Harriman-Nielsen Farm Preserves Danish Traditions

Guest Post by Darcy Maulsby

Rural Iowa is steeped in beloved Christmas traditions that reflect the legacy of the state’s pioneer settlers, including the Danes. Iowa’s Danish heritage comes to life throughout the year at the Harriman-Nielsen Historic Farm in Hampton.Doreen Petersen low res

            “Many Danish traditions revolve around food,” said Doreen Petersen, who volunteers with the Harriman-Nielsen Historic Farm, which welcomes visitors throughout the summer and fall. “Typical Danish holiday meals include red cabbage, apple cake and Æbleskivers.”

From approximately 2007 to 2010, Petersen and her fellow volunteers hosted a Sunday afternoon holiday celebration at the farm during the Christmas season. Guests could sample homemade Danish cookies, view the farm home’s Danish Christmas decorations (including handmade woven red and white hearts), and learn about Danish holiday traditions. “In Denmark, families would gather on Christmas Eve and walk around the Christmas tree while singing Christmas carols,” Petersen noted.

Swedish hearts.crop

While the museum no longer hosts a holiday open house, the Harriman-Nielsen farm home remains a time capsule of Danish history in Iowa. The story begins in 1881, when Dr. Oscar Harriman and his family acquired the property on the west edge of Hampton and made their home there. After Dr. Harriman’s death, Henry Skow, a local blacksmith of Danish heritage, brought the property and lived in the home with his wife and four daughters from 1908 to 1920.

Harriman Nielsen home low res

The final owners of the home, Chris and Anna Nielsen, emigrated from Denmark in 1905 and purchased the property in 1920. They operated the Whiteside Dairy for 25 years. During the 1920s, their daughters, Petrea and Nielsine, attended a Danish school in Minnesota, where they learned to read and write the Danish language so they could communicate with their relatives in Denmark.

Harriman Nielsen interior

The Nielsens left a variety of antiques, including Danish hand-painted dishes, that remain in the farm home. They also preserved more than 2,000 letters written to family and friends in Denmark. “Translations of those letters tell the story of Danish immigration to America and provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the Nielsen family in Hampton and life in Denmark for more than 100 years,” said Petersen, who noted the letters are preserved in the new book “The Nielsen Letters: Doorway to the Past” by Dr. James D. Iversen.

Nielsen dishes

Visitors can get a glimpse of this Franklin County heritage during the popular Fall Festival at the farm. This year’s event attracted more than 1,000 guests to the Harriman-Nielsen farm in 2015. No Fall Festival would be complete without Bean Soup, which is made from heirloom beans grown in the garden at the Harriman-Nielsen farm.

“We prepared seven roasters of Bean Soup this year,” said Petersen, who noted that people can enjoy the soup in the barn or take some home to eat later. “Volunteers also donated about 75 pies, and they were all gone by the end of the festival.”

If you’d like to enjoy a taste of Franklin County, make plans to attend the 2016 Fall Festival. In the meantime, create your own holiday memories with this recipe for Buttermilk Æbleskivers.

Buttermilk Æbleskivers


3 eggs, separated

2 c. flour

2 T. sugar

1 tsp. soda

1 tsp. baking powder


2 c. buttermilk


Beat egg yolks until light and lemon colored.

Add sugar, salt, and buttermilk; mix well.

Sift flour, soda, and baking powder; add to egg mixture.

Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into batter.

Place a small amount of shortening in each cup of the æbleskiver pan and fill 2/3 full with batter.

Cook over medium heat until bubbly; turn carefully with fork and finish baking on other side.

Turn each æbleskiver several times during baking to ensure thorough baking.

If desired, a very thin slice of raw apple can be pressed into batter in each cup before turning.

Serve with butter and syrup, jam, brown sugar, or sprinkle with powdered sugar.