Lifestyles of the Orange and Famous

This time of year evokes seasonal images of black cats, ghosts, and PUMPKINS! Most of us relate to the large orange pumpkin that you can carve a ghoulish face into and scare trick-or-treaters. But actually there are dozens if not hundreds of varieties of pumpkins. These large orange distinctive fruits or winter squashes are scientifically known as Cucurbita (scientific name of the genus). But that specific genus has countless species, subspecies, and varieties that look (phenotypically) totally different from one another! They can be white, green, yellow, orange, gray, and every color in between. They can be smooth, bumpy, knobby, and everything in between. They can be less than one pound or weigh more than 2,000 pounds! This one genus has a ton of variety.

A pumpkin is a fruit that grows on a vine. They are typically planted in late spring or early summer for an October harvest. After a pumpkin seed sprouts, large leaves begin to grow on vines. Eventually, the vine blooms with yellow flowers. The fruit grows and matures throughout the summer. When the vines turn brown, the pumpkins are ready to harvest.

Pumpkins left in the field will be eaten by animals or they will decompose. The phenomenon of decomposition is a natural process through which nutrients are recycled back into the soil. Insects, fungus, and bacteria are decomposers that eat the dead tissue from the pumpkin and excrete it in a form that helps live plants grow.

In nature, dead plants and animals decompose and become humus. Humus acts like a sponge to help soil hold water. It also traps air in the soil and provides nutrients. Plants need air, water, light, and nutrients to grow. When farmers plant crops in the soil, the growing crops take out nutrients. The farmers can replace those nutrients by tilling decomposing plants back into the soil. Animals, insects, fungi, and bacteria all play a role in the process of decomposition.

This whole decomposition process can be a great teaching tool for students. The pumpkin of course doesn’t actually disappear. Over time, all of the pumpkin matter is eaten or broken down by other organisms – giving those organisms energy. So the matter is converted into other forms and/or converted into energy for those other organisms. (Remember the Law of Conservation of Mass-Energy! Matter is neither created nor destroyed and the total amount of mass and energy in the universe is constant.)

The surviving seeds left by a decomposing pumpkin have the ability to sprout and grow into a new pumpkin plant, continuing the pumpkin life cycle. Alternatively, pumpkins can be harvested for their seed so that farmers can go on to plant fields of them next year. Pumpkin seeds can also be pressed for oil or used for a variety of other purposes like roasted for human consumption or included in livestock feed rations.

Pumpkins are a great seasonal teaching tool for students and make a special holiday treat for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and other fall celebrations.

What is your favorite way to enjoy pumpkins? Pie? Jack-O-Lanterns? Roasted seeds? Let us know in the comments below!

-Will

Why do they do that? Anhydrous

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Early in the spring and late in the fall it is common to see tractors pulling large white tanks across bare farm fields. So, what are these strange white tanks? What’s in them and why is it applied to fields?

They are anhydrous tanks filled with anhydrous ammonia (NH3) – one of the most efficient and widely used sources of nitrogen fertilizer for agricultural crops like as corn and wheat.

Nitrogen is one of the 17 essential elements required for plant growth. Nitrogen is most commonly found in the atmosphere making up approximately 78% of the air that we breathe. But in the air it is in the form of N2 which is not available to plants to use. Nitrogen is part of chlorophyll which makes plants green and allows them to use sunlight to produce sugars (food) from oxygen and carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Nitrogen supports strong vegetative plant growth, which is vital for good fruit and seed development.

Plants use nitrogen by absorbing either nitrate (NO3) or ammonium (NH4) ions through their roots. Soybeans and other legume plants can convert atmospheric nitrogen into a usable form because of nitrogen fixing bacteria on their root nodules. Other plants, like corn, need to have an ample supply of available nitrogen in the soil. Farmers can add nitrogen to fields in the form of livestock manure, granular urea, liquid nitrogen (UAN solution), and anhydrous ammonia.

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When making environmentally and economically sustainable decisions about fertilizers, farmers consider the 4Rs best management practices. This helps them select the right fertilizer source and apply it at the right rate, right time, and right placement in the soil.

