What’s Cookin’: Chocolate Pudding

pudding - small

One of my favorite comfort foods is chocolate pudding.  Not the kind from a box, but the rich and creamy home-made goodness that can only be made by starting from scratch.  If I’m going to indulge in chocolate pudding, I want the good stuff!

While there are many great recipes for chocolate pudding, my favorite is a simple one that even my 8-year-old son can make without help!  Before I share the recipe, here’s the agricultural story behind it’s simple ingredients.

cocoa beansCocoa Powder is made from beans of the cacao tree grown in tropical climates. After harvesting the beans are fermented, dried, and roasted.  The beans are then ground into a paste to separate the cocoa solids from the fat, or cocoa butter. Once the butter is removed the cocoa solids are ground into a fine powder.  The bitter powder can be packaged and sold for as unsweetened coca powder for baking cooking, or mixed with cocoa butter, milk and sugar to create the chocolate bars and chips.

Sugar for home cooking and baking can come from two agricultural crops, sugar cane and sugar beets. Sugar beets are a root crop grown in the upper Midwest.  Sugar cane is a tall perennial grass grown in more tropical environments like Florida, Latin America, and South America.  Although the plants are very different, the process of turning juice from sugar beets and sugar cane into granulated sugar is very similar.  After the juice is extracted, it is purified, and the crystals form as the water is removed through several stages of evaporation.

cornCorn Starch is a fine white powder made from the starchy center, or endosperm, of corn kernels.  In the kitchen, corn starch is used as a thickening agent for sauce, gravy, pudding, and more. Corn starch is comprised of long chains of starch molecules that will unravel and swell when heated in a liquid. This swelling causes the liquid to thicken.

Milk: Long gone are the days that cows are milked by hand. Today’s dairy farms are high-tech and efficient, using mechanical milking parlors and even robots to improve the efficiency of the milking process. Once milk is collected from the cow it is quickly cooled and trucked to a processing plant where it is homogenized and pasteurized before bottling. Once bottled it is sent off to grocery stores or other consumer outlets. The whole process takes less than 48 hours and the milk is never touched by human hands.

vanilla beansVanilla extract is made from the seed pod, or bean, of the flat leaved vanilla orchid.  They are picked unripe, submerged into hot water and then laid out to dry.  Vanilla extract is made by macerating the vanilla beans and mixing them with water and alcohol.

Butter: Fresh whole milk from dairy farms is collected and brought to the creamery. The cream is separated from the milk and rapidly heated to a high temperature. Pasteurization removes any disease-causing bacteria and helps the butter stay fresh longer.  The cream is then churned by shaking or beating it vigorously until it thickens. The remaining liquid, appropriately called buttermilk, is removed. The clumps of butter are then washed and formed into sticks or blocks. Check out this video to see exactly how butter is made.

Chocolate Pudding
½ cups white sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup corn starch
2¾ cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoons vanilla

Mix the sugar, cocoa powder, corn starch and salt together in a saucepan.

Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer. Continue to whisk and cook until it is thick. It will not take long after it comes to a boil.

Take it off the burner and mix in the vanilla and butter. Pour into a bowl or serving dishes to cool.



Why do they do that? Floor Slats in Pig Barns

Earlier this fall, I was attending a STEM Festival, where we were presenting our Feed Sacks Pork Lesson. In this activity, students make a snack mix based on the feed rations a pig gets. As part of our set up, we had some photos on the table of modern pig barns, and some real pig feed samples.

At this event, one family came to our booth very curious about what they were seeing. They told me that they had recently moved to Iowa from Alabama, and were not familiar yet with Iowa agriculture.


Upon seeing one of the pictures, the mom asked why the floors looked the way they did. Since many people don’t get the opportunity to see inside the pig barns they notice from the road, I thought this was a great question. Why do they make pig barn floors the way they do?

The flooring in pig barns is slatted, meaning there are long, narrow holes in the floor. This essentially creates a waste disposal system in the barn, making sure that the pigs don’t have to lay around in messes. This is also a much less labor intensive system than having to scoop or remove the waste regularly.

Slatted floors can look different. In the photo above, the floor is cement. Other flooring systems with the same concept could be plastic, or metal coated with rubber. Different producers or different barns might use different styles of flooring depending on cost, the size of their barn, and how safe the flooring will be for their pigs.


