After-Harvest and Christmas Traditions

By Julie Van Manen, CommonGround Iowa

After-Harvest Tasks Play an Important Role on the Farm.

It’s always a relief when we park the combine upon the completion of harvest for another year. However, it only marks the beginning of the other tasks we need to perform before the ground freezes and the white stuff begins to fly. 

We produce several hundred corn stalk bales to supply the cattle with bedding for the year, we apply anhydrous to the fields to prepare for next year’s crop, and we inject natural fertilizer from our hog buildings into the soil. In addition, we purchase seed and other inputs for next year after analyzing production records and completing preparations for our tax appointment. In other words, there’s a lot of number crunching! Furthermore, we attend classes to keep current on new production practices and to maintain the required certifications.

It’s a Time of Reflection and Holiday Lights.

This time of year also finds me reflecting on the year and years past. Upon returning home one night, I entered the house's quietness to see the Christmas tree’s glow in the living room. I took advantage of the quietness and reflected on the evening, days and years. There’s something special about sitting in silence with just the Christmas tree lights glowing. (Yes, I could have been folding that basket of laundry!) But just to sit and reflect — no computer, phone or TV.

Speaking of lights, our daughter Emily has been decorating the farm for Christmas for at least 10 years. It’s a hobby that brings joy to others. When she first started the lighting venture, her dad’s only stipulation was that everything had to be on timers, because he was not going out at midnight to unplug lights! 

Emily has fond memories of Grandpa Van Manen as her light-putting-up partner for several years. Now, her husband Braden has been trained in that role. People ask about our electric bill. Depending on the year, our electric bill varies because of the grain bin fans and the pig building, so it’s hard to say how much extra electricity the Christmas lights use. Over the years, Emily has also replaced old lights with LED lights. I believe that Christmas lights remind us of the real reason for Christmas. They symbolize that Jesus is the light of the world.

Making and Decorating Sugar Cookies Is a Favorite Family Tradition.

December involves many sweets at our house by the time we celebrate multiple birthdays and bake Christmas goodies. The sugar cookie recipe I am sharing is the one my mom has always used. We never did anything fancy with frosting. The first time I ever used an icing bag was when Jacob, my son, was in kindergarten at Sully Christian School and moms helped decorate cookies for a cookie walk. Twenty-six years later, little helpers have joined the crew, so we try to do some frosting at naptime. Each year, we add a few more cookies. 

Another favorite is candy cane cookies. My mom made them but didn’t have the patience to teach me, so I have fond memories as a nine-year-old going across the street to our neighbor Sue’s to learn the art of making candy cane cookies. 

I’m also sharing a favorite cheese ball recipe we enjoy as an alternative to sweets.

Finally, knowing that a pot of chili is simmering on the stove is comforting. Of course, the chili would not be possible if not for the ingredients starting right here on the farm. That’s what makes being outside on these cold winter days meaningful — knowing that we’re playing a part in producing the safest, most wholesome product in the world for our family and your family’s dinner table. The hamburger is from our cattle and the tomatoes were grown in our garden, which is a few feet away from our modern hog barns.   

Enjoy cookies and other seasonal goodies while taking some quiet time with the soft glow of the lights during this Christmas season.   


Cheese Ball
Recipe source: Jansen Family Cookbook

•  1 pound Velveeta cheese
•  1 stick butter
•  8 ounces cream cheese
•  Garlic salt (4 shakes)
•  ½ cup chopped pecans
Mix Velveeta, butter, cream cheese and garlic salt with your hands. Form mixture into a ball and roll it in chopped pecans.

This recipe can easily be divided into two cheese balls.


Candy Cane Cookies
Recipe source: Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book

•  1 cup butter
•  1 cup powdered sugar
•  1 egg
•  1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•  1 ½ teaspoon almond extract
•  ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
•  2 ½ cups flour
•  1 teaspoon salt
•  1 teaspoon red food coloring
•  ½ cup granulated sugar
•  ½ cup crushed peppermint candy
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Thoroughly mix butter, powdered sugar, egg and extracts. Mix flour and salt into butter mixture. Divide dough in half. Blend food coloring into one half. Form into balls and chill.

On a lightly floured surface, roll a 4-inch strip of each color. Place strips side by side and twist together like a rope, curving the top down to form a cane shape. Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 9 minutes. 

In the meantime, combine granulated sugar and peppermint candy. Set aside.

Transfer cookies to a cooling rack. While still warm, sprinkle cookies with sugar-candy mixture. (I like to place a piece of wax paper underneath to catch the extra.) Makes about 4 dozen.

Mary’s Sugar Cookies

Recipe source: Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book

For the cookies:
•  1 ½ cups powdered sugar
•  1 cup butter 
•  1 egg
•  1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•  ½ teaspoon almond extract
•  2 ½ cups flour
•  1 teaspoon baking soda
•  1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Cream powdered sugar and butter. Add egg and extracts; mix thoroughly. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until combined. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Divide dough in half and roll out on a lightly floured surface. Cut dough with cookie cutters and place on a baking sheet. Bake 7 to 8 minutes, depending on thickness.

Cool on wire racks.  

For the frosting:
•  1 stick butter (room temperature)
•  1 cup solid Crisco
•  1 bag powdered sugar
•  ½ cup hot water
•  1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•  1 teaspoon almond extract
•  1 teaspoon butter flavoring
Beat butter, Crisco, half the bag of powdered sugar and hot water. Add remaining powdered sugar and extracts, mix until combined.