Iowa Made: The History Behind Five Iconic Iowa Foods

Photos by Sean Dengler, and courtesy of Cookie's Food Products Inc., Canva, and Anderson Erickson Dairy

By Sean Dengler

April 14, 2022

Iowa has made some excellent contributions to the world, from the first computer to sliced bread. 

To celebrate this, we are going to have a regular series of articles that highlight the achievement of Iowans and Iowa companies.

In this first article, we’re going to share the history of some notable Iowa food products!

Happy Joe’s Pizza 

Iowa Made: The History Behind Five Iconic Iowa Foods

Photo courtesy of Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Happy Joe’s Pizza opened in November 1972 in the Village of East Davenport. It was founded by Lawrence Joseph Whitty, also known as Happy Joe. Joe left another pizza place that did not allow him to experiment with innovative ideas, so Joe did what any great entrepreneurial-spirited American does and started his own business. He added ice cream to the menu after he realized customers went to the local Tastee-Freez after eating pizza. 

Joe set the pizza world on a new path with his next idea. According to Kristel Ersan, Joe’s daughter and Happy Joe’s vice president of marketing, this idea came when Max and Betty Brewer loved Happy Joe’s so much, they would regularly drive from Muscatine to the Quad Cities to eat there. Joe convinced them to open a franchise in Muscatine. After a taco place opened near their Happy Joe’s, the Brewers wanted to add tacos to the menu, but Joe did not want Happy Joe’s to become a taco place. Instead, he went to a Davenport grocery store and bought all the fixings for a taco and put it on the pizza.

While not perfect at first, he added the lettuce, tomatoes, and chips, and this novelty pizza became an instant success: The Taco Joe AKA Taco Pizza!

Iowa Made: The History Behind Five Iconic Iowa Foods

Photo courtesy of Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream

Happy Joe’s is expanding internationally. It recently closed a deal to put 25 Happy Joe’s locations in Egypt, Dubai, and Kuwait as well as other domestic locations. 

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Maytag Blue Cheese

Iowa Made: The History Behind Five Iconic Iowa Foods

Photo by Sean Dengler

Located in Newton, Maytag Dairy Farms has made Maytag Blue Cheese for nearly 80 years. In 1941, Frederick L Maytag II worked with Iowa State University microbiologists to re-create Roquefort cheese, the famous French bleu cheese, according to the dairy farms website.

 The cheese was originally made from the milk of the Maytag family’s herd of award-winning Holstein cattle. In present times, the milk comes from Holstein cattle from local Iowa dairy farms. 

The cheese is ripened in the hillside caves behind the cheese plant, using nature’s heat, humidity, and acidity while knowing the right “touch” of cheesemaking to produce the perfect cheese wheel. Through all this process comes out on the other end an award-winning artisanal cheese that is moist and creamy yet crumbly in texture that is slightly pungent with a lemony finish.

To give the distinctive green veining of Maytag Blue Cheese, Maytag’s cheesemakers add Penicillium Roqueforti spores. Every wheel is then hand-wrapped in a decorative foil. Maytag also offers white cheddar cheese, and Maytag Blue Cheese and/or Cheddar Cheese Spreads.

Iowa Made: The History Behind Five Iconic Iowa Foods

Photo courtesy of Maytag Dairy Farm

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Cookie’s Bar “B” “Q” sauces

Iowa Made: The History Behind Five Iconic Iowa Foods

Photo courtesy of Cookie’s Food Products Inc.

Starting in 1975 in the corner of the Wall Lake fire department garage, Cookies Food Products Inc. began pumping out 100 gallons of sauce per week in 1976. As told by company spokesperson JoDee Sharp, Cookies was founded by L.D. Cook, whose nickname was Cookie. It moved to its present location on the west edge of Wall Lake where more than 20,000 gallons of sauce is produced every week. 

Cookies has no shortage of BBQ sauces. Customers have a variety to choose from such as Original, Western Style, Tangy Mustard, Sweet Hickory, Sweet-N-Spicy, and Korean. These sauces come in increments ranging from a single-serve small-size packet to the five-gallon bucket for the big-time sauce lovers. Do you own a business? Cookies also ships 55-gallon drums and 300-gallon totes to companies.

In addition to its delicious BBQ sauces, Cookies also has Wing-N-Things Buffalo Wing Sauce, Taco Sauce and Dip, and mild and medium salsas. Also, Cookie’s also famous Flavor Enhancer All-Purpose Seasoning and Rub is a grilling must-have!

With all these products, Cookies ensure each uses high-quality ingredients. No extenders or fillers are used in its sauces, and all the sauces are gluten-free besides the Korean BBQ and Wing sauces. 

Cookies also has its own Rib Wagon which brings barbecue to the people and is used for fundraising purposes.

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Twin Bings

Iowa Made: The History Behind Five Iconic Iowa Foods

Photo by Sean Dengler

Sioux City-based Palmer Candy Co. started out in the wholesale fruit industry until it found its niche in 1923 when it began selling the Bing candy bar, according to 

Its candy business grew throughout the 20th century, but it did not take off until 1969 when the Bing candy bar grew. In fact, it doubled! The Twin Bing candy has a chocolate exterior mixed with coarser, chopped peanuts interior with a cherry inside, and it has made candy fans happy for more than 50 years. 

Twin Bings come in a variety of forms such as the Snack Size Bing, Pineapple Twin Bing, Patriotic King Bing, and the Christmas King Bing. Palmer also offers a wide selection of bark in addition to diverse chocolate and pretzel options. It also has brittle, toffee, and snack mixes. 

For those whose sweet tooths have worn out, Palmer sells merch and other products such as Twin Bing Coffee, Twin Bing Salt & Pepper Shakers, Twin Bing Cooler Bag, Twin Bing Pillow, Twin Bing Teddy Bear, and much more. 

Next year will be Palmer’s 150th year in business and it is one of the few remaining family-run candy companies in the country.

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AE Dips

Iowa Made: The History Behind Five Iconic Iowa Foods

Photo courtesy of Anderson Erickson Dairy

With a plethora of products, nothing says getting the party started like an Anderson Erickson dip. The Des Moines-based dairy company started in 1930. AE has gone on to produce great dips such as French Onion Sour Cream Dip, Party Sour Cream Dip, Mexican Style Sour Cream Dip, and more.

Using fresh cream that comes from milk delivered daily from Iowa family farms, it takes 18 hours for AE to make a dip and to give it that just-right tanginess and smooth texture. With 11 choices, anyone can find the right dip. 

According to Kim Peter, AE Dairy’s director of marketing and public relations, after being created sometime in the 1960s, these dips have been voted one of “the most missed products” by Iowans who have moved away. AE consistently receives “love letter” emails and messages from those who no longer live in its product area trying to find a way to satisfy their cravings.

A few fun facts about AE from its website:

  •  The amount of raw milk AE receives daily weighs more than 1,000 cows, and one cow produces 90 glasses of milk a day. 
  • AE  makes more than 200 dairy products including 46 flavor combinations of yogurt. 
  • AE was the first dairy to offer double safety-sealed packaging and the first to package frozen yogurt for sale in grocery stores. 
  • If you are in the Des Moines area, check out the 14-foot tall and 2,500-pound fiberglass cow named Annie and her 5’7 calf named Eric.


by Sean Dengler

Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. You can contribute to us here. Also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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