INDIAN CORN: A FALL FAVORITE!

indian cornA symbol of harvest season, they crop up every fall— those ears of corn with multicolored kernels that adorn doors and grace centerpieces. So how does this decorative corn, known in America as flint corn or Indian corn, differ from other types of corn? How long has it been around? Also, is it grown solely to look good next to pumpkins, gourds and scarecrows in those seasonal displays, or can you actually eat it?

Corn does not grow wild anywhere in the world. Instead, this domesticated plant evolved sometime in the last 10,000 years, through human intervention, from teosinte, a form of wild Mexican grass. Originally cultivated in the Americas, corn was brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus in the late 1400s; thanks to other explorers and traders, it soon made its way to much of the rest of the globe. In America, the early colonists learned how to cultivate it from the Indians, for whom it was a dietary staple.

Consumed by both animals and humans (by some accounts, corn is contained in 75 percent of all grocery items) , corn also is used in a wide range of non-culinary products, including ethanol, pharmaceuticals, fabrics, makeup, explosives, paper goods and paints. The United States is the planet’s top producer and exporter of corn, the majority of which is grown in the Midwest. By far, the most commonly cultivated kind of corn in America is dent corn (also called field corn), which is used primarily to feed livestock. Dent corn, which also is used in the manufacture of industrial products and processed foods, gets its name from the indentation that appears on the outside of its mature kernels, a result of the hard and soft starch contained in each kernel shrinking unequally during ripening. The kind of corn people usually eat is sweet corn, which can be cooked and chowed directly off the cob, and is also sold canned or frozen. Like dent corn, its kernels are usually yellow or white.

Flint corn, or Indian corn, is one of the oldest varieties of corn, a type that Native Americans taught the early colonists how to cultivate. Its kernels, which come in a range of colors including white, blue and red, have “hard as flint” shells, giving this type of corn its name. Flint corn kernels contain a small amount of soft starch surrounded completely by a larger amount of hard starch, which means the kernels shrink uniformly when drying and are dent-free and less prone to spoiling (and therefore ideal for autumnal décor). Despite its tough exterior, this type of corn can be consumed by livestock and humans, and is used in such dishes as hominy and polenta.

Did You Know?

  • Another type of colorful corn associated with fall, candy corn, was first sold in the 1880s by the Wunderle Candy Company of Philadelphia. Today, the tricolor treat, whose key ingredients include sugar and corn syrup, is made with a corn starch molding process and produced by a number of candy companies. All told, more than 35 million pounds of candy corn roll off the assembly lines each year.

Thanks to the History Channel for this interesting history on Indian Corn!

ALTERNATIVES TO TRADITIONAL HALLOWEEN FOODS

It’s that time of the year again!  Get out your spider webs, punch bowls, and make sure you’ve stocked up on plenty of candy.  Halloween means trick-or-treating, costumes, food, and social events.  Make sure you’re not left in the cold this October with a party that less than wow’s your crowd.  So, send out your most spooktacular and ghoulish invitations to your family and friends, assemble the perfect costume, and begin the grocery list that will make your guests’ hearts beat in antici………PATION.

A Halloween party may include costume themes or feature favorites like witch’s brew, bobbing for shrunken heads (apples), popcorn “eye” balls, lady’s fingers, worms in dirt, and anything else that can be turned into a deadly dessert.  For the health-conscious, this will be your “cheat” weekend—which will extend into however long it takes stores to run out of discounted candy.  Before you shriek in horror at what may seem like a fun house mirror, let’s look at some traditional Halloween favorites and find some “alternative” substitutions for your chocolate-covered concoctions.

mini carmel apples how toSince apples are in season and orchards are selling their homegrown apples at discounted prices, let’s make caramel apples easier. Try using a spoon to “carve” your apple into more manageable, bite sized options.   Use a sugar-free caramel dip and a pretzel stick as a “stem” to add a salty-sweet addition.  For your grownup crowd, this eliminates the ever embarrassing caramel beard, and your guests mini carmel appleswill appreciate your consideration. Mixing vanilla Greek yogurt with peanut butter and milled flaxseeds adds a sophisticated and delicious addition to the traditional caramel apple dip as well. Serve with dehydrated apples or “leaves” for a healthy Halloween spoof. What do you think about the “new” genetically modified apples that do not bruise or turn brown? They may be the best dressed at the party!