Source: http://www.prairieswine.com/about/6551-2/

But what happens to the waste that falls through the flooring? Does it just fall to the ground and stay there? Not quite! Underneath pig barns like these, there are manure pits. Other types of barns have systems where the manure is then moved to a pit outside of the barn instead of directly underneath it. All of these pits are monitored carefully for air quality to make sure there are no accidents that can harm either humans or the pigs. Sometimes the gas produced can be collected and made into biogas, which can generate energy for the farm!

So then what happens with the manure? About twice a year, these pits get pumped out into tanker trucks, and the manure is used as a fertilizer for farm fields. Manure can be tested for nutrients (along with the soil from the fields), and this can help make sure the farmer applies just the right amount of the manure to the field. Manure is most rich in nitrogen, but it is also rich in phosphorus, potassium, and other nutrients essential for plant growth.

In modern manure pits, the waste is stored as a slurry, meaning it’s mostly liquid. This makes it easy to move, and easy to apply to the field. Today, many farmers will inject the manure into the ground instead of applying it to the surface. This is beneficial for multiple reasons. First, this means that the manure is less susceptible to the elements and is less likely to be washed away into a nearby stream. Secondly, by injecting the manure into the soil, it also helps to stabilize the nitrogen in the manure for longer. If the nitrogen was applied to the surface, it would be more susceptible to volatilization, meaning it can transform easily into a chemical form of nitrogen that isn’t available to plants.


Source: https://www.striptillfarmer.com/articles/224-strip-tillers-putting-manure-in-its-place


This whole system of dealing with the messy side of livestock is called manure management. It can also include innovative and interesting ways to keep the smell under control, like using windbreaks and even creating air biofilters out of things like woodchips.

Though manure may be smelly, it plays a big role in Iowa agriculture. We grow crops to feed our livestock, and our livestock produce fertilizer for our crops. It’s an elegant system for an un-elegant topic, don’t you think?

What other agriculture questions have you had? Let us know in the comments, and you might see another “Why do they do that?” blog about your question!


Play dough – Not Just for Playtime

One of my favorite things about the holidays is the extended opportunity to spend time with family. During this holiday break, I decided to do a few hands-on projects with little ones. One of their favorite things to do is to make and play with play dough. I have always let my granddaughters help me make a home-made version of play dough. It’s fun, safe for youngsters, and they can play for quite a long time with cookie cutters and childproof utensils.

This version of play dough came with a little “agriculture” lesson. My granddaughters are Tessa, age 5 and Izzie, age 4. They are very curious about all sorts of things, so I decided while we made the play dough, we could learn not only how it is made, but also where the ingredients come from. Farmers help to make almost all of the ingredients in home-made play dough.

wheat1Flour: Most flour is made from wheat that has been finely ground into a powder. The 1.jpgprocess of making flour from the grain has been around since prehistoric times using a stone club and a stone bowl to grind the grain into a fine powder. Wheat is now grown in just about every state in the United States. The United States in ranks 3rd in the production of wheat and is the #1 wheat exporting country. The top wheat-producing states are Kansas, North Dakota and Montana.

Cream of Tartar: Cream of tartar is a byproduct of wine making. It is made from sediment left in the barrel after grape juice is fermented. This acidic salt acts as a stabilizer. For example, cream of tartar helps meringue retain its shape and texture on top of a pie after it is browned in a hot oven.

soybeans1Vegetable Oil: Most vegetable oils are made from soybeans. Iowa ranks number one in the production of soybeans. Extraction of oil happens when seeds are pressed, then the liquid is sent through a filtration system to sift out remaining seed residue.

OD-BA499_SALTS_OZ_20140108171619Salt: Salt is not an agriculture product. It is a mineral collected by evaporating salt water or mining rock salt.

Food Coloring; artificial and natural food dyes are added to food and beverages to make them more desirable to consumers. Artificial colors are made from petroleum. Natural colors are extracted from fruits, vegetable, and even insects.