Anhydrous ammonia is often a preferred nitrogen source for many reasons. It is more concentrated than other forms of nitrogen, containing 82% nitrogen. It is readily available, because it is used in the manufacturing process of other nitrogen fertilizers. It can be applied long before the crop is planted. It is usually the most economical option as well.

Farmers store and transport anhydrous ammonia in liquid form in pressurized tanks. Using an anhydrous applicator pulled by a tractor, the high-pressure liquid converts to a liquid-gas mixture as the pressure drops while traveling from the tank to the knife outlet on the applicator. The knife slices the soil and injects the fertilizer 6 to 8 inches into the soil.

Once in the ground, the ammonia (NH3) ions react with moisture in the soil and convert to ammonium (NH4). Ammonium ions are very stable in the soil. They carry a positive charge and are bonded to negatively charged soil particles like clay and organic matter. These ammonium ions can be taken in by plants and used directly in proteins. Over time, the ammonium converts to nitrate (NO3) which is the form of nitrogen most used by plants for growth and development. Nitrate does not bond to soil like ammonium does and could leach out of the soil and into waterways. Nitrogen fertilizer stabilizers are often added to anhydrous ammonia before application to slow the conversion of ammonium to nitrate, thus helping to reduce nitrogen loss from leaching.

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Because of the stability of anhydrous ammonia (and converting to ammonium) it can be applied in the fall with less potential to leach, volatilize, or to be lost in water runoff than other nitrogen fertilizers. Cooler soil temperatures help keep the ammonium ion stable and so farmers try to apply it in the fall after the soil temperature drops below 50°F. If applied in the spring, it is best to apply it at least 3-5 days before planting to avoid damaging seeds and emerging roots.

Good nitrogen management is critical for growing healthy plants, good yields, and a profitable farm business. Farmers consider crop nutrient requirements, results of soil tests, soil conditions, weather, cost, time, and equipment available before choosing a fertilizer program that is the best fit for their operation.

-Cindy

Pumpkins: Carving, Processing, Pie, Giant, Mini – What’s the difference?

It’s October, which means you can’t go far without seeing or hearing about pumpkins.  Most doorsteps are decorated with them, paper versions adorn school hallways, and you’ll find pumpkin pancakes, bread, muffins, lattes, and even ice cream on menus everywhere.  Just like the culinary creations made from them, pumpkins are diverse and there’s one for everyone’s taste!  Some are big. Some are small. Some are best for cooking, while others are best for carving. Why?  What makes them different?  Let’s dive-in and explore the world of pumpkins!

All pumpkins are members of the Curcurbitaceae family.  It includes nearly 1,000 species and is the plant family with the most species used as human food.  A few popular, but more distant, pumpkin relatives include melons, cucumbers, and even luffahs.  Squash, zucchini and gourds are pumpkins’ closets relatives because they all belong to the same genus, Cucurbita.

So what’s the difference between a gourd, a squash, and a pumpkin?  In simplified terms, squash are edible, gourds are not, and pumpkins are a type of squash.  Gourds are usually smaller, have tougher skin, and their flesh is more bitter than squash.  Botanically speaking, “pumpkin” holds no meaning.  It is a type of squash – the round, orange, kind that we are obsessed with in the fall.

So back to pumpkins. There are three Cucurbita species that have significant use as pumpkins.  I will highlight the pumpkins included in each species, but it’s important to note that each species includes a wide variety of subspecies, varieties and cultivars of other squash and gourds too.

Carving Pumpkins

The species Cucurbita pepo includes nearly all of the types of pumpkins we think of as pumpkins.  It includes most small-to-medium bright orange pumpkins that the average consumer would grow or purchase for decorative or cooking use.  The larger varieties of this species are preferred for carving.

Pie Pumpkins

“Pie pumpkins” or “sugar pumpkins” are typically preferred for baking and cooking.  They are usually 4-8 pounds, smooth and more spherical in shape than other pumpkins.  Their flesh is sweet and smooth, not bland and stringy like carving pumpkins.

