Maple Syrup Time

We can sense winter giving way to spring, as the days grow longer, the sunshine feels warmer, and we enter a period of almost daily freezing and thawing of the air and the soil. People involved in producing maple syrup might consider this the fifth season of the year–maple sugaring season. It’s celebrated throughout Indiana at festivals and demonstrations, including the recent Parke County Maple Syrup Festival, the subject of the new episode of the Indiana Home Cooks here:

(Subscribe or follow on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or SoundCloud.)

The freezing and thawing this time of year, with temperatures below 32° at night, and above 40 during the day, cause the sugar maple tree to draw moisture up through its roots and to its entire height. For centuries we’ve understood that tapping into that sugar water does nothing to harm the tree and provides us with the raw product that becomes maple syrup.

The sugar water, or sap, once collected, is delivered to the sugar house where it’s boiled for hours until it becomes the golden sweet maple syrup most of us are familiar with. Don’t confuse real maple syrup with the commercial brands of “pancake syrup” that line the grocery store shelves. Those are basically corn syrup with maple flavoring added. And there is nothing wrong with pancake syrup. It is significantly cheaper than pure maple syrup. Find one you like and go for it. But now and then, it’s nice to splurge a little on the real thing.

That got me thinking, though. When I was grocery shopping for a family of four, and perusing the pancake syrups in their various iterations–“original,” “lite,” “sugar free,” store brands, national name brands–I remember thinking how expensive this one item seemed be. My typical purchase was a 24-ounce bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s Lite, which everyone in the house seemed to like. I don’t remember exactly what I paid for Mrs. B’s years ago, but a recent search of the item at my local Pay-Less (Kroger) Store found it for $3.89. A quick calculation converts that to 16 cents per ounce. And that was not the most expensive syrup on the shelf. Aunt Jemima’s Original Lite Syrup, 24 oz., rings up at $4.89 (20 cents/oz.). Standing in the aisle, you think to yourself, “Almost $5 for a bottle of syrup?!?!?”

When I at last signed up for a membership at Sam’s Club, I quit buying pancake syrup at the grocery store and bought it only at Sam’s. That was the best deal going–a 2-pack of 64-ounce jugs of Mrs. Butterworth’s Original (not “lite”) for $6.82. That’s only 5 cents per ounce. (Now, since the two kids have been in college, and out of the house, I still have one of those 64-oz. jugs, un-opened in the pantry, for going on two years…..)

As a shopper, the cost of pancake syrup is one of those rather maddening things, because of the wide variation in price across brands and stores. So out of curiosity I checked several brands and sizes across several stores to get an idea of the cost difference between pure maple syrup and “pancake syrup.”  Here is what I found–Syrup Comparison

Of course, maple syrup is more expensive, making it a once-in-awhile treat. And locally made maple syrup is really up there in price. Sam’s Club Member’s Mark Maple Syrup costs 31 cents per ounce. The local stuff I bought in Parke County was three times that price.

But I was paying for more than syrup. It’s also the experience, right?  It was a lot of fun, and I look forward to going again next year. Observing fresh maple syrup being made and seeing right where it comes from are worth something. And I certainly want the producers to keep tapping, boiling, and bottling!

Top: the big cooker, boiling the maple sugar water into syrup at Williams & Teague Sugar Camp. Left: David Worth settling down the foam that builds up as the syrup boils. A drop of vegetable oil is all it takes. Middle: The Sweetwater Sugar Camp. Right: Getting closer to becoming maple syrup.

The Indiana Maple Syrup Association has more information about syrup producers and events in the state. The American Maple Museum, in Croghan, NY, has a fun slide show about the history of maple syrup in America here.

700 going on 1,000

Since launching the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast five months ago, I’ve had over 700 “listens,” and I thank each and every one of you for taking some time to check out my little show. Seeing it surpass the 700 mark, I’ve been wondering, how soon till we reach 1,000? So I’m putting together a push to reach 1,000 “listens” for the podcast.

If you’ve not tuned in yet, it’s very simple. Click here for Apple Podcasts, or here for Stitcher, whichever podcast player you prefer. There you will see the complete list of shows and you can listen to them all, or just the ones that interest you. If you subscribe to the podcast, you’ll get the latest episodes as they are posted. Right now that’s about every 10 days, give or take. There is no cost to subscribe.

