TDS 12 Dan Curtis: The Food of Fond Memories

Dan Curtis and his farm dog, c. 1948.

Dan Curtis and his farm dog, c. 1948.

In this episode of The Delicious Story, friend Dan Curtis takes us on a tour of daily life on his family’s farm near Lone Tree, Iowa during the 1940s. We glimpse the routines which comprised the never-ending requirements of labor, and savor the bounty of memorable meals shared together.

Given Dan’s ability to weave story, you may almost be able to taste the many side dishes and roasted meats served each Sunday and envision your fork full of crusty fruit pie (crust made from lard, of course) that arrives for dessert.

But more than food or memories, we garner insights into how to live life where mission is the driver and where connection with others is always key.

After Dan’s childhood days of rural Iowa life, he then went on to University of Iowa, joined the ROTC and built a career in the U.S. Army. Dan served in Korea, became a pilot and then served two tours in Vietnam. Ultimately, after years of service, Dan retired a Lt. Colonel and went on to have another career in business management.

Although Dan has seen the wars, endured the loss of family and friends and dealt with the challenges of life, he keeps to his sense of hope and the belief that purpose, people and the present are the mainstays to living fully.


It’s not just that Dan tells stories but how he nestles in the details that make his stories sing. He reveals an authentic pleasure in sharing memories of his past filled with the people and experiences he treasures. I think you’ll find his attitude is contagious!

I came to know Dan several years ago when we worked on his book of stories, “Home Again: A Soldier’s Journey.” In the book, he relates memories of his childhood and years of experience as a U.S. Army pilot into a legacy book for his family and friends.

Dan’s mission was never to sell books or seek glory. He wanted to give these stories to his personal circle and make sure that the experiences and people of the past were not forgotten. He also hoped to pass on the lessons he had learned along the way. And it was never that Dan can tell so many stories that impressed me, but how he ushers them forth with cinematic detail.

Once we completed the book, I figured its distribution would involve a couple hundred books and last a few months, tops. Two years later, Dan is still ordering books to fulfill requests, and well over 500 books have been printed and shared.  It turns out there are a lot of people who know and love Dan, and I number as one of them.


As with all guests to The Delicious Story, I asked Dan what meal conjures good memories as his go-to comfort food, and I figured he would mention one of the many dishes he remembers from childhood. Although he describes many foods of his childhood in detail, it was his days as a soldier that elicited his favorite dish.

Yes, I was surprised, too.

I did a bit of research into the colorful phrase behind the acronym SOS and was not surprised to learn it hailed from servicemen during WWII. It turns out this dried chipped beef and white sauce meal was made popular to feed the masses more than 100 years ago. The dried beef was a staple because of its shelf life, therefore a useful source of protein. The white sauce simply helped make the meat extend to feeding more people while maximizing the salty flavor of the meat.

I, too, remember SOS fondly as a kid and usually ate it at least once a week. If there was a package of Buddig meat in the fridge and a can of Pillsbury biscuits, we were going to have SOS, usually served with a side of applesauce. Yum!

As negative as the SOS moniker may sound, the cream sauce and dried beef,(or sausage) dish does stick to the ribs and is particularly tasty on a cold winter day—like the one when Dan visited with us for The Delicious Story. Although SOS may get a bad rap with some and seems too pedestrian to others, simply remind them that it is technically a dish featuring meat mixed in a bechamel sauce. The French connection may spruce it up.


In the smallest details there is delight. Dan finishes up with a couple of stories that I found to be magical, especially in the way he tells them.  One of Dan’s favorite stories involves homemade doughnuts. I can almost imagine how crunchy, sweet and warm these morsels must have been.


One cup of sugar; one cup of milk,

Two eggs beaten fine as silk.

Salt and nutmeg (lemon will do)

Of baking powder, teaspoons two.

Lightly stir the flour in.

Roll on pie board not too thin

Cut in diamonds, twists or rings,

Drop with care the doughy things;

Into fat that briskly swells;

Evenly the spongy cells.

Watch with care the time for turning

Fry them brown just short of burning.

Roll in sugar, serve when cool

Price a quarter for this rule.

(recipe compliments of Patricia Ann Deatsch, Lone Tree c. 1930s)


These days whether Dan is driving along the dirt roads around his home town of Lone Tree running errands for his nephews, checking in on the crops of fields he owns, attending to a VA activity or checking his annual crop of pumpkins Dan revels in the bounty of daily activity.  Dan is always on the move and always finding the gems in each day.


Sherry is the founder of Storied Gifts a personal publishing service of family and company histories. She and her team help clients curate and craft their stories into books. When not writing or interviewing, Sherry spends loads of time with her grandchildren and lives in Des Moines, Iowa.


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