Miniature Pumpkins

This species also includes miniature pumpkins used for decorating, like Jack-Be-Little.  While they are also edible, their small size and thin flesh make them best suited for decorating instead of cooking.

Giant Pumpkins

Species and varieties of Cucurbita maxima include all of the big-boys of the pumpkin world.  If you’ve ever seen a giant pumpkin contest at a county or state fair, then you’ve seen examples of this pumpkin.  Atlantic Giant is a popular variety in the giant pumpkin growing world.  This colossal pumpkin can reach over 1000 pounds when pampered with an ideal watering, fertilizing and pruning regime.

Commercial Processing Pumpkins - Illinois Farm Bureau file photo

Dickinson Pumpkins

You may not have seen a whole pumpkin in the Cucurbita moschata species, but I guarantee you’ve eaten some!  This species includes the Dickinson squash or Dickinson pumpkin.  It is the pumpkin preferred by canning companies like Libby’s. Dickinson pumpkins are large, misshapen, and have a much lighter colored exterior than traditional pumpkins. Don’t let their appearance fool you though. The inside of a Dickinson pumpkin is where the real beauty lies.  Its flesh is sweet, creamy, and deep orange in color.  Check out this video for a virtual tour of a pumpkin field and see how Libby’s can process 100 semi truck loads of pumpkins a day during peak season.

Now that you are equipped with the knowledge to pick a pumpkin to suit your needs, go get one and have some fun!  Need some inspiration?  Check out these clever ideas for carving, cooking, decorating and learning with pumpkins.

– Cindy

The Hall Family’s Pumpkin Creations – Halloween 2016

Agriculture 101: Apples

What’s not to love about apples? They are a delicious and portable fresh fruit and can be can be made into juice, applesauce, desserts and more. Because of their versatility, it’s not surprising that apples are the most consumed fruit in the United States or that they are one of our country’s most valuable fruit crops.

While small pick-your-own orchards are common in Iowa, most of the apples we consume year-round come from large orchards in other parts of the country and world. The United States is the world´s second-largest producer of apples behind China. We export about 25 percent of the fresh apple crop, but we also import about five percent of the fresh apples consumed here. Most are imported from the Southern Hemisphere when the U.S. apple supply is low prior to harvest.

Apples are grown commercially in 32 states, but 70 percent of all U.S. grown apples come from Washington. The state’s arid climate, rich soil, and plentiful water supply make it well-suited for apple trees. Most of Washington’s apple-growing acres are in the Yakima Valley and Columbia Basin, located east of the Cascade Mountains in the south-central part of the state. These growing regions are known for their long growing season and nutrient-rich volcanic soil.

The dry, sunny growing-season in south-central Washington reduces disease pressure, but it also requires growers to regularly irrigate orchards. Adequate moisture is necessary for trees to maintain growth, take up nutrients, and produce high quality fruit. Drip irrigation systems help get young tress off to a good start. Sprinklers are also used in orchards to water trees, provide frost protection to flower buds in the spring, and cool the fruit to prevent sunburn in the summer.

Good pruning is critical to a productive apple orchard. Pruning helps to maintain the health of the tree and creates even light distribution throughout the canopy. Young trees are pruned to create a good structure so they develop strong, evenly distributed limbs. Mature trees are regularly pruned to remove upright shoots, thin the canopy, and remove dead or crossing branches. Most pruning is done in the late winter or early spring when the trees are still dormant. The lack of foliage makes it easier to see what needs to be pruned. During the growing season, growers may do additional pruning to thin blossoms or young apples from trees to balance the crop load and ensure good fruit size.

In order for apples to develop, pollination must occur when the trees are flowering. Apple trees are primarily pollinated by honeybees. The transfer of pollen from one variety to a different variety of the same type of tree is called cross-pollination. Cross-pollination is essential for apples, and other fruits like pears, sweet cherries, and some plums. To ensure cross-pollination occurs, growers may alternate rows of compatible varieties or plant flowering crabapple trees through the orchard. Crabapples are popular pollen donors because they have a longer bloom time and are easy to grow.

