Category Archives: Agriculture

Farm to Table

One last stop in Washington was intended to simply highlight the focus on glorious local foods at one market but ended up being our lunch stop. Farm to You Market is owned by the Geisert family, who also own the organic, free-range, heritage hog farm down the road (which we passed).

In case you didn’t realize the owners raised pigs!

Not too surprisingly, there are a few dandy pork products on the menu in the bright, tidy lunch room. I had been told often enough by experts that jowl bacon (better known in some circles by its Italian name: guanciale), and when I saw it on the menu, I had to try it. It was intense—richer than belly bacon. I actually had to take most of it home, it was so rich and fatty. But then that might be because it was a side order that I had in addition to the kobe beef burger that was my meal. Hard to imagine a better burger: kobe beef, cheddar cheese, freshly made bun, bacon, and organic lettuce and tomato. Yum.

That’s the jowl bacon on the left, next to the pickle. Wow.

It was fun to tour the store, as well, and see some of the fun local products—including Pinckney Bend whiskey. But lots of pork products, organic vegetables, baked goods, and locally produced sauces, jams, and soda pops. Great fun.

Locally made bratwurst and sausage.

Locally made soda pop.

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Filed under Agriculture, Culture, Farming, Food, Midwest, Travel

Missouri Meerschaum Corncob Pipes

Among the things Ralph did to enrich my visit was arrange for a tour of the historic Missouri Meerschaum corncob pipe factory. This place is 147 years old and has over the years produced the pipes smoked by a wide range of luminaries, including Generals Pershing and Macarthur, as well as Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling. It is not the only company in the U.S. making corncob pipes, but it is the largest and the oldest.

The company’s general manager, Phil Morgan, guided us through the rooms of the spacious, old factory, explaining the steps involved in producing the famous pipes—of which they produce roughly 800,000 per year.

Not just any corn can be used. The cob needs to be strong and rigid, and it needs to be the right size. There actually is a variety of corn called pipe corn, and the company grows their own. Worth noting is that, as with other operations that utilize corn, nothing is wasted. Once the corn is shelled, the kernels go to Pinckney Bend, for their Pipe Corn Whiskey. Then (and you already may have guessed this if you’ve read my book), the protein left after the starch is converted to alcohol is wonderfully rich and a great addition to feed for pigs. So an extremely efficient process.

The building is old, but many of the machines are new. Workers at the many stations cut the cobs, shape them, plug the open ends, add stems, and finish the pipes. I love watching things take shape in skilled hands, and the many veteran employees were clearly skilled. At each station, the corncobs looked more like pipes.

I don’t smoke, but those who do say that corncob pipes offer the coolest and sweetest smoking possible. If you want to read a bit more of the company’s history, or see how varied the finished pipes can be, here is their website: http://corncobpipe.com/

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Farming, Food, History, Midwest

Visiting Pinckney Bend Distillery

Pinckney-Bend-3-whiskies-crop-B

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted about having heard from a distiller in New Haven, Missouri. Ralph Haynes of Pinckney Bend Distillery had left an enthusiastic review on Amazon of my book, Midwest Maize, and had then contacted me about my book having encouraged him and his partners in their pursuit of whiskeys made from heirloom corn, which are recreating the tastes of the 1800s. (Three bottles of this heirloom corn are shown above, with the type of corn identified on the bottom label. The Wapsie Valley was my favorite.) At the time, he suggested I come down to New Haven, to check out the whiskey and to enjoy some of the very picturesque area—and maybe even do a presentation about corn.

PinckneyBend-Exterior-2-crop-B

Last year, it seemed unlikely that I’d get there, but when a conference appeared on my calendar that was taking me about that far south, though a bit to the east (Louisville, KY, to be exist – more on this on my The World’s Fare blog), I thought I might come home by way of Missouri. Ralph’s wife, who managed the local library district, arranged for the offered presentation opportunity, so I got to do my “How Corn Changed Itself and Then Changed Everything Else” talk for a most appreciative local crowd.

The distillery is just a few yards from the Missouri River, at the end of a street of historic buildings and just off the Lewis and Clark Trail. So I was delighted with the location, even without having a distillery close at hand. And within the distillery, in addition to gleaming stills and colorful heirloom corn varieties, there were maps and tales of the meandering Missouri River and steamboats that were sunk by the river’s snags and bends. (In the photo below, the river feature called Pinckney Bend is in the center, and you can see that, even when the river changed its course, it still “bent” at this spot.)

MO-Map-of-River-PinckneyBend-Crop-B

There were also a lot of antiques related to corn growing and processing, including shellers and jabbers, which I talk about in my book, so I was really having fun. Plus the modern equipment is remarkably handsome. They have two stills, one slightly larger than the other. The one below is the smaller of the two stills.

