I grew up on a cattle and pig ranch in Woodbury County.
We had meat at every lunch and dinner and sometimes for breakfast. I was in 4-H showing pigs at the Woodbury County Fair. At the end of the fair, the pigs were sent to slaughter.
My father kept mainly fodder cattle, meaning he bought them after they were taken from their mother on another farm and brought to ours. They wept for their mothers when they arrived.
I watched as the calves grew into cattle and were eventually sent to the slaughter. Although I felt sad seeing my 4-H pigs (which I loved) and the cattle going to slaughter, this was a way of life for us.
I didn’t really think about how my choices could be different until many years after I left home to go to college in Iowa City and where I stayed after I graduated. I knew from a young age that I loved animals, especially cats, and I was heartbroken when I saw animal suffering. I knew that farm animals have loving relationships with other animals, love their babies, have unique personalities and feel pain.
Yet I continued to eat meat.
As I became more involved in animal rescue, including volunteering at a special needs cat shelter, I began to understand that I could no longer love and nurture some animals while eating others. I became vegetarian.
I was aware that I was being hypocritical by continuing to eat dairy and eggs, as chickens and dairy cows are subject to the same cruelty as animals kept for meat consumption, but I was not ready to give them up. Finally, a few years after I gave up meat, I also stopped eating dairy and eggs.
The hardest thing about going vegan wasn’t giving up cheese, as is the case for many people; rather it was quitting baking as I knew it. I grew up baking with my mother. We had traditions that were important to me, such as baking rhubarb and chocolate zucchini cakes in the summer, cut-out cookies and peanut blossom cookies at Christmas, brownies to share at a potluck or take on family vacations, and prepare my grandmothers no-bake cookie recipe, which was a family favorite.
In my freshman year of 4-H, my mom and I spent the summer trying different chocolate chip cookie recipes trying to find the perfect one to take to the fair. Those cookies got me a blue ribbon.
These traditions are especially important to me since my mother died of cancer shortly after graduating from high school. I have her recipes, some of them handwritten, and baking these recipes makes me feel closer to her.
When I went vegan, I started looking for vegan recipes for some of my favorite baked goods, and the first recipe I looked for was one for chocolate chip cookies. I was so happy when the first one I tried was tasty.
I kept looking for good vegan baking recipes and was thrilled when I found the Nora Cooks website (https://www.noracooks.com/). She has become my favorite vegan blogger and I have prepared many of her recipes for cookies, cakes, bars and frosting.
I was also thrilled when I found Country Crock Plant Butter. It comes in sticks and is an easy and delicious substitute for butter in baking.
As I found more delicious vegan recipes, I realized I don’t have to give up my family’s baking traditions just because I’m vegan. I can still make cut-out cookies and peanut blossoms for Christmas, brownies, and unbaked cookies to share with friends and family.
I’ve continued these traditions with my own daughter, and we’ve created new ones, such as baking and decorating sugar cookies for Valentine’s Day and the 4th of July. I put on the icing and she does the sprinkles.
Vegan baking has become one of my passions. I love baking for family and friends, and it’s a way to relax after a stressful day. I’m so happy that vegan baking is not only fun and delicious, but also cruelty-free.
I’d rather look for vegan recipes than make my own, but I decided to veganize my mom’s rhubarb cake, and it turned out well. I prepare it with vegetable butter and an “egg” of flax.
I love to share this cake with family and friends. It brings back fond memories of baking with my mom, especially the sound of chopping rhubarb. I don’t have a yard full of rhubarb like we had when I was growing up, but this time of year and all summer long, rhubarb is available in most grocery stores and farmers’ markets.
This cake is very moist, like most cake recipes made with fruit. It was our favorite rhubarb treat growing up. It is a delicious offering for a picnic or potluck.
Rhubarb Cake by Nancy Holcomb
For the cake:
- ½ C vegan butter
- 1½ C sugar
- 1 flaxseed “egg” (1 tablespoon ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons water; let stand for a few minutes to thicken)
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 C plus 2 tbsp. flour
- 1 C sour milk (1 C plant-based milk mixed with 1 tablespoon vinegar)
- 3 C chopped rhubarb
- ⅓C brown sugar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Beat the vegan butter and sugar until well blended, using a stand or hand mixer. Add the linseed egg and mix until well combined. Add the dry ingredients and the soured milk alternately. Mix just until combined; do not mix too long. Stir in the rhubarb.
3. Pour into an oiled and floured 9×13″ pan. Mix the brown sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the cake. Bake for 35-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Chocolate No Bake Cookies
(Adapted from “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Baking” by Donna Diegel)
My most requested recipe are my no-bake cookies. Even though this isn’t my grandmother’s recipe, I think of her every time I make them. I still have her handwritten no-bake cookie recipe, which I will cherish forever, and I’m grateful she introduced me to the magic of these cookies. They are a delicious combination of chocolate, peanut butter, nuts and coconut that you will find hard to resist. Beware, you won’t be able to eat one, two or even three!
- 2 C sugar
- 4 tbsp. cocoa powder
- ½ C vegan butter or coconut oil (I use coconut oil)
- ½ C soy milk or other vegetable milk
- Pinch of salt
- ½ C smooth or coarse peanut butter
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 3 C oatmeal
- ½ C chopped walnuts
- ¾ C grated coconut
1. Line baking trays with baking paper. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, cocoa powder, butter or coconut oil, vegetable milk, and salt. Bring to a boil. Cook for 30 seconds; then remove the pan from the heat.
2. Using a large wooden spoon or spatula, add the peanut butter and vanilla; mix well. Add the oats, chopped walnuts and shredded coconut and stir well. Let the cookie mixture cool slightly.
3. Using a cookie scoop or spoon, place the warm cookie dough on prepared baking sheets. Press down lightly with your fingers to make a flat cookie. (I put them in the freezer to cool and stiffen, but it’s not necessary.)
These cookies can be stored in the freezer or at room temperature in airtight containers or Ziploc bags. I prefer to keep them in the freezer, because they are a bit crumbly at room temperature. When you’re ready to eat or share them, they’ll do just fine at room temperature. I often take these cookies to bake sales, potlucks and to treat my friends and colleagues.
Amy Holcomb lives in North Liberty and works as an assisted living counselor at Goodwill of the Heartland. She shares her home with her dog Fluffy and several cats. She volunteers for the Johnson County Humane Society, the Iowa Humane Alliance, and the Iowa Farm Sanctuary.
For questions or concerns about the Vegan Community of Eastern Iowa, email [email protected] or visit www.veganeasterniowa.org. Everyone is welcome to join the VCEI on Facebook and MeetUp