  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 tablespoon cream of tartar
  • Food coloring
  • Saucepan
  • 1 cup flour


  1. Combine water, oil, salt, cream of tartar, and food coloring in a saucepan and heat until warm.
  2. Remove from heat and add flour.
  3. Stir, then knead until smooth. The cream of tartar makes this dough last 6 months or longer, so resist the temptation to omit this ingredient if you don’t have it on hand.
  4. Store this dough in an airtight container or a Ziploc freezer bag.

When it comes time to play, I get out the cookie cutters, plastic utensils, rolling pins,biscuit cutters and anything else they can use with their play dough. We have contests to see who can make the most different things with our “tools”. Eventually some of the green gets mixed with some of the red and the original pretty play dough looks a bit messy, but I can always be assured that we thoroughly enjoy make home-made play dough and playing with it! Take time this week and mix up a batch for the young ones in your home!

– Sheri

Sweet Treats

Iowa ranks #1 in the production of four major agricultural commodities: corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs. To celebrate this, state fair contestants are challenged to submit a recipe using one (or more) of these ingredients. Entries are judged by representatives from the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association and the Soyfoods Council, and the Iowa Egg Council. They are judged on taste, creativity, and presentation. Awards are presented in two divisions – sweet and savory.

Be sure to check out the winning savory recipes here. But for now let’s focus on the sweet stuff! These tasty recipes will be sure to delight event the harshest critics and will be sure to end the meal on high note.

The winning recipe – Iowa’s Big Four Sugar Cookies – was submitted by Julie Peterson of Knoxville, Iowa. Not only did she cut the cookies out into the shape of Iowa, but she also decorated them with candy pigs, eggs, soybeans, and corn!

Julie comes from a farm family that raise corn and beans and several hundred sheep. She and her husband have three sons all of whom have college degrees and farm with them. Their daughter is in her 3rd year at Iowa State University majoring in agricultural education. She loves agriculture and loves telling people about it and family farms. She loves to write and take photos, so she hopes to someday write a book on agriculture, along with becoming an agriculture teacher. She inspired the display of the cookies.

IMG_2793a.jpg1 cup soft butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup Crisco Oil
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla
5 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cream of tartar

Cream butter and sugar. Add next ingredients. Mix well. Roll out and cut out with state of Iowa shaped cookie cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 8 to 10 minutes. When cool, frost.

1 stick soft butter
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine all together and beat with mixer until desired spreading consistency. Garnish each of the Iowa shaped, frosted cookies with one of the following: corn candy, yellow jelly beans, pink gummie candy pigs, and egg gummie candy.

2nd and 3rd

The sugar cookies only barely edged out the runner-up and the second runner-up. Featuring corn syrup (made from field corn) and eggs, Old Fashioned Divinity is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. This recipe was submitted by Quinn Harbison from Ames, Iowa.

IMG_3776a.jpg3 cups sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup boiling water
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. almond extract
3 egg whites

Put sugar, corn syrup, and boiling water into saucepan. Boil until firm ball stage using a candy thermometer. Beat 3 egg whites until stiff peaks. Add sugar mixture and vanilla to eggs along the side of the bowl slowly, mix. Once mixture stands in place, put on buttered plate.

Or the chocolate lovers among us might enjoy the Flourless Dark Chocolate Espresso Cookies with Butterscotch Chips submitted by Aaron Barker from Des Moines, Iowa.

IMG_3775a.jpg2 ¼ cups powdered sugar
1 cup Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder
1 tsp. instant espresso powder
½ tsp. salt
2-3 egg whites
1 cup butterscotch chips

Whisk together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder and salt. Add two egg whites and whisk into the dry ingredients until completely incorporated. If you want an extremely thick, brownie-like batter consistency here. If you need more moisture, add another egg white. Fold in the butterscotch chips. Chill the batter for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper AND spray them with non-stick spray (this is important as it is difficult to get them off the paper). Scoop batter onto the cookie sheets using a spoon. Bake for 9-10 minutes until the edges are set. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before removing from the parchment. Yield: 30 cookies

Indulge with these tasty morsels!


Savory Award Winning Recipes

If you are like me, you are looking for a great recipe to try for this holiday season. And depending on how many people you have at your table, you might end up with a lot of leftover Christmas ham. Well, now you can turn those leftovers into delicious hamballs! This recipe screams Iowa because it features two of the major commodities raised in Iowa – pork and corn.

