In my opinion, the most underrated herb is basil. Traditionally added to Italian or Thai dishes, basil is undersold. One of my favorite uses of basil is to mix it in when making strawberry jam. It changes the traditional family favorite into something amazingly different and delicious. I’ve experimented with basil a lot and wanted to share a winning recipe. But before the recipe, here is the story of the ingredients.
Walnuts: Very few nuts are commercially produced in Iowa. But black walnut trees are found in all 99 counties in Iowa and the seed pods can be collected each fall. They may smell bad and stain your hands but after washing, drying, and cracking they can be a tasty addition to recipes. Dell Lawrence from Sabula, Iowa collects and processes black walnuts. Walnuts are high in protein, vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acids.
Chocolate: Chocolate comes from the cacao tree grown in tropical climates. Once the pods are picked the seeds are removed and washed before being dried. The seeds are then ground, separating out the cocoa butter (fat) and the pure refined cocoa powder. Chocolatiers then mix cocoa powder with specific quantities of cocoa butter, milk and sugar to create the chocolate bars and chips that we use. Pure cocoa powder is bitter and rich in antioxidants. A dark chocolate finished product with a high percent of cocoa will retain many of the healthy benefits.
Sugar: Granulated sugar can be refined from either sugar cane grown in tropical climates or from sugar beets. Many sugar beets are grown in Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana. After the beets are harvested they are sliced and soaked in water which extracts the sugar. The beets are pressed to remove additional sugar. The syrup is filtered and then boiled to reduce to sugar crystals. The crystals are then packaged as sugar.
Flour: Most flour is made from ground wheat. Wheat is grown throughout the Midwest with a lot of wheat being grown in Kansas, Nebraska, North and South Dakota. The wheat berries can be ground whole with the husk creating whole wheat flour. Or the husk can be removed creating the more common all purpose flour.
Vegetable Oil: Most vegetable oil is made from soybeans. Iowa and Illinois are the two biggest soybean growers in the U.S. After the soybeans are harvested in the fall they are crushed to extract the oil.
Eggs: Iowa is the number one producer of eggs in the U.S. There are three different categories of chickens raised with many different species in each category. Chickens are broilers (raised for meat), ornamentals (raised for feathers), and layers (raised for eggs). Chickens typically produce one egg approximately every 27 hours (roughly one per day). The color of the egg shell has no bearing on the nutritional value of the egg or the flavor. The color of the shell is the same as the chicken’s ear lobe. White skinned chickens produce white eggs. Brown skinned chickens produce brown eggs. Eggs can even come in shades of blue and green. The quality of egg is largely determined by the chicken’s diet. A protein rich diet with various vitamins and minerals will usually yield a richly yellowed yolk. Eggs are one of the best sources of protein in the human diet. Eggs are cleaned and checked for impurities before being packaged and sold to consumers.
Milk: Milk is a great source of protein and vitamin D in our diets. Most dairy cows in the U.S. are Holstein (the black and white ones) which are prized for their ability to produce up to 8 gallons of milk per day. Once milk is collected from the cow it is 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.
Basil: The herb grows quickly and is great for home gardeners. Harvest the leaves and cut the stems back for continued regrowth. Grinnell, Iowa based Mariposa Farms herb growers commercially produce a wide range of herbs sold in locally grocery stores including basil.
Baking powder: Baking powder is sodium bicarbonate mixed with an acidifying agent (cream of tartar) and a drying agent like corn starch. Cream of tartar is a crystalized byproduct of the wine making process. Corn starch is one of many byproducts of processing corn. Iowa grows more corn than any other state.
Salt: Salt isn’t exactly an agricultural product. But, is an important component because it is the only rock that humans seek out and regularly consume. Salt can be harvested from salt pans (dried lakes) or mined from underground.
Dark Chocolate and Basil Cake
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 whole wheat flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk
2 tbsp. chopped basil
5 oz. dark chocolate
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Grease and line the bottom of a 9 inch round pan.
- In a bowl mix chopped nuts, flours, baking powder and salt.
- In another bowl, whisk eggs, vegetable oil, milk and chopped basil.
- Mix wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Before fully combined, break chocolate into chunks and fold into batter.
- Pour batter into your prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Let cool for a few minutes before removing from pan.