What’s Cookin’? – Corn Custard brûlée

The second of our annual cooking demonstrations in the Elwell Family Food building at the Iowa State Fair featured an unusual dish. This recipe was adapted from a recipe that was originally submitted as part of the Iowa’s Big Four Cooking competition at the 2018 Iowa State Fair. The original recipe was submitted by Sharon Gates of Des Moines and won 2nd prize in the sweet division of that contest. We’ve made some slight modifications from the original. But first, where do all of the ingredients come from? Here is the farm-to-fork story.

Bacon:  This tasty pork product comes from the side and belly of the pig. Pork bellies are cured in a salt brine and flavorings to provide the rich taste. The curing process evolved before refrigeration as a way of preserving the meat. Iowa is the number one producer of pork in the U.S. Companies like Farmland Foods and JBS Swift have meat packing plants in Iowa and employ hundreds of Iowans.

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.

Corn syrup: Corn syrup comes from field corn. Field corn is harvested after it is dried in the field. The corn kernels can then be ground up and the starches removed. Using enzymes, the starches can be converted into a mix of fructose and sucrose sugars – or corn syrup. Field corn can be used for a variety of human foods (everything from corn meal in tortilla chips to the corn syrup in ketchup), but it can also be used to feed livestock or turned into ethanol as fuel for vehicles

Sweet 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.

Milk:  Milk or heavy cream 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.

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.

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 explores 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

Chipotle powder: Chipotle powder is the dried and crushed Chipotle pepper fruit.

IMG_4440.JPGIngredients:

  • 1/2 Cup Bacon Chopped
  • 2T Brown Sugar
  • 1T Light Corn Syrup
  • 1 Cup Fresh Sweet Corn
  • 3/4 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 Cup Whole Milk
  • 6T White Sugar
  • 3 Egg Yolks
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 T Salt
  • 1/4 T Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/8 T Chipotle Chile Morita Powder

IMG_0190.JPGDirections:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Stir together bacon, brown sugar and corn syrup. Spread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven. Set aside to cool.
  3. Combine ¾ cup sweet corn, whole milk, 3T white sugar, egg yolks, egg, salt, pepper, and chipotle powder sugar into blender and liquify all. Add heavy cream pulse blender to incorporate.
  4. Pour through a fine mesh strainer. Mix in ¼ cup of sweet corn. Pour liquid mixture into ramekins that have been sprayed with non-stick spray.
  5. Place ramekin in a baking dish on the middle rack of oven.
  6. Carefully pour boiling water into the baking dish to halfway up the outside of the ramekins. Bake 30-45 minutes or until the center of the custard registers an internal temperature of 170°F. Cooking time will vary based on the size of the ramekins used. Remove from oven and let cool.
  7. Just before serving, sprinkle a layer of sugar over the top of each custard and brûlée with a torch. Garnish with candied bacon.

Enjoy!

-Will

Superhero Crops and Their Origins

Every superhero has their origin story. It’s the story of how it all started – how they came to be a superhero. Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider. Captain Marvel absorbed the energy of the Tesseract. The Flash inhaled hard water vapors and then got his powers when a lightening bolt hit his lab. Wonder Woman is an Amazon and was granted her powers by the Greek gods.

Peter_Parker_(Earth-30847)_from_Marvel_vs._Capcom_Infinite_0001.png captainmarvel-andypark-artcover-frontpage.jpg 2015%2F10%2F06%2F14%2FUntitled11.8acea.jpg%2F950x534__filters%3Aquality%2890%29.jpg Button_WonderWoman_Crossed_1in_POP.jpg

In agriculture, we can look at crops that we grow as superheros of sorts. Each one has its own origin story too. They aren’t as fanciful or dramatic as many of our graphic novel and comic book heroes. But they are just as amazing! Consider the following.

Superhero: Corn. Secret Identity: Zea Mays or Maize. Nearly 9,000 years ago a grass in Mesoamerica – what is now Mexico – was recognized as having food potential and it was domesticated. This annual grass, teosinte, had a small seed head with 8-20 seeds. The seeds were harvested and became a staple in the diet of the indigenous people. Early farmers collected the seed heads that had the most seeds and planted those again the following year. Do this over and over again for 9,000 years and the seed head evolves from 8-20 seeds to 600-800 seeds! And along the way natural mutations (no radioactive spider or bolt of lightening required) changed those seeds. Natural mutations created blue corn, white corn, sweet corn, and popcorn. For popcorn, the natural mutation was a thick, hard exterior coating on each of d7.jpgthe seeds. The hard exterior coating keeps moisture locked in. Then when it is exposed to heat and the moisture turns to steam, the popcorn POPS open! Sweet corn, too, is a natural mutation of the original. 

