Farm Life Journal - April 2018

By Darcy Maulsby

Greetings from snowy Calhoun County!

Yes, we still have snow on the ground. Just when the snow and ice from a March 24 wintry blast had melted, here we go again — another 2 to 3 inches blanketed our area on April 3. Seems like Old Man Winter isn’t done with us yet, even though it’s getting close to planting time. As some of my farmer friends say, “Plant in the snow, it will grow.”

The good news, or so I thought, was that the snow was sticking to the north side of the trees, as I’ve always heard this meant it was the last snow of the season. I posted a picture on social media of an ash tree in our yard with snow sticking to the north side, and it triggered quite a discussion. Apparently, this weather folklore might be a little off, because I received many comments from friends that it means there’s one more snow left if the snow sticks to the north side of a tree. All I know for sure is that everyone is ready for spring.

Soybeans, Tariffs and China — Oh My!

I also know that a lot of farmers, my family included, are concerned about the tariff wars that are escalating between the U.S. and China. We plant half of our acres to soybeans each year, and many of these soybeans end up in places far from Calhoun County.

China is the top international destination for U.S. soybeans. Did you know one in three rows of Iowa corn and soybeans are exported? Trade is important not only to Iowa farmers like me but also to you and Iowa’s economy. One in five Iowa jobs is reliant on trade, and nearly 10 percent of Iowa employment depends specifically on agricultural trade.That’s why I hope this trade war gets resolved soon. It has serious consequences for Iowa farmers and the Iowa economy, too.  You can learn more about the potential implications of tariffs in this article from the Iowa Soybean Association.

What’s Going on at the Farm?

While there’s not a lot I can do about international trade disputes, there are still plenty of other jobs to focus on as we gear up for planting, including:

  • Equipment maintenance. You don’t just pull your equipment out of the shed when it’s time to go to the field. You focus on preventative maintenance long before then. The goal is to minimize breakdowns, which are one of the most frustrating parts of farming as they can cost so much time and money.
    • In late March my younger brother, Jason, drove our John Deere 8330 tractor to the John Deere dealership in Manson for a spring “checkup.” It’s 26 miles from our farm to Manson, which is in the northern part of Calhoun County. You can drive the tractor about 25 miles per hour down the road, so a trip that would take us a little over half an hour by car takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes by tractor.
    • When I was a kid, Lake City — just five miles from our farm — used to have two implement dealerships. We always did business with Snyder Implement, the local John Deere dealer. I loved looking at all the new equipment and the farm toys. I could almost always convince my dad to buy candy for me from the candy machine, too! Many implement dealerships didn’t survive the 1980s Farm Crisis. Some closed, while some were consolidated into other dealerships. Now we drive to Manson or Sac City (about 20 miles from our home) for our farm equipment needs.
  • Crop insurance. Just like you rely on insurance to protect your home and automobile, farmers rely on crop insurance to help protect our operations. The deadline to purchase federal crop insurance this year was March 15. Crop insurance is a key risk-management tool for our family and thousands of other farmers across the country.
  • Township meetings. March is also a time when I handle some of my annual duties as the elected Elm Grove Township clerk, including levying taxes to help pay for fire protection. The three Elm Grove Township trustees and I hold a public meeting so I can present the proposed budget before I submit the final budget by the mid-March deadline to the Calhoun County Auditor’s office. Elm Grove Township is served by volunteer fire departments in Lake City and Lytton. The Lake City Fire Department recently ordered a new fire truck, and Elm Grove Township will help pay for more than $30,000 of the cost. We’re grateful to have dedicated volunteers who provide fire protection for our homes and farms.

Traveling Down the Danube

It’s not all work and no play here. Before the spring planting rush shifts into full force, my husband, J., and I had the chance to enjoy a Danube River cruise for a week in late March. The cruise took us through Bavaria in southern Germany, Austria and Hungary.

We traveled with other farmers and enjoyed sampling central Europe’s excellent food while learning about the region’s agriculture and cultural heritage. Some highlights included our visit to the Austrian church where “The Sound of Music” wedding scene was filmed; the famous Central Market in Budapest; and the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, which created the original sachertorte, a rich, chocolate layer cake with apricot filling and chocolate ganache. Sachertorte is to Austria what apple pie is to America — an edible national treasure. Try the recipe below for a taste of Vienna.

I look forward to visiting with you again in a few weeks, my friends.



Sachertorte (Chocolate Apricot Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache)

Rich sachertorte is the ultimate special-occasion dessert in Austria. While the original, served at the high-end Hotel Sacher, is a closely guarded secret, recipes abound online, like this one from Hilary Merzbacher, a former New York City food editor who now lives in Austria.

  • 10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (about 65-70% cacao) divided
  • 11 tablespoons unsalted butter divided and softened
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 8 large eggs at room temperature and separated
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour well sifted
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup apricot jam
  • 2 tablespoons aged rum
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream plus more whipped cream for serving
  • 1 tablespoon honey


Coarsely chop half of the chocolate; melt the chocolate using the microwave or a double-boiler. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper; butter and flour the pan. and Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat oven to 325 degrees F. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using a paddle attachment, beat together 10 tablespoons (5 ounces) of the butter, all the confectioners sugar, vanilla and a pinch of salt on medium speed until mixture is creamy and well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one by one, and beat the mixture on medium-high speed until batter is pale yellow and very light in texture, about 2 minutes more. Reduce mixer speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate. Add the flour, and blend on low speed until just combined. The batter should be thick.

In a second bowl using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites on low until a lot of small bubbles appear, about 1 minute. Increase mixer speed to medium, and add the sugar, tablespoon by tablespoon until glossy, soft peaks form, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Using a spatula, gently stir about one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate base to lighten the batter. When the first addition is combined, carefully add the rest of the whites. Fold gently until no streaks of white remain.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs and the top is set, about 50 to 55 minutes. Remove pan from oven, run a knife around the inside edge to separate the cake from the pan. Set aside to cool completely. Note: the cake center will sink.

When the cake is cool, make the apricot glaze. Combine the apricot preserves and rum in a small saucepan and heat, stirring until mixture is thinner in consistency and hot, about 2 to 3 minutes. Strain glaze through a sieve, using a spatula to push on the solids. Let cool slightly.

Remove the sides from the springform cake pan. Invert the cake and place back on the springform base, so that the parchment paper is facing up (this is now the top of the cake).

Discard the paper, and cut the cake into two equal, horizontal layers. Spread about half of the apricot glaze between the two layers, replace the top, then brush remaining glaze on the top and sides of the cake. Place the cake on a wire rack set over a baking sheet.

For the ganache, place the remaining 5 ounces of chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, mix together the cream, honey, butter and salt over medium heat until just simmering and combined. Pour the cream mixture over chocolate and allow to stand, about 2 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, gently stir together the chocolate mixture until glossy and smooth.  Allow mixture to cool until no longer warm to the touch, stirring often, about 20 minutes.

Working quickly, pour the ganache over the glazed cake, allowing the chocolate to run over the edges. If necessary, use a small offset spatula to cover any bare spots. Transfer the cake to the refrigerator to allow glaze to set, about 30 minutes. Serve with whipped cream.