Other favorites include popcorn balls.  They are easy and cheap to make, especially if you are popping the corn yourself. Using food coloring, you can create a “pumpkin carving contest” with your guests using different dried fruits, nuts, or candy.  Popcorn balls are a great way to eliminate over-eating at a party since they are pretty substantial.  Fill yours with dried cranberries, pistachios, and sunflower seeds for a “rotten” treat everyone will love!

pumpkin popcorn ballspopcorn balls

 

 

 

 

 

Serve up some eye balls in your guests’ drinks by freezing peeled grapes and dropping them in as an ice substitute!  If you are using a traditional witch’s brew, use a vegetable peeler to “shave” a cucumber into strands.  Freeze them to add an extra-gooey look to any drink with a hidden hydration boost!

grape eyesFor more ideas on alternative twists to your traditional Halloween foods, check out the following pictures and “like” The Food You Eat Facebook page.  Starting this week there will be a focus on all types of alternative foods for Halloween including the ever controversial “Frankenfoods” debate!  Post your ideas and respond to posts with some of your own Halloween favorites!

Mariah DavidsonMariah Davidson
IL State University student

THIS FAILS EVERY SCIENTIFIC TEST …

GMO Labeling

Illinois Corn does not support GMO labeling because the movement is based on emotions and not scientific fact.  Non-GMO labeling is a marketing opportunity and some farmers will find a niche there and make a premium for their product.  We whole heartedly support those efforts.  But we do not support GMO labeling for all when there is no reason to label.

The fact remains that there are no peer reviewed studies that prove GMO foods to be harmful.

(We also don’t support legislation that mandates GMO labeling for some, and not for all.  The legislation proposed in Illinois offers loop holes for several segments of the food industry – not cool.)

For more graphics like this one that are not only beautiful to look at, but also really educational, visit Keeping It Real: Through the Lens of a Farm Girl!

WHY ARE THERE STILL NO NEW LOCKS AND DAMS!?

This is a super fun video that explains some of the reasons we need to update and upgrade our locks and dams. Did you know that the locks and dams we’re using today were built during Mark Twain’s time for paddle boats?

Today we are celebrating the Water Resources and Reform Development Act (WRRDA) that just passed in the House last night. It attempts to fix some of the problems but STILL doesn’t help us get the funds to build new locks and dams. In fact, this WRRDA doesn’t even include an increase in the user fee that industry all agrees to in order to get more money in the pot. This isn’t even federal money!!!

Learn more about our efforts to modernize our waterways infrastructure here and here!

IT’S HARVEST TIME!

Harvest is the time of year I look forward to the most, and I think most farmers will agree. As a farmer’s daughter, I watch my dad literally work day in and day out all year round in preparation for harvest. Whether it be making repairs on equipment late at night, tearing up the fields and planting seed, spraying the crops for pests and diseases, or walking through the fields to check how the crops are progressing through the season – it all leads up to what we are here for… harvest.

It’s the time of year where a farmer can physically see if his or her hard work has paid off; where you watch the grain fill the hopper, and know you are supplying feed for livestock, food for millions of people, and many more products worldwide.

harvest image

It’s the time of year when the air smells of freshly cut fields.

combine harvest

It’s the time of year when you use a walkie-talkie radio instead of a cell phone.

harvest radio

It’s the time of year when you wear boots EVERYWHERE.

harvest boots

It’s the time of year when you don’t eat as a family at the dinner table, but instead eat sack lunches in the field.

illinois harvest

It’s the time of year when you drink out of more water jugs than cups.

water harvest

It’s the time of year when you still see headlights out in the field at 9:00 at night.

nighttime harvest

It’s the time of year when you work together as a team and a family.

harvest auger

Harvest time holds some of my fondest memories. Despite how much everything has changed over the years, whether it be the technology, equipment, or seed, the things that I have listed of what makes harvest, harvest have always been the same. As a child, the voices of my dad and uncle talking on the radio echoed in our kitchen, and I would fall asleep to the sound of grain falling into our metal bin outside my window. The fact that these memories are still happening to this day 20 odd years later, is heartwarming… and, in a way, I relive my childhood every harvest.

family harvest

Kelsey FritscheKelsey Fritsche
Southern IL University student

GO HOG WILD!!

This October, we are celebrating National Ham Month with a squeal of delight!

Ham has existed ever since Cato the Elder, a famous Roman Statesmen wrote about salting pork legs in 160 B.C.  Hogs have been a part of the American culture over the past 300 years in the form of bacon, ham, pulled pork and more. Check out this awesome graphic showing what the pig gave us! Pig PartsFor more than 2/3rd of that time, Americans have been curing and eating ham.  Curing ham originated in Virginia during the mid 1700s and spread across the country over the years.

