Monday, October 19, 2009

What I Learned This Week: Fresh Pumpkin Pie is the Best

What I Learned This Week

I planted sugar pumpkins for the first time this season. I was a bit skeptical in July as the vines overtook the section of my garden devoted towards viney crops. They quickly drown out my watermelon, muskmelon, and honeydew. Now I am glad they did!

Here's a sample of the 25 pumpkins coming from three vines.

I wasn't sure if I was going to do anything with my pumpkins until I saw an article about a pumpkin puree shortage. Knowing that others may not have canned pumpkin to make yummy muffins or pie, I figured I should use mine up! So, I made pumpkin pie from a recipe I found on, Pumpkin Butter from Smitten Kitchen and Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins.

It was so much easier than I would have ever thought!

Step 1: Wash the pumpkin, split it in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh. Put all the guts in your compost pile rather than the trash can.

Step 2: Lightly oil a baking sheet, place the pumpkin open side down, cover with aluminum foil and roast at 325 degrees until tender.

Step 3: Let cool until it is warm, but not quite room temperature. Scoop out the flesh and press it through a sieve.

Step 4: Substitute the fresh puree in recipes calling for canned pumpkin. One 15 ounce can equals 1.75 cups fresh puree.

Step 5: Store fresh pumpkin in a sealed container for one week or in the freezer for three months.

The pumpkin butter is divine. I can't wait to make a spiced pumpkin pecan milkshake or spoon it over cheesecake.
The muffins were also good. I took those to my daughter's preschool bake sale.

But the pie. OMG! It was super sweet and by far the best pumpkin pie I have EVER had.

And, as if a higher power knew I was planning this post, my son came home with more pumpkin facts today. Did you know Illinois grows more pumpkins than any other state? Or that you can use pumpkin puree to thicken chili, spaghetti sauce, soups and stews? Or add it to oatmeal? I think I may be trying that last one in the morning!

*Facts courtesy of University of Illinois Ideas for Eating Better for Less, October 2008 edition.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What I Learned this Week: I Need to be a Better, More Vocal Spokesman

This post is in response to blogger I follow, Musings of a Housewife. She recently published a post regarding modern corn production. My response was too long for the comment box. I encourage you to read it before reading my response.

It takes more than one acre, one season, one book, and one hour to learn and teach others about corn production, family farms and a safe, renewable commodity that feeds and fuels our world. I've been married to a grain farmer for ten years and an active participant in the agriculture industry for almost 20. I learn something new about our food system every day.

I've enjoyed reading your blog the last few months and learning about your perspective on food. I wish everyone around the world was a blessed as you to have the resources, both money and time to cook from scratch and support labor intensive farming practices. It makes me sad to write, that even if there were more people (consumers) with the time and the money, there are not enough industrious people (producers) or land in the northeast (This is where the Musings author is located, look at page four: Researchers will Explore...)to meet that demand and live a financially comfortable, comparable life to the people they feed.

Today, fewer farmers feed more people and fuel more cars with less land, less fertilizer and less pesticide than ever before. And, 98% of those farms are family farms. They may not look exactly like our great grandparents farms but everything changes over time. (Think back to my
I'm not your typical farm wife post. I am not the same farm wife as my mil was or my gmil but I am still a farm wife:).)

Today's farmers still work hard; really, really hard. I can't imagine having to give up the technological advances we employ today, especially the ones that ensure a safe, consistent product. I want my husband to live long enough and be healthy enough to retire, pass our farming operation on to our children and enjoy life.

I applaud your efforts to feed your family in the most healthful way you can. It has made me think more about our meals and helped me strive for greater balance in what I feed them. Have I given up HFCS? No, and I don't plan to. But I am more attentive to making sure we balance fresh vs. processed, eat out of the garden more and not over snack. I love the granola recipe you first posted and eat it for breakfast most mornings. I also realize that eating like this takes a lot of time, a lot of planning and a desire for cooking; things that not everyone has. There is a need for processed easy to prepare meals.

Before you turn up your nose at the amber waves of grain, keep this in mind - only 3.8% of the 2008 corn crop (look at page 8-9) went to making HFCS. 30% went to decreasing our dependence on nonrenewable foreign oil and 44% went to feed livestock. Everyone has their preference, but I prefer corn fed beef over grass fed any day. The keys are parental control, personal responsibility, a balanced diet and an active lifestyle.

I am incredibly disturbed that your picture of farming has been shaped by the clip you presented in your post. Knowing that you often go on PR junkets, I invite you to visit our family farm in northern Illinois. Learn about commercial farming from a family that has seen and been part of the evolution of farming practices and market creation for our crop for over four generations. Maybe you can join us for Thanksgiving. We will likely be having a picnic on the tailgate of a truck in a field because the weather hasn't allowed our crop to mature and we will not have finished harvest. A sacrifice we will gladly make to feed and fuel our world.

One last thought: I can't speak for all farm families but I would venture to guess that over 90% have a patch of sweet corn and garden they eat from in season and freeze the abundance for winter. Many of our farmer friends also raise a few head of cattle or pigs to freeze and eat throughout the year. Farm families can, and do feed themselves.