If you like what you hear, share it with your friends, on your Facebook page, or on other social media. This blog has sharing buttons at the bottom of each post. Feel free to share it  with someone who might like Indiana Home Cooks.

Finally, if you have suggestions or ideas for future shows, let me know. You can reply on my Facebook page, Twitter, or send me an email: susanmintert@gmail.com.

Thank you again for your support of Indiana Home Cooks. I hope to hear from you with your feedback, and I’ll keep looking for new stories of food and drink in the Hoosier State to share with you.

The Farm at Prophetstown State Park

The Farm at Prophetstown State Park, outside Battle Ground, Indiana, offers a glimpse into what life was like on an Indiana farm in the 1920’s–from the garden to the barnyard to the wood-burning cookstove in the kitchen. On “The Farm” episode of Indiana Home Cooks, Lauren Reed, the education and events coordinator at The Farm, tells us all about her labor of love. (Here is the episode on Stitcher.)

The time period featured at The Farm, the 1920’s, was a period of transition for farming and for homemaking. The era of mechanization was just beginning–tractors replacing horses, washing machines replacing the washboard, to name a couple examples. The historic Gibson House at The Farm still features a wood burning cookstove in the kitchen. On the icy morning I met Lauren, the stove was not cooperating with her efforts to start a fire to take the chill out of the air. One reminder that life a hundred years ago had its challenges!

In addition to her educational duties, Lauren is also a professional chef who creates special dinners at The Farm using ingredients grown on site. Her experience in the restaurant business goes back to her college days at Indiana State.  She keeps her chef skills honed working special VIP events (as in, the Super Bowl!) with a large event catering business. She talks about her experience at this year’s Super Bowl. She also shared some pictures from the VIP tailgate party she cooked….

In the upper left image, Lauren is on the right. Guy Fieri is keeping a low profile in camo. What an experience for a girl from Rossville, Indiana! Thanks, Lauren, for giving us a peek.

Food Finders

For low income individuals and families, here in my part of Indiana and in every community, it’s a struggle to put good nutritious food on the table every day. From time to time on the Indiana Home Cooks podcast, we like to feature individuals and organizations doing the real work of helping those in need. On the “Food Finders” episode of Indiana Home Cooks, available here…and here, we highlight the work of Food Finders Food Bank, in Lafayette, Indiana.

I had heard of Food Finders for many years since moving to West Lafayette. But I never really understood what the organization did, other than collect donations of food and then distribute it to those in need in the community. Yes, that’s at the heart of what Food Finders does but it’s service to low income individuals and families goes way beyond that, and across a sixteen county region!

On the show we hear from Katy Bender, president and CEO of Food Finders, explain how the organization has expanded it’s services beyond the distribution of food to helping low income individuals and families make their food dollars go further, and much more. We hear from a nutrition education specialist with Purdue Extension, Barb Bunnell, on some of the ways she teaches low income clients to get maximum nutrition by using their “SNAP” vouchers (formerly called food stamps) and the food handouts at local food pantries.

To learn more about Food Finders, visit their website, food-finders.org.

To hear more ways the people of the Lafayette community are helping those most in need, specifically the homeless, check out the Feeding the Hungry episode of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast.

 

 

Welcome to Indiana Home Cooks

Hello friends of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast. Susan Mintert here, creator and host of the podcast, and author of this blog. This is where you can find more information on what you hear on Indiana Home Cooks. If we talk about recipes, or demonstrate a dish on the show, you can look for it here. I’ll also have additional insights, pictures, and other background right here for specific shows.

So how did I get started on this podcast venture, anyway? The short answer is I have a background in radio (most of it in public radio) and a great interest in food and love of cooking. I enjoy talking to people who do the real work of putting food and drink on the table, all the way from the grower, to the processor, to the home cook or professional, to the person sitting down and eating or drinking it. I guess that’s the very definition of “farm to fork,” or “farm to glass” in the case of beer and wine.

Oh, and I should mention the other part of it. I am a Hoosier, in both senses of the word. I was born and raised on a farm in Clay County, and am a graduate of Indiana University. So the formative years were spent in Clay County and Bloomington, and now I’m based in West Lafayette. Yes, that West Lafayette, home of the Purdue Boilermakers. A crucial twenty years was spent in Kansas, but more about that later. For now, suffice to say I do have divided loyalties and am okay with that!

