Summer’s End–Celebrating Sweet Corn & Tomatoes

The calendar tells us summer is not over yet, but practically speaking, we are getting into the autumn mindset, with school back in session, football season underway, leaves beginning to fall, and the sweet corn season at an end. In my part of the state we had an abundance of delicious fresh sweet corn, despite the difficult growing season that gave farmers of all crops a few more gray hairs.

Listen to the new podcast episode HERE.

Each Labor Day Weekend the town of Hoopeston, Illinois, hosts the National Sweet Corn Festival. This year was the 76th annual festival. When my husband and I heard they gave away freshly cooked sweet corn we thought it would be worth our while to make the short drive across the state line to check it out. On the latest edition of the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast, you can hear what it was all about as I got a behind the scenes tour of the shucking, boiling, and buttering process. The Chairman of the Corn, P.J. Clingenpeel was my enthusiastic guide.

Also on the episode is my visit to Red Gold Tomatoes–the corporate headquarters and processing facility in Elwood, Indiana. Did you know Indiana is the third largest tomato growing state in the nation? It’s a distant third, after California and Florida, but we’re a major producer of tomatoes for processing and Red Gold is one of the biggest processors in the country.

For recipes and more information on Red Gold and their products, visit redgoldtomatoes.com. To learn more about the National Sweet Corn Festival, go to Hoopeston Jaycees. Thanks to Steve Smith and Julie Clarkson at Red Gold, and P.J. Clingenpeel at the Sweet Corn Festival.

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Chairman of the Corn P.J. Clingenpeel

The Indiana State Fair

If you haven’t made it to the Indiana State Fair yet this year, there is still time. By the time this posts, there will be five big days yet to go (it ends August 18).

Hear about my visit to the fair on the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast, HERE.

And if you miss out this year, you can rest assured that each summer brings a new opportunity to take in the fair and all its attractions–the 4-H competitions, music performances, agricultural displays and equipment, the Pioneer Village, the circus, the midway, the food….

Yes, it’s the food that is the main attraction for many fair-goers. Barbecued turkey legs, pork burgers, pork chops, beef rib-eyes, deep-fried pork tenderloin, deep fried (fill-in-the-blank), elephant ears, funnel cakes, ice cream, sweet corn, gyros, kabobs, and on and on… A page on the Indiana State Fair website features all the “new foods” at this year’s fair!

I always try to have an elephant ear at the fair. For those unfamiliar with this staple of the midway (anyone?), it’s a flat disc of yeast dough stretched like a pizza crust, deep fried and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. I missed out this year due to extenuating circumstances. I spent the day judging a barbecue cook-off and thus had no appetite for an elephant ear. Well, it’s something to look forward to next year.

Speaking of the barbecue cook-off, it’s put on at the State Fair every year by Shoup’s Country Foods. This year was the 10th annual competition. Congratulations to the overall champion team Gettin’ Piggy With It! See more on the Shoup’s Country Facebook page.

At this year’s fair, I made a point to spend some time in the Pioneer Village and learn a little about some of the old time cooking techniques. You can hear more about it on the new IHC Podcast episode here. Ever had cracklins? You’ll hear where they come from, plus other pioneer cooking tips and techniques in this episode.

I also met Jeanette Merritt of Indiana Pork, who shared a Tuscan Pork & Bean Salad during a cooking demonstration at the fair. She offered more pork cooking ideas on the podcast episode as well. Jeannette’s salad recipe is below, and more pork recipes are available at the Indiana Pork website.

A note about the man pictured below with no arms and tending the fire. He’s Jeffrey Scott and he’s volunteered at the State Fair Pioneer Village for most of his life. At a very young age he lost his arms in a tragic farm accident. But that didn’t slow him down. He was given the job of stirring the rendering pot when he was a young boy. And he can stir, even with no arms! He also is an accomplished wood crafter and carver.

 

Tuscan Pork & Bean Salad

ForkMorePork.com

  • 6 oz boneless pork loin, cooked, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 10 oz greens (Romaine, spinach, mixture)
  • 15 oz cannellini beans (or Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained)
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup green onions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup Italian salad dressing
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

In a shallow serving bowl toss together all ingredients, except parmesan cheese, with dressing. Portion onto individual serving plates and top each with 1 T parmesan cheese. Makes 4 dinner-sized salad servings.

Indiana Maple Syrup

The sugar maple trees in Indiana have come to life and are producing the sweet sap that becomes our beloved maple syrup. Check the earlier blogpost here for all the info.

Listen to the podcast episode “Parke County Maple Syrup Festival,” here or on your favorite podcast player. Visit the festival the last weekend of February and first weekend of March.

Indiana Artisans

Indiana Artisan is a non-profit organization whose mission is to identify and showcase the state’s highest quality art and food. The Indiana Artisan Marketplace was held recently at the State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, and I spoke with several of the artisans for the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast. Listen here:

The Indiana Artisan program was established through a resolution the state General Assembly passed in 2010. Since then the organization has approved, through a juried process, about 200 artists and food makers across the state to carry the “Indiana Artisan” brand. Two retail shops in the state are now devoted to selling Indiana Artisan products–one at the French Lick Resort, and a new location in downtown Carmel. The full story of the Indiana Artisan program is at it’s website.

While the bulk of the participants in the Indiana Artisan program are artists, there are many food makers among the group. These are folks who have taken a family recipe and turned it into a commercial success, or others who are highly skilled and have a passion for candy making, bread baking, wine making, etc. As one of the entrepreneurs told me, Indiana Artisan is not an organization you can pay ten dollars to join. Artisans submit an application and samples of their work, and are adjudicated by expert panels as to their worthiness in meeting the standards of the program. This rigorous application and jury process takes place only once each year, and only about twenty percent of applicants make the grade.

Of those who have succeeded, I spoke with five at the Indiana Artisan Marketplace, held in early April at the State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. That’s the subject of the latest Indiana Home Cooks podcast (press the orange play button above to hear it). Here is a rundown of who you will hear on the podcast, and links to their own websites:

David VanWye, Amazing Hazel’s Gourmet Chili Sauce.

Jay Noel, owner of Abbott’s Candies, based in Hagerstown.

Nick Murdick, creator and owner of Presto Kombucha fermented teas.

Connie Molenaar, of Connie’s Creations Long Leaf Pine Needle Baskets.

Dan Adams, owner and winemaker, Winzerwald Winery in Perry County.

All the above vendors are on Facebook and/or other social media. Look them up and let them know you heard about them on the Indiana Home Cooks podcast!

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:

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.