PinckneyBendStill-2-Crop-B

Of course, I did get to try some of the elegant whiskeys produced by Pinckney Bend, as well as their gin, and I toured their facility. But Ralph had also planned a few other things for me to see, both with him and on my own. So it was a lovely few days of exploring—as you’ll see over the next few posts.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Food, History, Midwest, Midwest Maize, Travel

Food of the Enslaved: Kush

If you’ve read the book Midwest Maize, you’ll know that corn was vitally important to everyone in the United States, from first settlement up to the present. It became a major part of the culture throughout the original colonies. Traditions that developed early on were spread by later migration, with corn chowder following along as New Englanders crossed the continent, grits moving across the southern Midwest as Upland Southerners arrived, and cornbread of various types coming with everyone.

In the era when the American South was known as the Land of Cotton, there was actually more corn being grown than cotton. It was a huge part of everyone’s diet, but was relied on more heavily by the enslaved African American population. In this video, an African American culinary historian demonstrates the dish known as kush, and explains that the term is related to couscous—which means the word had migrated from Africa, along with the people who were making the dish. It is a simple, inexpensive dish, but it looks incredibly good and I can’t wait to try it—though I’ll probably use regular cornbread. Hope you enjoy the little trip to the 18th century.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Food, History, Language, Midwest Maize, Recipe, Video

Heirloom Popcorn

Shortly before my book came out, I was working at the Culinary Historians booth at a Whole Foods heirloom foods fair. There were a lot of interesting offerings, from vegetables and fruits to packets of seeds to fragrant flowers. In the booth next to the Culinary Historians booth there were people offering samples of a remarkable heirloom popcorn with tiny kernels. When there was a lag in the traffic, the women staffing that booth offered us some of the popcorn they were promoting. It was tiny but flavorful — living up to its name, Tiny but Mighty.

Then today, on YouTube, this video appeared among the suggestions for my viewing pleasure (interesting how they figure out what is likely to catch one’s attention). It was about that tiny popcorn. The video, however, showed more than the demo at Whole Foods, including that one seed gives you many stalks. This interested me because the plant from which corn originally developed, teosinte, while smaller than even this diminutive corn, likewise has many branches — and it pops. So more than just being an heirloom, this popcorn seems to be a real throw back to earlier varieties–much earlier. So it has now been added to my shopping list — but I thought I’d also share the video. Enjoy.

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Old World Wisconsin

If you’ve been following my blogs for any length of time, you’ll probably have noticed that I not only love history, I happily visit it—traveling to places that combine historic buildings with costumed interpreters who demonstrate what life was like in the past. I’ve posted on Michigan’s amazing Greenfield Village on my The World’s Fare blog, about Sovereign Hill on my Waltzing Australia blog, and on this blog, I’ve offered multiple posts on both Iowa’s Living History Farms and Chicagoland’s Kline Creek Farm. Now it’s time to look north, to delightful Old World Wisconsin (OWW).

Like most of the Midwest, Wisconsin’s history stretches back into the days of voyageurs, fur trappers, and explorers, but with serious settlement starting in the early 1800s, after the United States had come into existence. Wisconsin was heavily enough settled by 1848 to obtain statehood. As with most of the Midwest, settlers came in waves, first from New England and then from overseas, especially Germany and Scandinavia. This varied settlement was reflected in everything from the cuisine to the architecture.

As the state grew, rather than destroying log cabins or leveling antique towns, researchers began documenting the old buildings—and then bringing them here. So when you go to Old World Wisconsin, you don’t learn a general history of what a typical Dane or Yankee might have been like; they can tell you exactly who owned the home, where they were from, and what their lives were like.

Iron Stoves cooked food and heated homes.

Iron Stoves cooked food and heated homes.

In some cases, the original furnishings have been preserved. As would have been the case with early settlement, so too at OWW, buildings are clustered by nationality of original owners. You can visit settlements of Poles, Germans, Finns, Danes, Norwegians, and Yankees (New Englanders).

Even the bathtub was kept in the kitchen pantry, as water would be heated on the stove.

Even the bathtub (back right corner) was kept in the kitchen pantry, as water would be heated on the stove.

In addition, there are fields and farms where you can watch traditional types of farming or see early breeds of livestock. Aside from farming, exhibitions range from early forms of baseball to classes in a one-room schoolhouse, from cooking to a working blacksmith shop, and much more.

New England's influence is seen in the 1880s village. The red building is the blacksmith shop.

New England’s influence is seen in the 1880s village. The red building is the blacksmith shop.

Old World Wisconsin is not merely historic, it’s also beautiful, nestled amid forests and dotted with ponds. Even as I type this, I’m planning a return trip. OWW id located in Eagle, WI, west of Milwaukee. For more information, from directions to scheduled events, you can visit their website: http://oldworldwisconsin.wisconsinhistory.org/

OWW-Cabin

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Filed under Agriculture, Culture, Farming, History, Midwest, Travel

Advising Eater

Thanks to a recommendation from fellow food historian Rachel Laudan, when Eater needed an expert on corn for some videos they had in mind, they contacted me. Their main interest was in the very early history of corn—essentially stuff limited to chapter 1 of my book. But it was still great fun sharing tales with them—and then seeing my name at the end of the videos (which are very cleverly animated). No wealth coming from this, but a little recognition is greatly appreciated.

If you’re interested, here are the two videos that were the result:

 

 

 

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Food, History, Video