Teosinte can still be found throughout modern Mexico. It looks so different from modern corn that scientists had no clue they were related. But when a DNA analysis was conducted, low and behold, they were related. Teosinte found today is the crop wild relative of modern corn.

Superhero: Wild mustard. Secret Identity: Brassica oleracea. This one little plant – wild mustard – has given rise to a number of different agricultural crops that take up a huge section in modern grocery stores. Take a look at broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts and you are basically looking at the same plant! Farmers began noticing that some wild mustard plants had very pronounced flowers or florets. They began cultivating those variety and after hundreds of successive generations we now have broccoli and cauliflower. Farmers noticed that some of those same mustard plants had large leaves. They began selecting for those traits and pretty soon – viola! Cabbage! And kale! Some of those same mustard plants had lateral leaf buds. A few generations later – and Brussels sprouts! Some of those same mustard plants had lateral meristems – and boom! Kohlrabi. 

wild-mustard-plant.jpg

None of this happened overnight. And again, no Tesseract needed. But through careful selection of traits, farmers were able to create multiple different varieties of crops all from the same parent species. Wild mustard species still abound across Europe, Asia, and North America. It is amazing to think that these wild relatives could, through careful cultivation, someday line grocery store shelves.

Superhero: Wheat. Secret Identity: Triticum. About 500,000 years ago, two species of wild grasses crossed – long before humans entered the picture. Humans in the Fertile Crescent (what is now modern Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and Iran) domesticated this grass. It is what we now call emmer wheat. Either on purpose or accidentally and around the time that humans began cultivating the wheat, a third wild grass joined into the mix. Because of this, wheat, as we know it today, has three pairs of every chromosome (most species only have two pairs). This gives wheat approximately 16,000 base pairs in its genome. Talk about a powerful genome! For comparison, the human genome only has around 3,000 base pairs. Wheat has long been a staple crop around the globe. It provides many of the calories needed for societies to thrive. Its complicated genetic history makes it harder for scientists to figure out but gives it a lot of diversity and potential, too. Emmer wheat is still grown today. And as a grass, modern wheat has a lot of relatives that can be found in the wild. 

Superhero: Banana. Secret Identity: Cavendish. There are more than a thousand varieties of bananas throughout the world. But the type of banana that is most often consumed is the Cavendish. This variety doesn’t produce any seeds. The tiny black specs that you might find in some Cavendish are the remnants of seeds that never matured. Because of the way the Cavendish flowers it really can’t get pollinated to produce seeds. The flower grows upside down and the female parts of the flower all mature and start to form fruit before the male part of the flower even opens. This is great for consumers because they don’t have to contend with seeds. They can just peel the banana and eat the whole thing. But for farmers, without seeds, no new plants. But new plants are grown through asexual propagation. That’s right, most bananas are clones of each other! Talk about a superpower! Duplicating yourself into countless copies!

Wild banana relatives are able to sexually propagate and so bananas in the wild will have seeds inside of them with very little fruit. One benefit of identifying, knowing, and studying crop wild relatives (like wild bananas) is to tap into the power of diverse genes. The banana variety that we consumed before the Cavendish was the Gros Michel. A virulent Panamanian disease decimated the banana industry in the 1940s. Farmers had to stop growing the Gros Michel and switch to the Cavendish. Another disease is now threatening the Cavendish. By studying the wild relatives, scientists might find a gene that is resistant to the fungal disease and introduce it to save the Cavendish.

Superhero: Sunflower. Secret Identity: Helianthus. This versatile crop is widely known in Kansas (home of another super hero – Superman). But sunflowers are grown in a lot of states – either for oil or for confectionery (direct seed consumption). The seeds can be crushed to extract their oil. Or the seeds can be whole, ground, roasted, or processed in many other ways to be eaten.