Last summer, Iowans were challenged to present their best recipes at the Iowa State Fair and the Iowa’s Big Four Cooking Contest. Iowa is #1 in the U.S. for raising corn and soybeans. Iowa also ranks #1 in producing pork and eggs. So these recipes needed to include one (or more) of those major commodities.

The contest was broken into two classes – sweet and savory. For each, a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place recipe was awarded a cash prize. Judges representing each of the commodity organizations helped decide the winners. Judges from the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association and Soy Foods Council, and the Iowa Egg Council judged the entries on taste, creativity and presentation.

The winning recipe from the savory category was Sweet Corn Hamballs with Sweet Corn Glaze submitted by Sharon Gates of Des Moines, Iowa. Judges were overheard saying, “I just couldn’t stop eating them!”

IMG_3785.JPGInto a mixing bowl combine:
¼ C. finely chopped onions
1 ear of sweet corn grilled and cut from cob (about ½ C.)
½ C. crushed unsalted soda crackers
½ C. graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp. ground mustard
2 eggs well beaten plus enough milk to make 1 ¼ C.

Mix well and let sit a few minutes. Add to the above mixture:
¾ lb. ground ham
¾ lb. ground pork
¾ lb. ground beef

Once the meat and cracker mixtures are thoroughly combined, form into about 1/3 C. balls. Place the balls into a baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Turn over and bake another 20 minutes.

While hamballs are baking, mix together:
1 8oz. can of creamed corn
1 C. unsweetened applesauce
1 C. brown sugar
¼ C. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. dry mustard

When the meatballs are browned, cover with glaze. Then bake another 45 minutes turning over half way through the process and spooning glaze from the pan over the hamballs.

2nd and 3rd

The runner-up and second runner-up recipes were not to be missed either! For breakfast, the Pretzel and Soybean Crusted Egg Bake featured soybeans, eggs, and two different types of pork (bacon and ham)! It was submitted by Emerson Hilbert of Urbandale, Iowa.

IMG_3780a.jpg½ cup pretzels
½ cup soybeans
4 eggs
¼ cup milk
3 strips bacon
2 slices of ham
3 tablespoons of butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Crush and combine pretzels and soybeans. Melt butter. Press pretzel and soybean mix into the bottom of a baking dish and pour the butter over the top. Bake for 3-5 minutes. Combine eggs and milk. Chop bacon and ham. Layer eggs, cheese, and meats. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25-25 minutes.

The Mexicali Corn Dip, as the name implies, featured corn. But you could also find soybeans in the vegetable oil that the mayonnaise was made from! This savory snack would be perfect for an appetizer or great for when all of those unexpected guests come knocking at your door this holiday season. The recipe was submitted by Gretta Acheson of West Des Moines, Iowa.

1 – 11oz. can of MexiCornIMG_3784a.jpg
1 cup of Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup of Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup of mayonnaise
1 – 4oz. can of mild, chopped green chilies, drained
1 small jar of chopped pimentos, drained
1 ½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Bake for 20-30 minutes. Serve with Frito Corn Chips.

Enjoy! And if you have a great recipe that features corn, soybeans, pork, eggs, or any of Iowa’s great commodities you can enter it at the Iowa State Fair in the Iowa’s Big Four Cooking Contest!


Why do they do that? – Liming Fields




In late fall and early winter, you might see farmers applying a fine white dust to their fields. So, what is it? And why do it?

That white dust is agricultural lime, sometimes called aglime. It is a soil conditioner made from crushed limestone. Once the lime dissolves, it releases a base that lowers the acidity of the soil. Farmers apply lime to increase yields. Homeowners and landscapers use it to improve the appearance of lawns that have acidic soils.

Making sure soil does not become too acidic is critical to good plant health. Soils that are too acidic can stunt root growth, limit nutrient availability, and reduce the effectiveness of fertilizer and herbicides. Most soils have a tendency to become more acidic over time for variety of reasons such as erosion, leaching, decomposition of organic matter, and fertilizer application.