Apple harvest in Washington begins in August and continues until early November. By selecting apple varieties that mature at different times, growers can spread out the harvest season and ensure they have enough labor to pick and process each kind at the optimal time. While apple harvesting machines and robotic pickers have been developed, most apples are still picked by hand to ensure they are ready to be harvested, prevent bruising, and not damage the trees.

After harvest, apples are sent to the packing house where they are washed and sorted by size, color, and quality. They are also tested for starch and sugar content to determine when they will be at the peak of flavor. The apples highest in sugar are placed in refrigerated storage rooms and will be packed and sold soonest. Those with higher starch content are stored in controlled atmosphere rooms. While in storage the starch slowly changes to sugar so that an apple coming out of storage has a fresh-picked taste. When properly stored, apples can last four to five months in cold storage and up to 12 months in controlled atmosphere rooms.

-Cindy

Beggar’s Night Favorites

Usually when we think about agriculture, we think about all of the healthy fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and grains that we eat. But nearly all food comes from agriculture – even our indulgences like candy!

According to Candystore.com, Iowa’s most favorite Halloween Candy is Reese’s Cups. Second and third place contenders are M&Ms and Butterfingers.

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Source: CandyStore.com.

Let’s break these down and look at the agriculture that helped make these sweet treats.

Reese’s Cups
It is no surprise that the three most popular candies are chocolate. Chocolate is a mixture of cocoa powder, milk, cocoa butter, milk fat, soy lecithin, sugar, and maybe a little salt. We discussed chocolate and how it comes from the cacao bean before. Milk and milk fats come from dairy cows. Chocolate comes in a wide variety. Different types of chocolates have different amounts of these core ingredients. Dark chocolate will have a higher ratio of cocoa powder than milk chocolate. White chocolate doesn’t have any cocoa powder – only the cocoa butter. Milk chocolate is somewhere in the middle.

Soy lecithin you may not be familiar with. Lecithin are fatty compounds that can come from plant or animal sources (eggs, cotton seeds, etc.). Soy is abundantly produced in Iowa, throughout the Midwest, and throughout the world which is why soy lecithin is found in so many of our foods. It acts as a great emulsifier that helps oils and water stay mixed in our food products. Just a small amount goes a long way to helping improve the texture, appearance, and shelf life of food.

Peanuts are the second main ingredient in Reese’s Cups. Despite the name, they are not nuts at all. They don’t grow on trees like almonds, walnuts, or pistachios. They are grown underground! They are legumes and related to beans and peas. What we know as peanuts are produced as part of the root structure of the peanut plant. Legumes are important in agriculture because they host bacteria in the soil that help turn nitrogen into nitrates. Plants use nitrates in soil to stay healthy. Peanuts and other legumes are used in crop rotation to help keep soils healthy. Peanuts can be roasted, boiled, and also ground into peanut butter.

The term “sugar” can be used to either refer specifically to sucrose or it can be used generally to refer to all simple sugars (lactose, glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, etc.). chocolatiers may use any of these sugars to sweeten their chocolate. Most commonly, sugar comes from sugar beets grown in the upper Midwest (Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana) or sugar cane grown in more tropical climates (like Florida).

Reese’s Cups also use another sweetener called dextrose. Dextrose is a simple sugar obtained most often from corn (field corn,  not sweet corn), but can be obtained from other sources as well, such as wheat, sorghum, and tapioca.

M&Ms

The primary ingredient is of course chocolate. It is a slightly different ratio of cocoa powder, milk, and sugar, etc. but it has all of the same component parts. What makes M&Ms fun and unique is their colorful candy shells. To get the right appearance and to not let the candy shell mix with chocolate center, the chocolate is sprinkled with a little bit of cornstarch. Cornstarch (from field corn) acts as a moisture barrier to keep the candy shell crunchy and not mix with the chocolate. The shells are then made from a little corn syrup, dextrin, food colorings, and gum acacia.