But back to the podcast….I hope you will enjoy hearing stories of family traditions, Hoosier customs, food and history, craft beer brewing, wine making, bread baking….in short, how food is more than what feeds our bodies. On Indiana Home Cooks we explore how food feeds the soul and how preparing a meal or a dish to share with others is an act of love.

We talk to food entrepreneurs who have turned a passion into a business. And we visit festivals that focus on food and drink, and events and sites that honor Indiana history and culture through food.

We also have fun and a few laughs along the way, especially when we get in the kitchen and create dishes right before your very ears! We’re cooking, baking, and “dishing” with a Hoosier sensibility. Check it out on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. And let me know what you think.

Boiler Gold

Below are a few pictures to go with the “Boiler Gold” episode of Indiana Home Cooks. Thanks to Brian Farkas, head of the Department of Food Sciences at Purdue, and Jean Jensen, manager of the Hops and Brewing Analysis Lab at Purdue University, for providing me with background on the development of the Boiler Gold beer. They were very generous with their time, talking about the work going on in Food Sciences and the lab, and showing me around the facilities.

And did you know you can listen, and subscribe to the Indiana Home Cooks podcast, at Apple Podcasts.  You can also find the show on Stitcher. Use whichever platform is most convenient. Please subscribe (it’s free) and leave a review. It helps others find the Indiana Home Cooks podcast.  Thanks!

This is what a hop cone looks like.

 

Hops that have been pelletized. They are used in brewing in this form, or as intact cones.

 

This says it all. Find where your favorite beers stack up in the Periodic Table.

 

I’m not a very good blogger. Christine and I had nearly finished our beers before I remembered to take a picture. Boiler Gold on the left, Thieme & Wagner Bock on right. Both were delicious!

People’s Brewing Company

People’s Brewing Company Taproom

“How’s your beer?” It’s a question that takes a little thought before answering. In the last twenty or so years there has been a proliferation in the number of beers to consider, both in the US, and in the state of Indiana. According to the Brewers of Indiana Guild, over 150 craft breweries are in operation in the state. That averages out to a bit more than 1.5 breweries per county. They are not dispersed evenly across the counties of course, but small, local craft breweries, brewpubs, and tap rooms are pretty well distributed from north to south. (Hear the People’s Brewing Company story on the IHC podcast here.)

And more are coming online each year. In the “Greater Lafayette” area, where I live, 2017 ended with three craft breweries going full steam, and one more just beginning operations. A fifth is in the works, projected to start brewing later this year, and it seems there is no end in sight. That’s great news for Hoosiers who enjoy beer and trying new brews! And it seems to be the trend nationwide. According to the Brewers Association for Small & Independent Craft Brewers, overall beer sales in the U.S. stayed level from 2015 to 2016. But for the small and independent brews, sales increased by 6.2 percent. Small and independent craft breweries make up almost 22 percent of the overall beer market in the US, as of the end of 2016, the latest year for which numbers are available.

Downtown Lafayette is home to the second-oldest operating brewery in the state, the Lafayette Brewing Company, established in 1993. LBC is a brewpub, featuring a full menu with family friendly dining in addition to the bar with many LBC beers in tap. People’s Brewing Company, also a Lafayette fixture, is newer on the scene, opening in 2009, as a production brewery. It’s beers are available all around the state in package stores and other retailers, at pubs, bars, and restaurants, as well as the People’s taproom at the brewery, 2006 North 9th Street, Lafayette. People’s opened the Revel Room a couple years ago in Lebanon, Indiana, as a taproom featuring People’s beers and family-friendly dining. A brewery will be added to the People’s Revel Room soon.

You can track the Indiana craft beer scene at the Brewers of Indiana Guild. The group’s 10th Annual Winterfest takes place Saturday, February 3, at the Indiana State Fairgrounds West Pavilion. Over 100 Hoosier breweries and food vendors will be on hand to help you taste the newest brews and old favorites. I’ll be there. Hope to see you there too!

So, “how’s your beer?” How about…Hoosier beer?

…or Boiler Beer!