It’s hard to say which seed sprouted first — the faith, the family, the farm. They are so intricately linked for the Herricks of rural Greenfield in Adair County. But the fruit that grows is for sharing — in the form of a blog called "The Gingham Apron."
Denise Herrick, her daughters Annie and Jenny, and daughters-in-law Shelby and Molly, offer an insider’s view of Iowa farm life and extended family that is quickly attracting followers. The blog is up to 500 hits a day. The Facebook page has nearly 350 likes. Move over "Pioneer Woman." These five plaid-gingham-apron-clad women have people tuning in for insight and inspiration — and recipes.
“It started when we decided to do a cookbook,” explains Denise. Helping Annie after the birth of her son two years ago, they were in the middle of menu planning when the urge struck to compile the recipes and stories of a multigenerational family. The other women quickly joined in.
The draft done, they set about publishing their work, but were told they needed an audience. So they decided to take on a blog to attract interest — and the site has become the new gem of the Iowa prairie.
“It’s the way we live,” says Annie. “It’s a reflection of how we all cook.” The recipes are all tested — some for generations, some by the family’s 10 grandchildren aged from just under 1 year to age 9. They’re not gourmet cooks, but they’re not homespun either. Cooking the long way makes little sense in today’s active lifestyle unless, of course, it’s a heritage recipe worthy of the extra attention.
“Our goal is to be authentic,” says Shelby. “This is who we really are and how we really live. This is an extended farm family in today’s world.”
There is no shortage of material. With five voices and five different perspectives, someone always has something to say. “But we don’t tell everything,” laughs Denise. Some things in toddler households are better left unsaid.
The blog highlights family gatherings, some of the most popular posts. “We get feedback on that,” says Annie. “People can’t believe we’re so close knit.” Generations often scatter these days. The Herricks show the entire family can enjoy hosting events for occasions large and small.
There are kid’s activities. “Our kids are part of things,” says Denise. “They’re in the middle of things. They grow and learn with us.” Annie homeschools, and the blog offers suggestions for educational materials and field trips.
There are other homemaking tips as well. “We believe in providing a comfortable home filled with peace and beauty,” says Denise.
There is a spiritual side, which Denise says they very much wanted to be part of the effort. For the Herricks, faith in God is an essential part of farm life.
“My husband, Stan, definitely has a sense of doing something important, something for others,” says Denise. So do sons, Bill and Joe, as they carry on the work of the farm. Annie’s husband, Shane Boyd, helps on weekends. “And we’re all too aware of how we are at the mercy of the weather and the markets. It would be pretty hard to do without faith,” adds Denise. There is also a built-in sense of gratitude — an appreciation for all that surrounds them and for what the earth provides.
Both the blog and the upcoming cookbook are built around the seasons on the farm.
“Everything we do revolves around what’s going on on the farm,” Denise explains. When 6-year-old Bennet’s birthday fell in the midst of the busy harvest, they moved the party to the field — tailgate style. “He still talks about it,” says Annie, “how he got to have his party next to the combine.”
Spring calving offers an education. The “corn-freezing factory” is quality family time.
“We’re all at the mercy of the work that is going on,” says Denise. The family raises corn, soybeans and alfalfa and manages a cow/calf operation, with some fields more than 20 miles from home. “We’re always on call.” A parts run these days may mean a trip to Atlantic, Creston or Des Moines, all nearly an hour away.
“It was an education for me,” says Molly, who did not grow up on a farm. “I knew nothing. The hard work ethic was an eye-opener.” She says she has learned to accept the unpredictability. “And the risk. How you put it all on the line.”
The family business offers perks. “We have really good beef,” says Denise. “We tend to take that for granted.” And Iowa’s fertile soil makes for prolific gardens, both the vegetable and flower variety.
Then there’s the beauty of the Iowa countryside — a favorite blog post topic.
It all comes together in a cyber spot where the audience can join in the experience of the farm, of the kitchen, of the family where sisters-in-law co-plan picnics and cousins play together in the barn.
“The blog hits on a need people today have for community,” says Annie.
Shelby sees it as a way to connect at a time when people have drifted away from visiting in each other’s homes. “People go out. They don’t just stop over. Entertaining is becoming a lost art.”
Maybe their house isn’t perfect. That’s OK. In one post, Shelby warns readers to ignore the fingerprints on the oven and focus on the muffins within (and the four-year-old watching them).
“There’s a difference between entertaining and hospitality,” adds Annie. “Hospitality is about building a personal relationship.”
"The Gingham Apron" is a hospitable place. It’s a slice of everyday life — farm fresh and served with a side of family love — and everybody’s welcome.
To follow their blog, visit www.theginghamapron.com.
Queck-Matzie is a freelance writer from Fontanelle.