Category Archives: Uncategorized

Bored Soldiers and Empty Shells

One advantage of having speaking engagements all over Illinois is that I often get to explore the lovingly created local history museums that commemorate the lives and people of a town or county. A couple of months ago, I was booked by the Putnam County Historical Society for a gathering to be held at the county’s museum in Hennepin, Illinois. Most of these museums include, among other things, displays about the local population’s involvement in the various wars in which the U.S. has fought. I’ve seen a fair number of uniforms, souvenirs, and memorials, but in Hennepin, I saw a display of something I hadn’t seen before: trench art.

Trench art is defined as “objects made from the debris and by-products of modern warfare.” The term is most commonly associated with World War I, since that is the war that is best known for its use of trenches. While actual combat is horrifying, a lot of wartime is spent waiting for something to happen. When soldiers had nothing else to do, some of them started making things out of whatever they could find, with the most commonly available material being the brass of empty shell casings. The tools soldiers had to work with might be nothing more than a bent nail, and yet the work they produced was often suprisingly beautiful. Here is part of the display of trench art from the museum in Hennepin. A remarkable reminder of how beauty can be salvaged from even the worst situations.
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And a closer look.
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A Surprising Museum in Ohio

Serendipity: the finding of valuable or agreeable things not sought for. Travel just seems to multiply the likelihood of experiencing serendipity.

In Ohio doing some research, driving toward the hotel, I saw a sign that read “Welcome Center and Fulton County Museum, 1 Mile.” This place wasn’t on my radar at all. However, I was leaving the next morning and had nothing else planned while there, so I thought I’d give this place a try.

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What a surprise. This was not a huge museum, but it more than made up in splendid detail, insightful presentation, and brilliant planning what it lacked in size. And who knew so much interesting stuff happened in Fulton County, Ohio?

There are a couple of possible approaches to viewing the museum. You can read absolutely everything, which was what I chose to do. Alternatively, you can accept their invitation to see how history repeats itself and focus on periods that are in some way similar to the one in which you were born or in which you currently live. I thought this approach was immensely clever, but I didn’t want to miss anything.

The museum starts in the area’s pre-history and moves up through the centuries. One way they handle the abundance of artifacts is, under a primary display, there are drawers and drawers of additional items labeled by time period.

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Signs are abundant, making it possible to really fit together the pieces of Fulton County’s history–which includes a remarkable range of events and people who operated at the national level, from the show promoter who helped Buffalo Bill to race-car driver Barney Oldfield, plus of course involvement in such key elements of U.S. history as the Civil War and industrial progress.

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The museum only took us about 2 hours to view–so this isn’t a place you’d likely plan an entire vacation around. However, if you happen to find yourself on the Ohio Turnpike near Hwy 108, you might consider stopping.

Of course, the other lesson is, when you see a sign telling you there is something of interest a mile ahead, you might want to check it out.

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Filed under Culture, History, Midwest, Thoughts, Travel, Uncategorized

“Smarter Every Day” Looks at Grain Bins

I have long enjoyed the video channel “Smarter Every Day.” It offers insights into how a lot of things work. However, host Destin has now truly endeared himself to me by focusing on farmers — and pointing out just how much farmers need to know to make things work. I already knew about the bins (I cover the invention of corn bins and drying equipment in my book <em>Midwest Maize), and I knew farmers were smart (and most of the farmers I know have multiple degrees, in subjects ranging from monogastric nutrition to economics to agricultural communication), but it’s lovely to see someone else enthusiastic about everything that goes into keeping a farm going — and us fed. What you see here goes on all over the country, with bins filled with corn, beans, wheat, lentils, peas, garbanzos, barley, and more.

Oh — and that “danger” element Destin mentions — farming is considered second only to coal mining, as far as danger. So no one is farming because it’s easy. It can be hard to make a profit, but most of the farmers I know love the land–and love knowing that they are feeding people.

Here’s Destin’s video.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Farming, Food, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Video

Don’t Worry about Roundup

As the author of a book on corn, I get a lot of questions about Roundup. The press and a few renegade lawyers have done their best to vilify this product. But talk to farmers—especially those who have grown up around the product (we’ve been using it for nearly half a century, so that is most farmers)—and you’ll find out that none of them are experiencing health problems. Plus it has no negative impact on the environment (which other products often do). It is, in fact, tremendously safe. One of my favorite little factoids comes from Forbes Magazine: “The acute toxicity of glyphosate is lower than that of table salt.”

