Maybe you recall getting an orange in your stocking at Christmas time?  As a little girl, I recall getting oranges from Santa at the little country church that my mom grew up in and my grandparents still attended, but I confess to always thinking it a little odd.

Food historians trace the practice of offering fresh fruit gifts for major celebrations to ancient times. These perishable objects were expensive and reflected the giver’s wealth and status. Indeed, before the age of speedy transportation and reliable refrigeration, fresh citrus fruit was out of reach of the average person. As time progressed, fresh fruit out of season (including oranges in Northern Europe and/or North America) was possible, but still rare. This made these items perfect Christmas gifts.

orangesToday, when oranges are inexpensive and readily available throughout the year, this little history tidbit is overlooked. A child today who encounters an orange at the toe of his Christmas stocking is unlikely to appreciate the message unless someone takes
the time to share the history.

Consider giving your child an orange for the holidays this year and share the history of Christmas with him.  Or celebrate by enjoying this festive, orangey dish:

4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 (6 ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar for decoration

In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, confectioners’ sugar and pecans. Make a well in the center and pour in the orange juice concentrate, corn syrup and melted butter. Mix well by hand until dough forms. Roll into 1 inch balls and roll the balls in confectioners’ sugar. Store at room temperature in an airtight container. Put a sheet of waxed paper between layers to prevent sticking.

Most of the domestic orange supply is grown in Florida or California.  Are you making a family vacation to Disney this summer?  Schedule in a visit to an orange farm!  Your kids deserve to know where their food comes from.


The first fruitcake was placed on the tombs of loved ones, perhaps as nourishment for their afterlife.  But fruitcakes were not common until Roman times, when they were prized for their shelf life and often taken into battle with Roman soldiers.  Fruitcake remains a common gift for soldiers still today.

fruitcakeAs we progress in world history, every century seems to add an ingredient to what was once only pomegranates, pine nuts, and barely.  After cupfuls of sugar, candied fruits, nuts, and alcohol were added, the 18th century shows us a very dense, decadent cake that was a staple during English tea time.

Surprisingly, Johnny Carson is the one credited with giving fruitcake a bad name.  He said, “The worst gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”

14 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
8 ounces chopped sugar rolled dates
16 ounces pecan pieces
8 ounces candied cherries
8 ounces diced candied pineapple
2 (14  ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk

  1. Place coconut, dates, and pecan pieces in a very large (7 quart or larger) bowl. With your hands break up chunks of dates & coconut, and stir those 3 ingredients together.
  2. Add the cherries, pineapple, and sweetened condensed milk. Stir thoroughly. (I wear non-powdered surgical gloves, and stir it with my hands because the mixture is very stiff.).
  3. Let set at room temperature while you prepare the pans. Spray 2 – 9″x5″ loaf pans with Pam. Line the pans with waxed (or parchment) paper. (We cut parchment paper in 4 1/4″x 16 1/4″ strips for this. You want the paper to come up past the short sides of the pans after the mixture is packed into the pans.) Now spray the paper (after you’ve pressed it into the pans) with Pam.
  4. Stir the ingredients well again.Divide the ingredients equally between the 2 loaf pans.
  5. Pack VERY TIGHTLY and smoothly into the pans. (I wet my hands & press, pack down, & smooth top, using both hands. Wetting your hands keeps them from sticking to “batter”.).
  6. Place the pans on the middle rack of the oven and bake at 300 degrees F for 1 hour, or until lightly browned. (If the cakes have baked for an hour, or look a little brown around the edges, take them out of the oven & lift edges of paper a little to see if sides look brown enough. If they’re brown on sides, but not on top, you may broil the tops for a few minutes-watch carefully.).
  7. Remove cakes from oven and let cool for 10 minutes in the pans.
  8. Gently lift the edges of the paper a couple of times on each side – kind of a rocking motion. (Sometimes I have to run a sharp knife down the edges of the pan.) Turn pans upside down onto a paper-lined cookie sheet. Lift pans from the cakes. Remove paper from bottom of cakes IMMEDIATELY.
  9. Let cool completely. Place in a large container (don’t wrap yet) and refrigerate overnight.
  10. Turn cake upside down to slice. After slicing, wrap in waxed (or parchment) paper, then in heavy duty aluminum foil.
  11. May be refrigerated up to 3 months or frozen up to 1 year.