Butterfinger

The flakey buttery center of Butterfinger candy is a mix of corn syrup, sugar, ground roasted peanuts, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, molasses, confectioner’s corn flakes, salt, soybean oil, and cornstarch. You can see a common theme in these candies (chocolate, sugar, etc.). The molasses, corn syrup, and peanut butter are all mixed together. Molasses comes from sugar beet or sugar cane juice that is boiled down until it yields a thick, dark syrup. It can also be made from sorghum, dates, or pomegranate.

The sticky rich mixture is poured over confectioner’s corn flakes. These are not like the breakfast cereal. They are small pieces of field corn that have been rolled flat and dried. The corn flakes provide the candy the crispity-crunchity texture. Finally chocolate is poured over the center filling. Check out the video on how Butterfingers are made.

As you can see, a lot of the ingredients used in these candies come from Iowa and Midwest agriculture. Corn syrup, corn starch, and corn flakes from field corn. Sugar and molasses from sugar beets. Soy lecithin and soy oil from soybeans. And milk! No wonder Iowans like these sweet treats.

Of course these candies probably can be considered a part of a healthy diet. So don’t overindulge. But we hope you enjoy Beggar’s Night and have a Happy Halloween!

-Will

Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

It’s that time of the year again. The season of warm sweaters, football games, and crunchy leaves. Not just that, but a variety of wonderful treats ranging from apple pies, comforting soups and finally pumpkin spice everything.

If you haven’t noticed, it’s pumpkin spice season and trust me when I say it’s everywhere from coffee and donut shops to pumpkin spice ice cream sandwiches, pumpkin spice Frosted Mini-Wheats to even pumpkin spice Oreos. It’s the flavor of fall and it’ll be around for many seasons to come.

But what makes this flavor so special? Well to make it yourself you will need all of five ingredients and less than five minutes of your time to create this unique flavor.

3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice

1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves

Mix all the ingredients together and you have yourself some pumpkin spice. You might find it funny to note that there is actually no pumpkin in the spice itself. It is said that these 5 ingredients mixed together have been used in the creation of home baked goods for generations. When indulging in the flavor researchers state, that it brings back memories of home or of grandma’s homemade pumpkin pie.  The flavor brings out a sense of comfort, the holiday season, and nostalgia which has made it very popular in today’s culture.

It started with pumpkin spice candles then moved on to revolutionize the food industry with new and unique pumpkin spice creations. Each of the five ingredients adds to this flavor and creates the unique experience with each food or drink that is eaten.

Cinnamon

The cinnamon spice dates all the way back to 2,000 B.C. where it was used by the Egyptians as a perfuming agent. As time went on cinnamon became a highly demanded product in Europe but the source of cinnamon was not documented which began the search of explorers looking for the spice. It was first found in 1518 by Portuguese traders. They discovered the spice near present-day Sri Lanka. 90% of the world’s cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka.Image result for cinnamon

Cinnamon has been used for centuries as a medicine. It is known to effectively boost the  immune system and may aid in lowering type 2 diabetes to helping sore throats. Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of a cinnamon tree. Farmers will shave off the outside bark of the tree and the next layer is the cinnamon layer. Farmers will shave the bark and lay it out to dry. As the bark dries, cinnamon has a natural tendency to curl; which gives cinnamon sticks its appearance. To see how cinnamon is harvested and processed check out this video.

Cloves

Native to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, cloves work as a preservative for medical reasons to help prevent the growth of food-borne illnesses like E.coli. Cloves’ strong, pungent, and sweet aroma aid in the taste and aroma of pumpkin spice and add an enriched flavor.Image result for cloves on the plant

Cloves have to be handpicked for harvest. After they are picked they are laid out to dry for 3 days. Click here to see how cloves are harvested and marketed.

Ginger

Related imageFor thousands of years, ginger has been used to treat stomach aches and pains and nausea. Which explains my grandmother’s reasonings for eating two ginger snap cookies after every meal. I always thought it was just an excuse to eat a sweet treat but ginger really does have the property to aid in digestion. Originally from Southern Asia, it is known as a warming spice and adding a little kick to the taste buds.