“Plants are regularly challenged by a variety of environmental stresses such as drought, flooding, salt, and low-nutrient levels that negatively affect plant growth and reduce productivity. Though wild plants have evolved mechanisms to meet these challenges, many crops are less resilient. To reduce stress-induced yield loss and improve food security, attention has increasingly turned to the tapping of genetic diversity in crop wild relatives. Sunflower is an ideal crop for such an approach because the productivity of this oilseed crop is clearly limited by such stresses, while wild relative species are adapted to a variety of extreme environments,” from here.

The resulting stress-resistant cultivars could help stabilize production in developing countries in the face of environmental stresses.

Superhero: Carrot. Secret Identity: Daucus carota. Domestic carrots are so diverse that they could be seen to have many different superpowers as compared to their wild cousins. Carrots can come in a variety of colors – white, yellow, purple, and yes, orange. Compare these multi-colored carrots side-by-side in a taste test and you will likely determine that the orange ones are the sweetest. And that might be why you will usually only see orange carrots in the grocery store. Carrots have a number of relatives including the ornamental Queen Anne’s lace flower. Carrots are another great example of selective breeding practices that farmers used over countless generations. The original carrot was a scrawny, spindly, root that probably didn’t have much value. But like a superhero paired with a mentor, the carrot and the farmer grew together. The carrot developed a long tap root to store sugars. The orange color meant it was packed with vitamin A and a healthy part of the human diet. These modern carrots are definitely a superhero as compared to their wild relatives.

Every modern day crop has a back story. And most still have crop wild relatives. What crop wild relatives are you familiar with?

-Will

What’s Cookin’?: State Fair Sweet Edition

The average American consumes approximately 222 pounds of meat per year – more than 46 pounds of which is pork. Pork is something Iowans know a lot about. We raise 22.8 million pigs each year. If each of those pigs was raised to a market weight of 300 pounds, we could expect approximately 144 pounds of meat from each pig. That means each pig could provide meat for three people over the course of a year. There are only 3.1 million people in Iowa so to feed Iowans we only need to raise one million pigs. What do we do with the other 21.8 million pigs? They get sold to other states and other countries around the world. Iowa truly does have a role in feeding the world!

This is why we celebrate the productivity of the state. Iowa is a major producer of several agricultural commodities. Corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs are what I call the ‘big four’. Each year we host a cooking contest at the Iowa State Fair. Aspiring chefs and cooks can enter dishes – sweet and savory. Each dish has to include one or more of the big four ingredients in the recipe. Kudos to those cooks who are able to include all four! The entries are judged by a panel of experts representing each of the commodity organizations that are responsible for helping farmers (Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association and the Soyfoods Council, and the Iowa Egg Council).

This year’s winning recipe in the sweet category was Butterscotch Cream Pie submitted by Jamie Buelt from Polk City, Iowa. This recipe uses lard from pork and four eggs as well as Iowa cream.

Entry15.jpgCrust
1 Cup Flour
1/4 Cup Cake Flour
1/3 Cup Lard
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Tablespoon Baker’s Sugar
3 Tablespoons Very Cold Water

Filling
1/4 Cup Real Butter
1 Cup Light Brown Sugar, firmly packed
4 Tablespoons Wondra Flour
1/2 Cup Milk
11/2 Cup Heavy Cream
4 Large Egg Yolks, separate eggs
1/2 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Pinch Salt
3 Drops of Butterscotch Oil

Whipped Cream
1 Cup AE Whipping Cream
1/4 plus 1 Tablespoon Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift dry ingredients and then cut butter until mixture has the consistency of cornmeal. Then cut the cold lard and butter into pea-sized pieces and cut in with pastry cutter. Move mixture to one side of the bowl and using a fork, rake about one-sixth of the dry-butter lard mixture into the other half. Add one tablespoon of cold water and combine. Repeat with each tablespoon of cold water. Bake for 30 minutes until crust is brown.

Stir brown sugar and butter in a saucepan until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Cook 2-3 minutes longer on low-medium heat, and then remove from fire. Beat egg yolks. In separate large bowl, mix flour with 1/2 of milk, until smooth. Then add beaten egg yolks and salt and mix well. Blend remaining milk with this mixture. Add milk-flour mixture to saucepan with sugar/butter mixture and cook on low/medium heat until thickened (anywhere from 30-45 minutes), stirring constantly. Remove from heat and blend in vanilla extract and butterscotch oil. Stir constantly until well-blended and slightly warm and then pour into a prepared piecrust and chill.

With a mixer, cream with sugar. When cream has thickened, add vanilla and beat until soft peaks form. Top chilled butterscotch filling with whipped cream. A flourish is nice.