Traverse City, Michigan is a great place to visit if you’re interested in cherry production.  Pick your own, meet a farmer, and enjoy fresh cherries this summer!!


Culinary historians debate the originatino of eggnog, but most suspect that it is descendant from the early medieval British drink, posset, a hot, milk, ale-like drink.

Eggnog didn’t become a Christmas tradition until it arrived in America in the 1700s when American colonies were filled to the brim (pun intended) with farms – eggs – and rum which was to become an staple ingredient.

eggnogThe old stories say that George Washington even penned his  own famous heavy-on-the-alcohol eggnog recipe. Only one problem: he forgot to  record the exact number of eggs. Cooks in his era estimated a dozen would  do.

Try his version this year:

One quart cream
one quart milk
one dozen tablespoons sugar
one pint  brandy
1/2 pint rye whiskey
1/2 pint Jamaica rum
1/4 pint sherry

1. mix liquor
2. separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix  well.
3. add milk and cream, slowly beating.
4. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and  fold slowly into mixture.
5. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste  frequently.

And for a farm focus this Christmas, find a dairy in our state and mark your calendar for a tour this summer!  Treat your family to the gift of a family day trip AND knowing where their food comes from!   George Washington would definitely approve.


It’s Christmas time!  In what has become a yearly tradition, I’d like to share the things that Illinois Corn wants for Christmas!  Here we go …






This week, I’ve spelled out IL Corn’s priorities as they stand right now and asked Santa to fix them for us for Christmas.  The fact of the matter is, that he could probably fix them all, by bringing us this very last gift.

Santa, we’d love a functional U.S. and state government for Christmas.

For those of you outside Illinois, I’m sure the partisanship and the bickering in the federal government gets old and exhausting.  The budget issues are concerning with no solution in sight.  The leadership is lacking at times.

Here in Illinois, we deal with that at the state level too.

With a reasonable, functional, and able to compromise government at the state and federal level, we’d be able to talk through our need for locks and dams.  It’s a request that just makes sense, yet we can find minimal leadership to help us fix it.

We would have had a farm bill the first time.  Do you remember your shock when the farm bill failed on the House floor this year?

We would have E15 incentives because the legislation just makes sense.  Who doesn’t want to save money at the pump?  Who doesn’t at least want the CHOICE to save money at the pump?  Who doesn’t want more money in our state budget?

Santa, this request is short and sweet.  Could you give our legislators a change of heart?  Make our governments work efficiently and meaningfully towards solutions to our biggest problems?

In the end, that’s all we really want for Christmas.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


It’s Christmas time!  In what has become a yearly tradition, I’d like to share the things that Illinois Corn wants for Christmas!  Here we go …





Ethanol market opportunities are top of mind right now – farmers are faced with a threat that we might lose a significant portion of that market and if that comes true, the future for the market looks less certain.  Re-visit the number one item on our list for more information about that …

Understanding the blend wall is also imperative to this Christmas wish list item.  The blend wall is the point where we’ve blended 10 percent ethanol into every gallon of gasoline purchased and there’s no way to use more ethanol as the Renewable Fuel Standard dictates.  Breaking through the blend wall is one reason why selling higher blends of ethanol is so important for corn farmers.

One more background piece of information – farmers are growing more and more corn.  Without market opportunities that are increasing, we just continue to have more and more corn laying around with no way to use it all.  That decreases prices and keeps farmers relying on the government to make ends meet.  It’s not a good situation.