The part we harvest to make ginger is the root of the plant. After we turn up the plant and take off the root, it needs to be washed and processed.

Nutmeg

This tropical evergreen tree is native to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Its benefits include those that interact with the nervous system, digestive system and blood circulation. The spice nutmeg has a distinctive pungent fragrance and slightly warm sweet taste. The nutmeg trees may reach a height of about Image result for nutmeg on the plant65 feet and bear fruit that is like the appearance of an apricot. Farmers have to climb the tree and pick the fruit. Once they have picked the fruit they can pick out the edible part of the plant.

Allspice

This last spice is known for aiding in toothache pains. Allspice is the dried, unripe berry of Pimenta dioica, an evergreen tree. After drying down, the berries are small, dark, brown balls. Allspice comes from Jamaica, Guatemala, and Honduras. Check out this video that tells you everything you need to know about allspice.

With a combination of these flavors, the pumpkin spice flavor is created. All with the simple combination of five unique spices. So the next time you are out, take note of all the pumpkin spice creations. Maybe try a few to see which is your favorite or try recreating it on your own at home. Either way, it’s the season of sweater weather, football games, crunchy leaves, and pumpkin spice everything.

-Hannah

Hey, That’s Not Hay!

759-pumpkins-on-straw-bales-pvI recently saw a sign at a local store advertising hay bales for sale. I looked around and didn’t see any. There were pumpkins, potted mums, gourds, Indian corn, and baled straw— but no hay.  It took everything in me to keep from shouting out, “Hey, that’s not hay! It’s straw.”

I see this mistake often in children’s books, on crafting and decorating blogs, and at craft stores and garden centers. Calling hay straw irritates me. It’s like calling a soccer ball a volleyball or dish soap shampoo. They may look similar at first glance, but they have very different uses.

So, what is the difference between hay and straw?

First, let’s talk about the similarities. Hay and straw are both agriculture products made from plants. They are both cut and formed into big round, big square, or small square bales. But that is where their similarity ends.

The biggest difference between hay and straw is their indented use. To put it simply, hay is food for animals and straw is bedding. The cartoons below illustrate this point well, and should ingrain the difference in your mind forever.

What they are made from is extremely important, too, and explains why each serve a different purpose. Hay is made from the entire plant; leaves, stems, flowers, and sometimes immature seeds. The whole plant has a much greater nutritional value than just dried stems. Hay is cut before the seeds have matured. This keeps valuable nutrients in the stalks and makes a nutrient-rich feed for horses, cattle, and other ruminant animals.

hay in fieldThe nutrient and protein value of hay will vary depending on what plant it is made from and when it is harvested. The fiber content of hay increases as it grows, while the protein content diminishes. Most of the protein in hay is in the leaves, while the stocks are richer in fiber.

Plants grown for hay can be divided into two categories: legumes and grasses. Legumes generally have a higher protein and calcium content than grasses because they have a higher leaves to stalk ratio. Alfalfa and clover are the two most common legumes grown for hay. Grasses used for hay include rye, timothy, orchard, and fescue. Farmers specifically plant these crops to make hay, and usually get about three cuttings of hay off one field per year.

baling-straw-360x238Straw, on the other hand, is a byproduct of cereal grains like wheat, barley, and oats. When the seeds of these crops are harvested the stems, or stalks, are left behind. Most of the stalks’ nutrients were depleted while producing seed, leaving little nutritional value as a feed source. The stalks can, however, be baled and used for straw.

Straw makes a good, inexpensive bedding for livestock. The dry stalks absorb moisture from manure, and provide a soft, clean place for animals to rest. Straw is also commonly used as garden mulch, to help establish new grass, and for outdoor décor.

If you are shopping for straw, be sure to look for golden yellow-brown bales made of stems only.  Hay is light green and include leaves and dried flowers or seed heads.

I highly recommend checking out Lucus County’s Hay Bale Art Contest to see a creative and entertaining use of bales. This annual fall event in south central Iowa includes more than 20 giant sculptures made of bales of all shapes and sizes. My kids and I visited a few years ago, and they are still talking about it.

