Iowa State Fair is upon us and the Elwell Family Food building is buzzing with activity. Food and cooking for us is very closely linked to how it was grown and produced. Each year we offer cooking demonstrations and tell the story of where each of the ingredients comes from. This year’s demo features a unique recipe that utilizes some of Iowa’s top products including beef, corn, soybeans, and chickens. Here is the farm to fork story of each of those ingredients.
Beef jerky: Beef jerky is dried and cured from cattle meat. Beef cattle are raised on grass for much of their life and then fed out with corn, soybeans, silage, and other feed components. This high energy feed ration promotes marbling (intra-muscular fat) in the muscle of the animal and increases the quality of the meat. Jerky is cured with salt – a preservation method that has been used for thousands of years.
Onion: The biggest onion producing states are Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California. Onions are a root crop that grow for 5-6 months before being either mechanically or hand harvested from the soil.
Corn: Although Iowa farmers do raise some of the best-tasting sweet corn in the country, less than 1% of the corn in our state is sweet corn. Although one is considered a vegetable and the other a grain, sweet corn and field corn are close relatives. Sweet corn is a naturally occurring genetic mutation of field corn. The sweet corn plant is shorter, matures faster, and its kernels have a higher sugar content.
Chicken stock: Iowa raises a lot of chickens. 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). Most of Iowa’s chickens are layers. Chicken broth is made from boiling the meat and bones. The juice from this cooking process is chicken broth and can be used for soups or flavorings.
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.
Squash: Squashes are native to North America and were planted alongside beans and maize, collectively known as the Three Sisters. They grow on long vines. Winter squash varieties include butternut, acorn, buttercup, spaghetti, ambercup, sweet dumpling, and, of course, pumpkin.
Potatoes: Potatoes are from the nightshade family of poisonous plants. But over hundreds of years of cultivation in the Andes mountains they became the nonpoisonous food staple that we are now familiar with. These tubers are grown underground as a part of the plant’s root structure. They are a good source of starch and nutrients in the diet.
Peas: Peas are legumes and very similar to beans. They are versatile and can be used in dishes fresh, frozen, canned, and dried.
Carrot: Carrots are roots, or more specifically taproots. Carrot plants are biennial, meaning they flower and produce seeds during their second year of growth. However, the plants are generally harvested 2-3 months after planting, much before flowers appear. At this stage the top of the carrot is about 1-2 inches in diameter and still sweet and tender.
Garlic: California is the major garlic producing state, followed by Nevada and Oregon. The majority of garlic is dehydrated and used in a wide variety of processed foods.
Pepper: Black pepper comes from the fruit of a pepper plant species which grows in hot and humid tropical climates. The unripe dried fruit, called peppercorns, are ground into the spice we call pepper. Pepper was one of the spices that early explorers traded because of its high value. It came from the spice islands of southeast Asia which also were known for nutmeg, mace and cloves.
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.
Oregano, Paprika, Cumin: The oregano is dried leaf of the oregano plant. Paprika is the dried and crushed red bell pepper fruit. Cumin is the ground aromatic seed from a plant in the parsley family.
Slow Cooker Chilean Beef Stew
1 medium squash, (butternut, acorn, or other)
6 medium potatoes, cubed
1 cup corn
1 cup peas
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
15 oz. chicken or beef broth
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
½ lb. beef jerky, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 Tsp. cumin
- Chop onions, garlic, and beef jerky. Heat oil in a skillet and sauté onions over a medium heat for 3 minutes. Add garlic and beef jerky and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Add paprika, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper.
- Peel and cube squash into bite sized pieces.
- Add all ingredients to slow cooker including onion and meat mixture.
- Fill cooker with water until just slightly below the top of the mixture.
- Cook on a low temperature stirring occasionally. Cook for 4-5 hours or until squash and potatoes are fork tender.
Serve in a bowl with bread or crackers on the side. Enjoy!