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Al Christian ran the Swine Teaching Farm, now named the “Allen E. Christian Swine Teaching Farm,” at Iowa State University for more than 50 years. (Cristen Clark/Special to Agweek)

Friends of agriculture worth celebrating

Recently we had the privilege of hosting one of the great influences in my husband's life, Al Christian. Al ran the Swine Teaching Farm, now named the "Allen E. Christian Swine Teaching Farm," at Iowa State University for more than 50 years. He is a living legend in the pig world. I could spend an entire two-page spread telling you of Al's awards, but he wouldn't want that. I'd rather tell you how special he is to our family.

My first pig show as a youth was judged by Al, and though my pig wasn't much to look at, he turned my red-ribbon show experience into a blue-ribbon life experience with kind words and encouragement. Mike worked for Al while he was at Iowa State, and we've kept in touch with him over the years. My husband rarely asks for anything (besides bacon or cinnamon rolls), but when he mentioned his desire to invite Al out to the farm for dinner and a pig tour, I couldn't put the evening together fast enough.

The people of agriculture who have given of themselves to so many people and the industry are definitely worth celebrating in the biggest ways. Al is a fearless promoter of young people in agriculture, a brilliant hog man with a giant heart and a hearty, genuine laugh and one who is deeply loved and admired by those who surround him. For special people, I make special food.

We worked on making dinner the entire day by smoking ribs and a pork shoulder. I baked a cake, made cornbread and cut up fruit. I also made my husband's favorite salad of quickly pickled cucumbers and onions. Let us not forget the strawberry preserves either — they were the star of the dinner spread — simple and sweet, much like our dinner guest.

The best part of the night was watching my son, who makes strange with new people, really enjoy Al. They even joked around a bit. With the back of his sticky little-kid hand, my son slid a piece of watermelon across the cornbread-crumb-laced counter to Al and mocked him until he picked it up and put it in his mouth.

Good friends and good recipes can be hard to come by so take the time to celebrate those who mean the most to you. Simple friendships and simple recipes are the best. Strawberries, sugar and lemon juice are all it takes to create the most delightful accompaniment to cornbread, toast and biscuits, and these preserves are also sensational when ladled over homemade ice cream.

Preserves are much like jam, but the pieces of fruit are left much larger, sometimes whole, depending on size. Jam is stabilized with added pectin, but preserves are not. Take advantage of all of the bulk packages of strawberries at the grocery store in the coming weeks and make preserves that you can enjoy all year long.

Simple Strawberry Preserves

Servings: 8 large quilted jelly jars

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30-40 minutes


6 pounds strawberries, hulled (sliced in half if large)

3 cups granulated sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice


Combine ingredients in a large stock pot, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer (stirring occasionally) until preserves fall off of the spoon somewhat thickly in a sheet (meaning they don't drip). Spoon the mixture into jars, add lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, remove, let cool.