2nd and 3rd

Second place was submitted by Sharon Gates of Des Moines, Iowa and was a Corn Custard Brulee with Candied Bacon Crumbles.

IMG_4413.JPG1/2 Cup Bacon Crumbles
2 T Brown Sugar
1 T Light Corn Syrup
1 Cup Fresh Sweet Corn (removed from cob)
3/4 Cup Heavy Cream
1/4 Cup Whole Milk
3 T White Sugar
3 Egg Yolks
1 Egg
1/2 T Salt
1/4 T Freshly Ground (fine) Black Pepper
1/8 T (scant) Chipotle Chile Morita Powder
Sugar for Bruleeing

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir together bacon, brown sugar and corn syrup. Spread onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven. Set aside to cool. Put remaining ingredients except heavy cream and brulee sugar into blender and liquefy all. Add heavy cream pulse blender to incorporate. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a ramekin sprayed with non-stick spray. Place ramekin in a baking dish on the middle rack of oven. Carefully pour boiling water into the baking dish to halfway up the outside of ramekin. Bake 45 minutes or until the center of the custard registers an internal temperature of 170°F. Remove from oven and let cool. Just before serving sprinkle a layer of sugar over the top of each custard and brulee with a torch. Serve candied bacon on the side.

Third place was also a Corn Creme Brulee submitted by Diane Rauh of Des Moines, Iowa. Considering these two winners – clearly these are recipes we should try.

IMG_4441.JPG1 Can (15 oz) Whole Kernel Corn, drained
4 Teaspoons Butter
3 Cups Whipping Cream
1 Cup 2% Milk
8 Large Egg Yolks
1¼  Cups Sugar plus 4 Tablespoons for topping
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Bean Paste

Preparation
Heat oven to 325°F. In large saucepan, cook corn and butter over medium-high heat until all liquid is evaporated. Spoon out and set aside 1/4 cup of the corn. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in cream and milk; cook until bubbles form around sides of pan. Remove from heat and let stand 15 minutes. Pour in blender container. Cover and blend at high speed until smooth. Strain through wire mesh strainer and discard corn pulp. Return cream mixture to pan. In medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and 1¼ cups sugar with wire whisk until blended. Whisk in a small amount of the hot cream mixture. Return egg mixture to pan, whisking constantly. Stir in vanilla. Sprinkle reserved corn in bottom of 8 (6-8 oz) ramekins or custard cups. Place in baking pan. Add 1 inch of hot water around the ramekins. Bake uncovered 40 to 50 minutes or until centers are set but still jiggle slightly. Remove from water bath. Cool 10 minutes. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or until well chilled. Sprinkle 1.5 teaspoons sugar over each ramekin. Using brulee torch, caramelize the sugar. Serve immediately.

Enjoy the recipes!

-Will

IMG_4442.JPG

What’s Cookin’?: State Fair Savory Edition

The average American consumes just under two bushels of corn per year (including corn used to make other products). Americans eat approximately 222 lbs. of meat per year and those animals were largely feed with corn and soybeans. Let’s assume that it takes six lbs of feed to produce each pound of meat. This is an over estimate because beef, pork, and chicken all require different amounts – beef is the highest at 6.7. So let’s assume the 222 pounds of meat consumed required 1,300 pounds (or 23 bushels) of corn to be produced. Again this is an over estimation because it doesn’t account for the soybeans, forage, or other additives mixed into the feed ration. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume each person uses 25 bushels of corn every year. Approximately 2.6 billion bushels of corn is produced in Iowa each year. There are only 3.1 million people in Iowa.

Iowa is a major producer of several agricultural commodities. Corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs are what I call the ‘big four’. The 3.1 million people living in Iowa eat/use roughly 77.5 million bushels of corn. Where do the other 2.5 billion bushels of corn go? It is sold to other states and other countries. Iowans truly do help feed the world. Iowa raises more pork, more eggs, and more soybeans than the people living here could ever use. So it is all sold and traded domestically and internationally.

That’s why we celebrate the productivity of the state. Each year we host a cooking contest at the Iowa State Fair. Aspiring chefs and cooks can enter dishes – sweet and savory. Each dish has to include one or more of the big four ingredients in the recipe. Kudos to those cooks who are able to include all four! The entries are judged by a panel of experts representing each of the the commodity organizations that are responsible for helping farmers (Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association and the Soyfoods Council, and the Iowa Egg Council).

