Step Back In Time With These Historic Iowa Recipes From Soup To Punch

When I met Robert Lucas, we didn’t have much in common.

I was 13 years old; he was 199 years old. He was the first territorial governor of Iowa, when I was in seventh grade studying Iowa history at Melvin Junior High School.

He had black eyes and thick bushy hair. While my eyes were blue, and I was still three years away from having my own “big hair” thanks to an unfortunate perm in my second year. The less we talk about it, the better.

Still, the history buff in me was drawn to Lucas. The same part of me that was once motivated to write a 20-page report on the American Revolution just for fun, was also intrigued by the governor who in 1839 fought and won the “Honey War” without outpouring of blood with Missouri over the disputed Iowa War. southern border.

It also awakened in me a deep respect for Lucas. I looked at the drawings of his home, Plum Grove, in my textbook and vowed to visit him one day. It’s a wish I made years ago after moving to Iowa City.

If you’ve ever made a similar promise, your chance to keep it is now. On Wednesday, the Johnson County Master Gardeners will host the 25th annual “Taste of the Heritage Garden” at the grounds of Plum Grove, 1030 Carroll St. in Iowa City. Wednesday’s event marks the return of this event, which was canceled due to COVID-19 issues in 2020 and 2021.

However, “Taste of the Heritage Garden” is not limited to Robert Lucas. It’s also a time to celebrate Iowa’s edible history.

The Plum Grove Heritage Garden traditionally focuses on growing varieties of heritage fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers. Heirloom plants are pieces of living history that were once common in the gardens of our ancestors, but have been pushed out of the market by hybrids that promise greater drought or pest resistance or higher yields.

Each year, the “Taste” event is a celebration of these age-old flavors with old-time recipes similar to those Robert and his wife Friendly Lucas might have enjoyed. This year’s menu includes a number of soups, salads, vegetables, breads and desserts, including purple plum soup, German potato salad and pickled Egyptian walking onions, to name a few. only a few.

If attendees like what they taste, they’ll have the chance to make their own favorites to take home. The master gardeners compile the recipes for each year in a booklet that will be on sale during the event.

But this year’s event has a little extra significance. Betty Kelly, the master gardener who started the gardens at Plum Grove, died earlier this year. Thus, the 25th annual edition of the taste of the heritage garden is also an opportunity to pay tribute to him, as well as his services.

Taste of the Heritage Garden is free and open to the public (even Missourians who might still be mad at the Honey Wars), but a $5 donation is suggested. All money raised will go to fund the gardens at Plum Grove, as well as 4-H Fair awards, horticulture scholarships and landscape grants to nonprofit organizations.

And if it rains (as it seems to do every few days this summer), the event will be moved to 4-H Fairgrounds.

Rhubarb Punch

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that Iowans — past and present — love rhubarb. That love is celebrated in this rhubarb punch recipe, a sweet and refreshing drink that should start the night off right.


  • 2 pounds rhubarb, stripped of leaves and cut into chunks
  • 1 liter of water
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ⅔ cup orange juice concentrate
  • ⅔ cup lemon juice
  • ⅔ cup pineapple juice
  • 2⅔ cup ice water
  • 1 liter ginger ale

Cook the rhubarb in a little water until tender. Add the sugar and 1 liter of water. Coldness. Add orange juice concentrate, lemon juice, pineapple juice and ice water. Stir well and chill. Just before serving, add the ginger ale.

Makes 1 gallon

German Baked Potato Salad

If you’ve never had German potato salad, you’re in for a treat. Unlike the American variety which is dominated by mayonnaise, this side dish is more of a sweet and sour taste. This is due to a mixture of sugar and apple cider vinegar in the dressing.

Another advantage of this dish is that, since it is cooked (and does not contain mayonnaise), it can be served at room temperature. This makes it perfect for a picnic.


  • 1 cup diced bacon (about 5 ounces)
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 3 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • ⅔ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1½ cups of water
  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons of celery seeds
  • 2 liters of potatoes, peeled and sliced

Boil potatoes in water until just tender. Do not overcook. You want the potatoes to stay together once you toss them into the salad. Drain the potatoes and set aside.

Fry bacon until crisp in a medium skillet. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. There should be about ¼ cup of bacon fat left in the pan (if there is none, add a little vegetable oil to the pan to make up for this). Add celery and onion and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add flour, salt and pepper and cook 2 minutes more. Add the sugar, cider vinegar and water all at once and, stirring with a whisk, bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Add the parsley, celery seeds and reserved bacon and mix. Remove from fire.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 x 2-inch pan with cooking spray. Add the potatoes and pour the vinaigrette over everything. Stir gently to evenly coat the potatoes, but be careful. You want the potatoes to stay together. Bake for 45 minutes.

Serve at room temperature. For 10-12 people.

Purple plum soup

What else do you need to know? It’s purple and it’s soup. Sounds like a great combination to me.

Seriously, I’ll be front row at the “Taste of the Heritage Garden” if for no other reason than to try this soup. There’s just something about cold, fruity soups that sounds wonderfully refreshing on a hot summer day.


  • 1 cup sour cream
  • One 1-pound 14-ounce can purple plums with juice, pits removed
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a blender or food processor, combine the sour cream and gradually add the plums, then the sugar, almond extract and cinnamon. Blend for 1 minute or until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a glass container and refrigerate. If the mixture separates, simply whisk it into the container.

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