So throw out your table salt and keep eating corn ground with Roundup.

If you’re interested, here is the full article from Forbes—written by a cancer epidemiologist—a person whose job is studying and knowing what can hurt you.
The Guardian’s Scare Piece On Glyphosate And Cancer Is Designed To Fuel A Tsunami of Lawsuits.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Farming, Food, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Midwest Maize Meets Mexican Hogs

There are times that it is difficult to decide where a post goes. This blog focuses on the Midwest–the people, the history, the places–and The World’s Fare focuses on my adventures, primarily culinary, around the world. But I just posted a recipe on The World’s Fare that includes both corn and pork, mainstays of Midwestern agriculture and cuisine–but the recipe is one I found in Mexico. It is Pozole Rojo, a delightful, hearty soup that brings together these two cornerstones of both Midwestern and Mexican life. So definitely the fare of another land, but still related to the Midwest. Therefore, I posted it there and am just linking to it here. (Though Brazilian cornstarch cookies are on this site–so clearly not always easy to draw those lines.)

Anyway, for the recipe, click this link–Pozole Rojo--and enjoy a delightful soup that brings together a couple of world culinary icons.

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Filed under Corn, Culture, Food, Recipe, Uncategorized

Farmers Rock

If you’ve read this blog for long, or if you’ve read either of my food history books, you’ll know that I think pretty highly of farmers. They are among those people one would traditionally call “salt of the earth.”

Plus we’d all be mighty hungry without them.

But one thing I love is that a lot of them are also great fun. I’ve posted a number of different videos made by farmers, including several from the Peterson Farm Bros. Some of the videos are specifically about different aspects of farming–but some of them, including several that I’ve posted, are clever, farming-related parodies of popular songs. That’s the case with the video below. But adding to the fun in this particular video is the inclusion of farmers from several other video channels — many of them channels I watch and at least one that I’ve featured here. It also reminds us that the vast majority of our food is raised on family farms.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I have.

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Filed under Agriculture, Farming, Food, Midwest, Uncategorized, Video

Brazilian Cornstarch Cookies

Between working for a couple of years with Maria Baez Kijac on her iconic cookbook The South American Table and my own interest in corn from my book, Midwest Maize, I knew I had to try these cookies as soon as I learned of their existence.

These tasty confections melt in your mouth. Popular in Brazil, they are generally served with hot coffee in the afternoon. They are easy to make—and they are gluten free. Plus they allow for a substantial amount of customization.

The most commonly used brand of cornstarch (aka corn flour) in Brazil is Maizena, so these cookies are often referred to as Maizena cookies, or biscoitos de Maizena, in Portuguese. Because the butter is a chief flavor component of the cookies, use good quality butter, and definitely don’t use butter you’ve had in the freezer for a long time (I did this once, and you can taste that smell things pick up when left in the freezer for too long). And use salted butter. If the only butter you have is unsalted, either buy some salted butter or add a pinch of salt to the recipe.

Ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cups salted butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups cornstarch

Preparation:
Cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract, then add the corn starch and beat into the mixture. Once thoroughly combined and dough-like, let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes. While the dough rests, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Form the dough into 1-inch balls, rolling them in your hand. Place them on a cookie sheet that has been lined with baking parchment or a silicon baking sheet, or just lightly butter the cookie sheet. Then flatten the balls slightly with a fork, leaving the tine pattern in the top of each cookie. Bake on the center rack of your oven for 8 to 10 minutes. They should not brown on top, but a tiny bit of gold on the bottom is okay. Let them cool before handling, as they are delicate when hot. This should produce 36 cookies.

That is all that is needed to make them authentic. Brazilians sometimes toss a bit of shredded coconut into the dough before baking. I think a bit of grated lemon rind would be lovely, or use almond extract instead of vanilla. I thought the white cookies looked a little plain, so I grated a bit of fresh nutmeg over my first batch, cinnamon over the second. Both worked. With so few ingredients, the flavor of the cookie depends heavily on the quality of the butter and the extract.

In an air-tight container, these hold up very well—though I’ve never had them last long enough to find out how long they’ll last.

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Filed under Corn, Culture, Food, Recipe, Uncategorized