The winning recipe in the savory category – Bacon and Corn Custard – was submitted by Diane Rauh of Des Moines, Iowa.

Entry8.jpg1 can (15 oz) whole kernel corn, drained
6-8 strips of smoked bacon (fried and then diced)
4 teaspoons butter
3 cups whipping cream
1 cup 2% milk
8 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar

Preparation:
Heat oven to 325°F. In large saucepan, cook corn and butter over medium-high heat until all liquid is evaporated. Spoon out and set aside 1/4 cup of the corn. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in cream and milk; cook until bubbles form around sides of pan. Remove from heat and let stand 15 minutes. Pour in blender container. Cover and blend at high speed until smooth. Strain through wire mesh strainer and discard corn pulp. Return cream mixture to pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar with wire whisk until blended. Whisk in a small amount of the hot cream mixture. Return egg mixture to pan, whisking constantly.

Sprinkle reserved corn in bottom of 8 (6-8 oz) ramekins or custard cups, then top with diced bacon. Place in baking pan. Add 1 inch of hot water around the ramekins. Bake uncovered 40 to 50 minutes or until centers are set but still jiggle slightly. Remove from water bath. Cool 10 minutes. Serve warm.

2nd and 3rd

Second place was a Celebrate Iowa Summer Salad recipe submitted by Marta Burkgren of Ames, Iowa. All of Iowa’s big four commodities were represented in this refreshing summer salad. Fresh sweet corn and corn chips (corn), edamame (soybeans), hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise (soybeans, cornstarch and egg yolks), and bacon (pork).

Entry9.jpg2 cups cooked Iowa sweet corn kernels (you can substitute one can of yellow kernel corn, drained or frozen corn)
1 cup edamame, (fresh frozen)
1/2 cup cooked, crumbled bacon
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3 ounces corn craps

Preparation
Mix all ingredients except the chips. Arrange the eggs on top. Add the chips just before serving so they do not get soggy. Serves 6 to 8.

And third place was awarded to Kris Johnson of Altoona, Iowa with a Summer Succotash Saute.

Entry7.jpg3 Slices Bacon
1 Cup Sweet Red Pepper, chopped
1 Cup Onion, chopped
1 Cup Tomato, seeded/chopped
1-2 Jalapeno Peppers, sliced into rings, seeds optional
1T Ground Cumin
1t Salt
2t Ground Smoked Paprika
8 oz pkg Shelled Edamame, frozen
14 oz pkg Roasted Sweet Corn, Frozen
2 oz Cream Cheese

Preparation
Cut bacon into ¼ inch pieces, cook until brown. Drain, set aside. Discard all but 2T bacon drippings. In the drippings, saute the red pepper and onion until softened over medium-high heat. Add Jalepeno slices and cook 1-2 minutes more. Next add corn and edamame. Mix well. Continue to saute 8-10 minutes, stirring often. Add tomatoes and cream cheese, melting and mixing well. Stir in bacon pieces, saving some for garnish. Serves six.

Hope you enjoy these recipes!

-Will

IMG_4480.JPG

What’s Cookin’? Chilean Beef Stew

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.

onion.jpgBeef 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 corn.jpgused 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.

squash1.jpgVegetable 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.

squash.jpgSlow 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

Directions:

  1. 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.
  2. Peel and cube squash into bite sized pieces.
  3. Add all ingredients to slow cooker including onion and meat mixture.
  4. Fill cooker with water until just slightly below the top of the mixture.
  5. 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!

-Will

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!

-Will

Where Is Agriculture?

From the moment you woke up this morning to the moment you’ll lay down for bed, your life is surrounded by agriculture. What is agriculture? It’s the industry that supplies the food, fuel, and fiber in our daily lives. From the food we eat, to the fuel in our cars, to the clothes we wear, to our common household items, agriculture created it all.

Who is the workforce behind this industry, you may ask? Farmers. And today’s farmers are not your typical “Old McDonald” farmer that has a red barn, a cow, chicken, horse, and pig. Today’s farmers are usually specialized in one or two livestock or plant species and using the most modern technologies on their operation. Farmers are the men and women who grow and raise the animals and plants that supply our daily products. Without farmers, we would each have to produce the food we eat and grow and make the clothes we wear. Without farmers, we would each have to become the farmer.

