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