-Cindy

 

 

 

What’s Cookin’: Ham & Apple Skillet

This time of year I love warm cozy meals featuring fall ingredients, like apples. I also love simple stove-top meals that come together fast. This dish fits both criteria and is a staple in my house. It is an easy weeknight meal that I can put on the table in less than 20 minutes.   It takes some of my favorite ingredients – ham, apples, maple syrup and Dijon mustard – and combines them to create sweet and savory goodness.   Mustard and apples may seem like an odd combination, but trust me, it’s delicious. Even my two year old thinks so. Pair it with a side of steamed veggies and it’s a prefect meal for fall or any time of year.

Before I share the recipe, here’s the story behind the simple, but delicious ingredients.

ham steakHam Steak – Ham steaks are simply thick slices of a whole cured ham. Ham is pork leg-meat that has been preserved through salting, smoking, or wet curing. Ham steaks are usually bone-in and cut from the center, which is the leanest and best part of the ham.   They are an incredibly versatile cut. Ham steaks can be the star of a meal or diced and added to everything from omelets to soups. Iowa is the number one pork producing state. Hog farming alone generates $7.5 billion in economic activity for our state. One more reason to keep ham in the fridge!

You can almost always find ham steaks in the grocery store pre-cut, or you can ask a butcher to slice off steaks from a whole or half ham. Ham steaks come thick (about 1 inch) or thin cut (1/4-1/2 inch).   I use thin in this recipe, but thick would also work well and serve more people.

dropMaple Syrup – Not to be confused with maple-flavored syrup, pure maple syrup begins as sap in a Sugar Maple tree. The sap is harvested in the spring when days are warm and nights cool below the freezing point. Trees are tapped using a drill to make a small hole. A spile is inserted into the hole and the sap drips out if conditions are right. The sap either drips into a bucket or flows down a special tube to a holding tank. Maple sap is clear, slightly sweet, and very thin. The distinctive maple flavor and thick consistency of syrup is developed through careful heating to evaporate most of the water. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

brown white mustard seedDijon Mustard – Mustard is made by combining ground mustard seeds with vinegar, water, spices and flavorings. The mustard plant is a cruciferous vegetable related to broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Mustard is grown commercially in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington. Dijon mustard refers to a style of prepared mustard that that originated in the Dijon, France. The traditional Dijon mustard recipe included wine vinegar and brown or black mustard seeds. American yellow mustard is made with white mustard seeds, which are actually yellow in color.

Apple Cider Vinegar – As its name implies, apple cider vinegar is the fermented juice of apples. It is made by crushing apples and squeezing out the liquid. It is then fermented by adding bacteria and yeast to turn the sugars in the cider to vinegar.

apple treesApples – Apples are the second most consumed fruit, following oranges.   They are also one of the most valuable tree crops in the United States. Every state grows them, and 29 states raise apples commercially. Washington produces about 70 percent of U.S. grown apples. Although it is not a top producing state now, Iowa has a rich apple history. The Delicious apple was discovered here by a Madison County farmer, and Iowa was a top apple producing until the devastating Armistice Day Ice Storm of 1940 severely damaged orchards across the state.

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 today, or try making butter at home. All you need is heavy whipping cream and a glass jar!

Ham & Apple Skillet IMG_2518

1 ham steak (1-1 ½ lbs.)
2 T butter
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1½ T Dijon Mustard
1 T apple cider vinegar
1 T water
2 large apples, sliced or cut into 1’ chunks

  1. Brown ham in large non-stick skillet over medium heat-high, about 1-2 minutes on each side or until heated through. Remove from pan. If desired, cut into serving size-pieces or bite-size pieces for easy serving.
  2. Melt butter. Stir in maple syrup, mustard, vinegar and water.
  3. Add apples. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stir occasionally until the apples are cooked through. Add a little more water while cooking if sauce becomes too thick.
  4. Return the ham to the skillet or pour apples over ham on a serving platter.

Enjoy!

– Cindy

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Five year-old Sam approves too!