Before we go on, I want you to look at the picture below and I want you to identify the items that came from agriculture. Keep a count of all the products that come from agriculture.

PaintA2-without directionsjpg

There may be some obvious products like milk that comes from diary cows, and eggs that come from chickens, and carrots that came from a garden. But what if I told you there are 40 products in this picture that come from agriculture. Go ahead, I’ll give you another second to do another count…

The 40 products that come from agriculture that are in the picture are:

Bathroom– band-aids, hair conditioner, tissue, shampoo, soap, toilet paper, tooth brushes, toothpaste, towels, vitamins

Bedroom– baseball, baseball bat, baseball glove, bed frame, bed sheets, night stand/table, pillows, rug, slippers, teddy bear, wood floors

Kitchen– bone china, cabinets, cook books, eggs, flour, flowers, fruits and vegetables, ketchup, milk and cheese, pie, soup with a spoon, sugar, soda, pepper, oven mitts, and ham.

This picture shows how our daily lives are filled with agricultural products that we might not generally think of. Agriculture is more than just an industry, it’s a necessity.

Coming from the state of Iowa, we are one of the top agriculture producing states, and produce products that are exported internationally! Iowa is a leading producer of corn, soybeans, pork, and egg production. Now you may be wondering how toothpaste and Band-Aids can come from agriculture? In order to explain more, I’d like to take a closer look at the corn industry.

You might think all that corn growing in the Iowa fields is sweet corn, but it’s not. 99% of the corn grown in Iowa is field or dent corn and it’s not something we can eat right out of the field. Less than 1% of the corn grown in the United States is sweet corn. Dent/field corn is mainly used for ethanol production and as a feed source for livestock, but it also helps make over 4,000 other products we use every day. The starch of the corn plant goes into making adhesives for glues, plywood, fireworks, sandpaper, and wallpaper. The oil of the corn plant goes into making tanning oils, printing inks, and vitamin carriers. And the corn cob goes into making cosmetic powders, cleaning agents, and construction paper. Products like toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, medicines, glues, chewing gums all have corn in them. The picture below offers more of the products that were made possible by corn.

corn post jpg

How is this possible? Well we use the by-products of plants and animals to make these items. By-products are goods that are produced additionally to another product. For example, the main purpose of beef cattle is for meat production. After the meat has been harvested there are still many uses that can be made from beef cattle. The hooves, horns, and bones are used to make toothbrushes, toothpaste, cosmetics, glues and adhesives, paper, Jell-O, marshmallows, and bone china. The hide of cattle is used to make leather products such as sports items like baseballs and gloves, as well as belts, shoes, and jackets. And beef fat helps make soaps, shampoos, and other personal hygiene items.

Soybeans also contribute to the list of items made from agriculture. Some of the more familiar products from soybeans would include soy milk, soy sauce, and bean sprouts. But also edamame are immature soybeans and tofu is another use of soybeans. Soybeans also go into products that we may not generally think of like pastry fillings, whipped toppings, paints, crayons, biodiesels, laundry detergents, antifreeze and so much more. For more information on products that come from soybeans check out the picture below.

soybean poster

The last commodity group that I will hit on is the pork industry. Not only is the pork industry known for their juicy pork chops and sweet honey hams but it also contributes largely to the medical industry. If you are diabetic the insulin you use comes from the pancreas gland of pigs. Cortisone is produced from the adrenal glands and heart valves come from the heart to aid in medical surgeries.

So, my question for you is do you think you could live a day without agriculture? If you did, that first picture would look a little bit more like this.

Without Ag jpg

Almost everything we use and eat come from the agriculture industry. Without this industry our lives wouldn’t be what they are today. So, I encourage you to stop and take the time to think about how your life would change without this industry and ask yourself, “Where is Agriculture?” Not only that but if you want to learn more I encourage you to join in the conversation. Connect with farmers and ask them questions or if you are looking for more educational resources check out these resources and continue to learn about the industry that impacts us all!

-Hannah

http://www.iowaagliteracy.org/

https://www.iowacorn.org/corn-uses/

http://www.iasoybeans.com/

http://www.iowapork.org/

How Many Ears?

How many ears will you find on a stalk of corn?

The question seems simple enough. Often times, cartoon drawings of corn plants show bountiful plants with six or eight or more ears of corn – one with every leaf. But the reality is much different. How many ears of corn on a single stalk? The short answer is….one.