Resized952017121895140443Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed mostly of calcium carbonate. It is mined and mechanically crushed into varying degrees of fineness depending on its intended use. Limestone’s versatility, durability, and affordability make it a useful for many construction, industrial, home-improvement, and agricultural applications. Coarsely crushed limestone can be used to rock driveways, support railroad tracks, and prevent erosion on slopes and shores. Lime used as a soil amendment is ground into a very fine power so it easily dissolves in the soil. Soil amendments are organic or inorganic materials added to change the physical or chemical properties of soil and improve plant health.


Lime is a good soil amendment for acidic soils because it contains a high amount of calcium, which works to neutralize the soil’s pH level. Soil pH indicates the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. It is measured on a 14 point scale. A pH of 7 is neutral. Values below 7.0 indicate acidic soil, and values above 7 indicate alkaline, or basic, soil.  A soil test is used to determine the pH of a soil. Farmers who practice precision agriculture often use grid sampling to determine where and how much lime to apply in specific parts of a field.


This field map displayed on a monitor in the tractor cab indicates where higher and lower amounts of lime should be applied.

Lime can be applied any time after the previous crop is harvested. Lime is not lost by leaching, so farmers can apply it whenever practical. Agronomists recommend putting down lime several months before planting, so the lime has enough time to neutralize acidity.

It is common for farmers to hire a contractor to apply lime using a large truck-mounted spreader. It can also be applied with a smaller spreader pulled with a tractor. Lime can be incorporated into the soil or spread on top and left to dissolve and leach into the soil by rain and snowfall.

Resized952017121895140456Iowa farmers do not lime fields every year. They only apply it when soil tests indicate the soil pH is too low. For corn and soybeans, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach recommends a soil pH of 6 or 6.5 to be sufficient, depending on the subsoil pH of the area. A higher pH is recommended for alfalfa and other acid-sensitive crops.

Now you may be asking, should I apply lime to my lawn or garden? You should only apply lime when recommended by a soil test. The optimal pH range for most turf grasses, flowers and vegetables grown in Iowa is 6.0 to 7.0, and most lawn and garden soils fall within that range. However, some plants like blueberries and azaleas prefer more acidic soils and others like lilac, peony, and salvia prefer more alkaline soils. If you are curious to know the soil PH of your soil, consider sending a soil sample to a soil testing lab on the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship list of certified labs.





There’s a New Competition, and the Steaks are High

There’s an exciting new competition in Iowa for elementary, middle school, and high school students. It’s called High Steaks, and it’s a beef marketing competition.

High Steaks

This program is exciting because it offers students the opportunity to think critically about a product they may consume regularly, and think about what factors consumers pay attention to. It’s also exciting, because there will be prizes for the top three submissions in each division!

High Steaks is open to classes from 3rd grade to 12th grade. There are three divisions; one for elementary students (grades 3-5), one for middle school students (grades 6-8), and one for high school (grades 9-12). The purpose of the competition is the same for all divisions, but the requirements differ slightly in each division.

In the elementary division, students will choose a beef product to market, and will submit a poster to advertise it. In the middle school division, students will also choose a beef product or recipe, and will create a marketing plan and nutritional overview of the product. High school students will complete all of the steps as the middle school students, with an additional market analysis that includes a target audience and a cost analysis.


Each division will have three winners. First place will receive $200 and a BBQ lunch, courtesy of the Iowa Beef Industry Council. Second place will receive $100, and third place will receive $50. All winners will also get a printed certificate and a personalized FarmChat® of a beef farm.

This program could fit well into many types of classrooms. An elementary social studies unit could include this project to talk about producers and consumers, spending and saving, and competition in the marketplace. A middle school health class could use this project to analyze health benefits of certain products. A high school business class could use this project to help students realize careers in marketing, food science, advertising, and even graphic design. In fact, this program could be used as a starting point for FCCLA and FFA students to fit guidelines for specific competitions.

Teachers who register their classrooms to participate will also receive a packet of helpful materials, including copies of the book My Family’s Beef Farm with accompanying lesson plans, a lesson plan titled Beef: A Healthy Option, and an educator guide for the documentary True Beef. Registration is free, and will be open until January 15, 2018. Register by filling out this form. You can find the full rules here.

Consider letting your class participate, or passing on the information to a teacher you know! For an added sense of competition, one classroom can create multiple submissions to compete against each other! We at IALF are very excited to see students’ creativity, innovation, and great ideas. We hope you are, too!