So, E15, a 15 percent blend of ethanol into gasoline, is one way to use more ethanol and allow the ethanol industry to keep growing.  And although I’ve focused all about the motivation and economics behind this push for the farmers and the ag industry, it also benefits non-farm Americans.

Ethanol is cheaper than gasoline so using more of a cheaper fuel will ultimately reduce fuel prices.  Ethanol is created here at home and eliminates more imported barrels of oil.  Ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline, so a higher blend of ethanol eliminates some additional yucky stuff going into the air.

Right now, Illinois Corn is working on a piece of legislation in the Illinois General Assembly that would move the incentive to sell E10 to selling E15.  Basically, we’d update the legislation so that retailers were provided incentives to sell E15 instead.  Because we’re already selling almost 100 percent E10, this make sense to keep us always moving forward to accomplishing our environmental and energy security goals.

We would also reduce the incentive a little, freeing up some money to remain in the Illinois treasury.  I don’t know if you pay much attention to Illinois politics, but we have a horrible credit rating and could really use additional money in the budget.  Farmers are trying to offer a way to be a part of that solution.

The bill hasn’t moved forward, but for Christmas, we’d love for the General Assembly to pass that legislation.  It’s a common-sense bill that benefits farmers and the ag economy that Illinois stands on, but also makes a LOT of sense for non-farm Illinois citizens.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


It’s Christmas time!  In what has become a yearly tradition, I’d like to share the things that Illinois Corn wants for Christmas!  Here we go …




We have fourteen years of working on upgrading locks and dams under our belt.  Fourteen years.  FOURTEEN YEARS.

Luckily, we’ve learned a few things.

  • Legislators don’t want to fund things that take more than 2 years to come to fruition.  They want to obtain funding for a project that will return results before they are back up for reelection.  This makes our project difficult.
  • Funding is hard to come by – especially with a gazillion dollar deficit.
  • Individual Congressmen told us that we needed to build coalitions and get more people involved.  We did that.  We now have a coalition of agriculture, trade unions, environmental interests, barge companies, and more involved in pushing for upgraded locks and dams.  It hasn’t gotten us anywhere so far, but we’ll continue pushing.
  • There’s a lot of waste and mismanagement.  The Olmsted Lock and Dam has been a work in progress since 1988 and still isn’t finished.  The original cost of $775 million ballooned to a current cost (for an unfinished lock!) of almost $3 billion.  This poor prioritization of funds and project is a problem.
  • Congress now tells us that public-private partnerships are the ticket so that’s what we’re proposing.  Farmers are willing to pay an additional barge fee to increase the private funding if government can allocate funding too.  But Congressmen aren’t willing to “increase taxes” in this political climate even though all the folks that pay the “tax” are willing and begging for its implementation.
  • Government dysfunction hinders us all … and lock and dam funding isn’t an exception.

We have had some recent successes, but the key here is to continue being patient because every gain is very small baby step in the right direction.  The Water Resources and Reform Development Act is right now in conference committee.  Both the House and Senate versions contained some changes to the funding mechanism for Olmstead which will free up money to start other lock and dam projects on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.   This is a win, but a small one.  The new WRRDA will not contain an increase in the barge fuel tax or any additional funding allocations.

For Christmas, Illinois corn farmers just want locks and dams that allow them to be competitive in a global marketplace.  They want locks and dams that work and don’t spontaneously combust into the river.

If I’ve inspired you at all, would you ask for the same?

Lindsay Mitchell

ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


It’s Christmas time!  In what has become a yearly tradition, I’d like to share the things that Illinois Corn wants for Christmas!  Here we go …



We are now entering the third year without an updated farm bill.

Strictly from a personal standpoint, I’d really like to get this thing negotiated and done.  We’ve been planning for this farm bill since we started our farm bill listening sessions way back in 2010.  That’s a long time.