Here are ten fun facts about pigs, ham and the industry;

1)      During the War of 1812, a packer named Uncle Sam Wilson sent off several hundred barrels of cured ham and pork for the troops.  Each package was labeled ’U.S.’ and it didn’t take long for ‘Uncle Sam’ to be a household name for the government.

2)      Swine were among the first of all animals to be domesticated- around 10,000 years ago.  The Chinese were the first to raise wild pigs for food.

The Pig3)      Baby pigs appear very greedy when they are competing for food from their mothers.  For this reason, the words “pig” and “hog” have come to be associated with greedy behavior.

4)      George A. Hormel & Company pioneered canned hams in America in 1926, which cost around $4.00.

5)      Country Ham was first mentioned in print in 1944, referring to a method of curing and smoking done in the rural sections of the Eastern United States.

6)      A ham from the right leg is tougher than a ham from the left leg; this is because a pig uses his right leg to scratch himself, which means he will use the muscles more often.

7)      Pork production creates nearly 35,000 full-time jobs and an additional 515,000 indirect jobs, accounting for more than $97 billion in sales each year.

8)      In 1950, there were over 3 million pork operations in America.  Today there are less than 70,000, with over half of those producing over 5,000 pigs per year.

9)      Illinois ranks fourth in pork production behind Iowa, North Carolina and Minnesota.  In 2011, Illinois produced 1.9 billion pounds of pork.

10)  At the global level, pork is by far the most widely consumed meat.

Ham is traditionally made from only the hind legs of swine, but today can include meat that has been processed and reformed.  Ham exists in many different varieties, cuts and styles.  Some of the most popular are;

  • Aged Hams are heavily cured, smoked hams that have been hung to age from 1 to 7 years and are covered in a mold that must be scraped off before eating.
  • Brine-Cured ham is soaked in salt water brine and then smoked.  This variety is the most common form of ham found in grocery stores.
  • Black Forest Ham is a variety of dry-cured smoked ham produced in the Black Forest region of Germany, and is the most popular European variety.
  • Canadian Bacon is a lean cut taken from the eye of the loin of the middle back.  It is precooked smoked meat, and is much more akin to ham than bacon.
  • Country Cured Ham is also known as country style ham is uncooked, cured, aged and dried and prior to consumption must be cooked with a special process.
  • Prosciutto HamProsciutto is an Italian ham that is seasoned, salt cured and air-dried.  The meat is not smoked and is pressed into a dense, firm texture.

Any blog about food wouldn’t be a good blog without sharing some ideas about incorporating ham in your diet.  Ham has a healthy dose of protein and iron, but the type of ham you eat will influence how nutritious the meal is.  The best choice would likely be lean deli ham.  Deli ham is low in fat and pairs well on sandwiches, but it still has a large quantity of sodium.  Cured hams have a small amount of calcium and potassium, but they also have an elevated saturated fat level.  Your best bet will be to look lean ham and varieties low in sodium.  Many brands also manufacture deli meats that don’t contain nitrates which are harmful to human health.

You can easily use deli ham on a sandwich and even chop it up to put it on a breakfast omelet.  Add ham chunks to a pasta salad or scatter it over a tossed green salad to add a healthy dose of protein.  You can also add chunks of ham to soups and casseroles for flavors.  Or, you can glaze it in mustard and maple syrup and eat it as a main course.

Ham is a much more versatile food product than one might expect.  You can find almost any way to somehow incorporate it in your meal, given a little creativity.  My family loves their fair share of ham and has a delicious Ham and Corn Chowder recipe.  While it’s a timeless family secret, this one is just as good and will satisfy any appetite on a cool October evening.

Ham and Corn Chowder

Ham and Corn Chowder Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 bacon strips, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup sliced celery
  • ½ cup diced green pepper
  • 3 cups cubed peeled potatoes (about 3 medium)
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups whole milk, divided
  • 4 cups fresh or frozen whole kernel corn, divided
  • 2 cups cubed fully cooked ham
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon

Directions:

  1. In a large saucepan, cook bacon until crisp.  Remove bacon to paper towel todrain, reserving ¼ cup drippings in pan.  Saute onion, celery, green pepper in drippings for 5 minutes.  Add potatoes and broth.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes
  2. Place ½ cup milk and 2 cups corn in a blender; cover and process until pureed.  Pour into saucepan.  Add ham and remaining corn, simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Stir in the butter, seasonings, and remaining milk; heat through.  Garnish with bacon.