But as Paul Harvey would say…and now, the rest of the story.

How many ears on a single stalk of corn? It depends! Corn or maize is a grass and like other grass species it has the possibility of producing tillers (stems that grow after the initial parent shoot grows from the seed) or branches. In the case of corn, the branch is called the shank which is a small stalk-like structure that grows out from a leaf node. Leaf nodes in the middle of the stalk have the potential of growing these shanks. It is from this shank that an ear of corn will grow.

One factor that will influence ear production is population density. Over the last half century, farmers have been able to plant corn plants closer and closer together. This allows for more total production and more bushels of corn per acre to be harvested. As the plant’s genes interact with its environment the plant will respond. More light, water, and nutrients will produce more branching. In high density populations (like in a typical cornfield) light doesn’t get all the way down and so there is less branching. The plant can dedicate all of its resources to producing one really good ear of corn rather than wasting water and nutrients on producing multiple, less viable ears. The corn plant’s main goal in life is reproduction and it wants to give its seeds the best chance of survival. One ear of corn with 600-800 seeds is better than two ears with only 200-300 seeds.

In modern cornfields in the U.S., farmers may plant 30 inch rows with 30 to 35 thousand seeds per acre resulting in that many individual plants. Some farmers are planting 12 inch rows with as many as 60,000 plants per acre! Soil and available nutrients have to be able to support that many plants, and each farm and each field is different. Corn varieties that farmers use today have been selected and bred for high densities, meaning that they can tolerate high populations and usually only produce one ear per plant.

But in the right conditions things could change. If those high density varieties of corn (or any other cultivar of corn) are spaced out with low competition, plenty of sunlight, water, and nutrients, they could branch more and produce more ears of corn. Often times, farmers will see more ears at the edges of fields because the end rows have more sunlight and more space. But the second ear will not usually be as good of quality. The primary nutrient that is a limiting factor for overall growth and ear development is nitrogen.

Sometimes farmers can increase the population of corn planted and actually decrease the number of ears. Some plants would be barren and not produce an ear. If the farmer is growing the corn as stover (stem and leaf materials) to feed to livestock as chopped silage, there is no need to produce a large ear.

Of course with all of this, we are primarily talking about field corn (also called dent corn). Field corn accounts for 99% of the corn grown in Iowa. Field corn can be used for human food (tortilla chips, cornbread, etc.), animal food (both ground corn and fresh silage), and fuel production (ethanol and corn oil biodiesel).

Sweet corn, the kind that we enjoy fresh off the cob in the summer, is sometimes considered a low-value crop when compared to other vegetables. This is because it takes up valuable room – a lot of room – in a garden and only produces one ear per plant. Sweet corn can take up to 3 square feet of space. If you harvest a cucumber from the garden, more will grow and you can get multiple harvests. But if you pick an ear of corn, the plant is done producing. Sweet corn may produce two or sometimes three ears per plant because there is wider spacing and less competition. Early maturing sweet corn varieties may still only have one ear. Later maturing sweet corn varieties might have multiple ears.

So, don’t believe those cartoon drawings! Corn usually only has one ear per stalk.

And now you know the rest of the story.

-Will

 

Sweet Corn Science: What Makes Sweet Corn Sweet? Why Does Corn Have Hair? & Other Questions Answered

sweet corn - close

One of the best things about summer is sweet corn.  We’ve had it almost every night for supper this week.  The two nights we didn’t, my kids whined like I just told them they have to give away their favorite toy.  I don’t blame them though.  What’s not to love about sweet corn?   It’s not only delicious, but it’s fun to eat and fun prepare too.  My kids love helping husk sweet corn.  It’s a mess and takes longer than if I did it myself, but it’s well worth it.  They have a blast, and I love the non-stop questions they ask.  “What makes sweet corn sweet?”  “Why does corn have hair?”  “Is this the same corn that cows eat?”  I usually give them pretty simple answers, but their questions got me thinking about the science behind the whys.   Below are some of their questions, as well as questions about corn that I’ve been asked by students and teachers over the years.

What makes sweet corn sweet?  

It’s all about sugar.  Not cane sugar or beet sugar, but natural sugars that occur in plants.  Sweet corn kernels have a very high sugar content when harvested at right time.  I’ll go into more detail about this later.

 What is the difference between the corn we eat (sweet corn) and animals eat (field corn)?  