For any of you that need a little history, the current farm bill was negotiated in 2008 and scheduled to expire on September 30, 2012.  We didn’t get anything new negotiated in the House and Senate in 2012 so they passed an extension making the farm bill “good” until September 30, 2013.

Guess what?  No farm bill passed by September 2013 either.  So now it’s December 2013, we have nothing passed, and we’re heading into 2014 without a farm bill.  The farm bill we’ve been planning for since 2010.  Holy cow … that’s some significant dysfunction … but we’ll save that for number five on my list.

Without beating a dead horse, I’ll just say that farm bills are important to farmers.  Farm bills let them know what sort of environment they are planting for.  Is the government going to pay them to not plant?  Hope not, but that’s nice to know before your crop goes in the ground.  Is the government going to offer crop insurance again in 2014?  Sure hope so, but again, great to know you have a risk management plan before your crop goes in the ground.  Is the government going to authorize less conservation program acres in 2014?  That would be nice to know before they leave that land fallow and get no return on investment for their families from that piece of ground …

Farmers deserve the certainty of knowing what to plan for.  And they are planning now.  Farmers are right now buying their seed for next year.  They are buying fertilizer and planning what crops to put on what acres.  But it’s hard to do that without knowing what the government is going to show up with.

Getting a farm bill under the tree sure would be nice this Christmas.  Finally.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


It’s Christmas time!  In what has become a yearly tradition, I’d like to share the things that Illinois Corn wants for Christmas!  Here we go …
On November 15, the U.S. EPA announced its proposed rule on the Renewable Fuel Standard.  The rule indicated that in 2014, America would not have to abide by the standard set forth in the RFS, but that the EPA would reduce the amount of corn-based ethanol petroleum retailers had to blend in 2014. 
The EPA reviews our corn stocks and our ability to produce corn-based ethanol annually.  They determine if farmers and ethanol producers can meet the standard set in the RFS and have, thus far never reduced the standard.  Let me repeat that … they have NEVER reduced the standard since its inception in 2007.
Now for a quick history.  You may remember that last year, many parts of America experienced an extreme drought.  Most of our farmers in Illinois had never lived through a drought as bad as the 2012 drought.  Yet, in 2013, the EPA determined that we had produced enough corn to fulfill the standard set forth in the RFS.  Illinois yields were around half of what we expected, but we still produced enough to meet the upgraded 14 billion gallon demand.
This year, the USDA forecasted record-setting yields.  In fact, farmers are predicted to have grown nearly 14 billion bushels of corn, up from only 10.8 billion bushels in 2012.  And this is the year that the EPA decided to set back the corn-based ethanol requirement?  What’s worse is that they didn’t even just leave it where it was at 14 billion gallons, they actually reduced it to 13 billion gallons when it was supposed to be increased to 14.4 billion gallons in 2014.
The end result?  Farmers have lost a significant market for their corn.  To make this more understandable, if you are a stay at home mom making candles to sell and Walmart picks up your candle line, you have a booming business.  When Walmart decides they no longer want to sell your candles, you’ve lost a lot of dough.  That’s what U.S. corn farm families will face now – a significant reduction in their market and no way to feed their families. 
Here’s what makes us mad.  The EPA is not issuing rules based on factual information – no market signal, production level, infrastructure system has indicated to them that corn farmers and ethanol producers cannot make and sell 14.4 billion gallons of ethanol in 2014.  No, they are acting on an agenda.  And I’m just not sure that having a government agency that acts purely on an agenda is what is in the best interests of the American people. 
Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


RELATED CURRENT EVENT: A new Water Resources and Reform Development Act is in conference committee right now where the House and Senate are trying to iron out their differences in the two bills passed in their chambers. The final bill will hopefully change the funding mechanism for Olmsted Lock and Dam repairs, which are significantly over time and budget, freeing up money to begin construction on a new locks and dams on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. For more information on Illinois’ desperate need for new locks and dams, click here!