Yield: 10-12 servings (3 quarts)

Jacob DickeyJacob Dickey
University of Illinois student

GMOs – THERE’S JUST NO SUGAR COATING THIS

Most of the corn grown in Illinois is genetically modified corn.  It’s genetically altered to withstand insect attack or to live through certain herbicide applications.  New varieties are genetically altered to perform under stressful conditions like last year’s drought.

Although this technology makes some customers skeptical, hybridization of crops has been happening for years and years.  In fact, the history of the Illinois Corn Growers Association starts before 1900 sometime when groups of farmers would come together for a fall meeting to trade their best ears of corn.  Those kernels from other parts of the state would grow and pollinate with kernels the farmer already had to continually produce the best corn – ear size, stalk quality, performance under stress were all factors when farmers selected their very best ears.

Years later, we shorten the process by choosing genes that we know are insect resistant, herbicide resistant, drought resistant and inserting them into our plants.  And some remain unsure that the research has been done to prove these foods safe.

But this recent article in Forbes magazine begs the opposite.  In fact, the author says that to believe GMO foods remain untested is to blatantly ignore the truth.

A team of Italian scientists  recently summarized 1783 studies about the safety and environmental impacts of GMO foods—”a staggering number.

“The researchers couldn’t find a single credible example demonstrating that GM foods pose any harm to humans or animals. ‘The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops,’ the scientists concluded.”

So, the bottom line is here is that luckily, we live in America where (to date) everyone is allowed the choice to purchase the foods they love and feel most comfy with.  But to argue that GMO foods aren’t tested enough to prove their safety is to argue against conventionally grown crops based on fear and marketing.

I know its October – the season for sugar – but there’s just no sugar coating this.

mitchell_lindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

PUMPKINS! PUMPKINS! PUMPKINS!

pumpkins

It’s that time of year again…the leaves are changing, the nights are crisp, and of course there are PUMPKINS everywhere! Here are 15 facts that you probably didn’t know about pumpkins:

  1. The U.S. pumpkin industry is valued at $141 million.
  2. U.S. farmers grow more than 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins each year.
  3. Illinois is the #1 pumpkin producing state with nearly 12,300 acres of pumpkins planted each year.  Illinois Pumpkins
  4. The self-proclaimed “Pumpkin Capital of the World” in Morton, Illinois where Libby has its pumpkin plant.
  5. The average pumpkin weighs around 13 pounds, but the largest pumpkin ever was recorded in last year and weighed 2,009 pounds!
  6. The first “pumpkin pie” was created by American colonists who sliced off pumpkin tops, removed the seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. This was then baked in hot ashes.
  7. Pumpkins are 90% water.
  8. Pumpkins are a fruit.
  9. The largest pumpkin pie ever made weighed 3,699 pounds. What’s the recipe you might ask? All you need is 1,212 pounds of canned pumpkin, 2,796 eggs, 109 gallons of evaporated milk, 525 pounds of sugar, 7 pounds of salt and 14.5 pounds of cinnamon. Largest Pumpkin Pie
  10. Pumpkins are low in calories, fat, and sodium and high in fiber. They are good sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein, and iron.
  11. One cooked cup of pumpkin contains only 49 calories!
  12. Pumpkin seeds should be planted between the last week of May and the middle of June. They take between 90 and 120 days to grow and are picked in October when they are bright orange in color.
  13. Pumpkin flowers are edible.
  14. Pumpkins are usually orange but can sometimes be yellow, white, green or red.
  15. Pumpkins are sometimes used in animal feed.

Bet you learned something there, didn’t you? But WAIT, there’s more! Have you ever wondered where Jack O’Lanterns came from? They have been around for centuries.

Jack O'LanternThe History of Jack O’Lanterns (from The History Channel):The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the Jack O’Lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect Jack O’Lanterns.”

FINALLY, you can’t end a blog post around pumpkins without a recipe, can you? Here’s a recipe for my mother’s FAMOUS and EASY pumpkin bars. You’ll love them, I guarantee it!

Pumpkin Bars:Pumpkin Bars

–          2 c. sugar
–          1 c. salad oil
–          4 eggs
–          2 c. pumpkin
–          2 c. flour
–          2 tsp. baking powder
–          2 tsp. baking soda
–          1 tsp. cinnamon

  1. Mix in a bowl in the order given
  2. Pour into a 15 ½ x 10 ½ in. jelly roll pan
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes
  4. Cool, then frost with the following frosting

Frosting:

–          3 oz. cream cheese
–          ¾ stick margarine
–          1 tbsp. vanilla
–          3 c. powdered sugar

  1. Soften cream cheese
  2. Beat all ingredients together until smooth
  3. Spread over bars

Liz HarfstLiz Harfst
University of Illinois