Although they are closely related, they look different, taste different and are used for different things.  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.  Field corn is harvested in the fall, after the plant dies and the seeds are dry and hard.  Field corn has a much higher starch content and is used to make livestock feed, ethanol, corn meal, corn starch, corn syrup and more.   Check out our blog post from last year to learn more about the difference between sweet corn and field corn.

Is Iowa the top sweet corn producing state?  If not, why?

Nope.  Iowa doesn’t even make the top 20 list.  Our growing season is too short and we are not home to any major canned or frozen vegetable companies.  Sweet corn is only harvested in Iowa from July through early September.  The fresh corn we eat the rest of the year comes from warmer states like Florida, California, and Georgia.  Most of the frozen and canned corn we purchase is grown in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Pacific Northwest states.  These states are home to many major vegetable processors who contact local farmers to grow sweet corn they use.  Iowa’s landscape is covered with corn fields, but nearly all of it is field corn.  Less than 1% of the corn grown in Iowa is sweet corn. 

Why doesn’t sweet corn taste as good a few days after you pick it? 

True sweet corn connoisseurs, including most farmers I know, prefer to eat corn the day it is picked.  That is because it tastes better!   When freshly picked, sweet corn is high in sugar and low in starch.  As sweet corn sits after picking, the sugars in the kernel turn to starch.  This mutes the flavor and affects its texture when cooked.

Having said that, it is completely safe to store in the refrigerator for up to a week.  Be sure to leave the husks on until you are ready to cook it though.  The husks help seal in the moisture and slow the conversion of sugars to starch.

Is sweet corn a fruit or vegetable? 

Both. Botanically speaking, an ear of sweet corn is a fruit (the seed producing part of the plant).  Tomatoes, squash, peppers and other seed-containing vegetables are technically fruits too.  In culinary terms, corn is considered a vegetable because it is a relatively unsweet edible plant part.  If you really want your head spinning with botanical lingo, check-out this fun video from SciShow.   I think it is more entertaining than most prime-time TV, but I am admittedly a plant-loving science geek.

Why doesn’t sweet corn from the grocery store in the winter taste as good?

Corn purchased in the winter, is grown in southern states like Florida.  It can be several days to a few weeks form the time it is picked until you buy it at the store.  During this time, sugar in the corn converts to starch making it less sweet and tender.  Growers and distributors store and transport corn in refrigerated units to slow this process, but there’s no way to stop effects of time completely.

What are the hair-like things between the husks and the kernels?  

corn plant diagramAlthough they are a big nuisance while cleaning and eating sweet corn, those “hairs” are extremely important.  Corn kernels couldn’t develop without silks.   In simple terms, the silk is a tiny tube that pollen travels down to make the kernels of corn.   Corn is monecious, meaning it has both male and female flowers on the same plant. The corn silk is the female flower and the tassel at the top of the corn plant is the male flower.  During pollination, pollen from the tassel is carried by wind to the silks.  Pollen grains attach to the sticky end each silk, and then travel down the silks to fertilize each ovary.  After pollination, the ovary develops into a kernel of corn at the other end of the each strand of silk.   Take a look the next time you husk corn, and you will notice that there is a silk attached to each kernel.

How do farmers know when sweet corn is ready to harvest?

Sweet corn should be harvested at the milk stage.   As the name implies, the kernels are full of a milky-looking juice when ready to pick.  To test, growers will pierce the soft kernels with their thumbnail to look for the milk, or even bite into a raw ear to test for sweetness.  Immature corn will ooze a clear liquid, while over-mature sweet corn kernels are tough and almost doughy inside.

There are also visual cues that you can use at the store without pulling back the husks.  Ready-to-eat ears are plump.  The silks at the end are brown and starting to dry, but the husks are still bright green and supple.  Skinny ears with extra pointy ends and white silks are immature.  These are signs that pollination just occurred and the kernels inside are not fully formed.  Also avoid buying ears with completely dry silks and husks that are pale green, brownish, dry-looking.  This indicates over-mature or not freshly picked corn.

Can you pick field corn early and eat it like sweet corn?

You can eat it, but it won’t taste nearly as good.  Field corn also goes through a milk stage like sweet corn.  As mentioned earlier, field corn has a much higher starch.  This makes the kernels considerably less sweet and much tougher, even when harvested during the milk stage.

What other questions do you have?  Ask away!  I’d love to answer your questions and help simplify the science of sweet corn.

-Cindy