Food ’n Fun in Iowa
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“Food ’n Fun in Iowa,” Ensign, May 1971, 70

Food ’n Fun in Iowa

I chanced into Iowa

Unaware

Of its history,

Agriculture,

And fickle seasons.

I stayed—to love it all.

“Iowa? Where’s Iowa?” I wasn’t sure either, before I came here some twenty years ago. Now I can say it’s located near Warm Gingercake Lane and Pork Chop Avenue, across Sorghum and Soybean Streets, but watch for the high-rise buildings of Quaker Oats and the sprawling Maytag complex, or you’ll miss the turn!

Iowa has the Mississippi River on its eastern border, the Missouri River on its western border, Minnesota to the north, and Missouri to the south. The Mississippi River was frozen over on February 4, 1846, when the Saints left Nauvoo. B. H. Roberts records, “They crossed on the ice and were soon lost to view in the wilderness of Iowa.” However, the wilderness had enough people for Iowa to become the twenty-ninth state; it was admitted to the Union on December 28, 1846.

When my husband and I revealed our plans to settle in Iowa, people asked, “Why Iowa?” We were warned that we’d be surrounded by cornfields and Indians.

There are cornfields and Indians in Iowa. Some of the fields are not more than ten minutes away from our city home; and the Tama Reservation, surrounded by the fertile fields of eastern Iowa, draws interested tourists the year round.

Our beginnings in Iowa came one summer day as we neared the city we would call home. The gentle hills were newly green. Tractors moved in contoured fields, plowing the moist molasses-colored soil. “It’s all so lovely,” we said, not knowing how many times these same words had been said in reference to this beautiful land.

The early pioneers and the California adventurers who came through Iowa to the gold fields may not have known of the gold that lay in the soil in the form of crops. Those who stayed to plant crops and feed later travelers knew this different gold. They may have been the first to know what the entire country now appreciates—Iowa surpluses help feed the nation.

During our first summer in Iowa, we experienced a flood, a tornado, a hailstorm, and several shuddering, quaking thunderstorms. I was used to ordinary seasons, not Iowa seasons!

Talking about the weather, the extremes in temperature and humidity, and the fast-changing conditions account for many friendly conversations about Iowa. “If you don’t like Iowa weather, stick around a few minutes—it’ll change,” we were told.

When we first came to Iowa, we found busy, hardy people. We found Cedar Rapids enchanting, with big old elms sending their welcoming handshake across the city streets. Beautiful land—friendly people—and soon it all became our Iowa, our friends, our city, and just the place to raise our family.

Many Iowans find attending the frequent state fairs a must for their family. Iowa women love to cook, and many prize-winning recipes have come from state fair competitions. Some of the recipes I’ve collected may not be prize winners, but all are praise winners from our family dinner table.

This corn and pork casserole may be served proudly with the knowledge that corn and pork are two of Iowa’s best products.

Iowa’s Proud Casserole

1 pound pork sausage

1 can cream style corn

4 eggs, slightly beaten

1 cup milk

1 cup cracker crumbs

1/2 green pepper, diced fine

2 tablespoons chopped onion

salt and pepper to taste

Cook the fat out of the sausage. Drain. Add the other ingredients and mix well. Bake in well-greased casserole for 45 minutes at 350 degrees F. Makes 8 generous servings.

Just-from-the-oven gingerbread is a fragrant and frequent treat for many families over the nation. So what makes my recipe from Iowa special? Try it and you’ll see. I studied recipes from six cookbooks and chose something from each one. Through experimenting, I found the balance of flavor my family likes best. The texture of my gingerbread is cakelike, so I call it—

Delicate Orange Gingercake

1/2 cup shortening

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup sorghum

2 scant cups flour*

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1 cup buttermilk

candied rind of 1 orange

Beat the shortening and sugar together until fluffy. Add egg. Beat well. Add sorghum; beat well. Sift dry ingredients together. Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk. Add orange rind, which has been dredged in 1 tablespoon of the flour. Bake in 9 x 13-inch greased pan at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes or until cake springs back at touch. Frost cake with plain butter frosting or orange frosting, if desired.

To make candied orange rind, use the rind of one orange that has been quartered, with pulp and membrane removed. Cover with water and add 1 teaspoon salt. Boil one-half hour. Pour off water and repeat the process, omitting salt. Cut in one-fourth-inch strips. Combine 2 cups sugar, 1 cup water, and 1/2 cup light corn syrup. Stir together over low heat to melt the sugar. Add orange rind. Boil slowly until peel is clear. Remove from syrup and drain. Cut with scissors that have been dipped in flour. The cooked rind will be very soft and sticky, so dredge the pieces in 1 tablespoon flour and add to cake after everything else has been added.

My family is used to coming to the dinner table and finding the whole meal an experiment of recipes. When I presented my sorghum chewies, it was good to hear, “Hey, Mom, this is one experiment that didn’t flop.” A winner at last!

Sorghum Chewies

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup shortening

1 egg

1/2 cup sorghum

2 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons soda

1 cup quick cooking oats

6 ounces chocolate pieces

1 cup flaked coconut

1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Cream sugar and shortening. Add egg and sorghum, and beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients; mix well. Add vanilla. Stir in oats, chocolate pieces, coconut, and nuts. Drop from teaspoon onto greased baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees F. for about 12 minutes.

Notice the use of sorghum in the gingercake and chewies. In pioneer days almost every Iowa farmer grew his own sorghum. Today only a few hardy growers remain to supply Iowans and others with the sorghum sweetening that’s so good on buckwheat cakes, in gingerbread, and in cookies.

Traditional recipes came to this country with the women, and as the country expanded, the recipes traveled with the women. In trying to select my favorites, I found a number of recipes that traveled to Iowa with the grandmothers of those who are now grandmothers. Bake them for those who may never have heard of Iowa and they’ll want to come for a visit. The two recipes that follow are especially recommended for granddads and grandsons—we know of no generation gap in the recipe files of Iowa.

Crisp Peanut Cookies

1 cup shortening (half lard, half butter)

2 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup crushed cornflakes

2 cups oatmeal

2 cups flour

1 cup coarsely chopped salted peanuts

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon soda

Beat the shortening, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla together. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Roll into balls about the size of a walnut. Place on a greased cookie sheet and press down with a fork dipped in sugar. Bake at 350 degrees F. until just brown.

Banana Chocolate Cake

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 2/3 cup shortening

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 ounces chocolate (melted, cooled slightly)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup mashed bananas

1/2 cup buttermilk

Sift the dry ingredients together. Cream shortening with sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add chocolate; mix well. Add vanilla. Stir. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with bananas and buttermilk (small amounts each time), beating well after each addition. Bake in layer pans for 30 to 35 minutes at 350 degrees F. Frost with your favorite frosting.

If you could tour the new General Mills plant in Cedar Rapids, you would get a glimpse of how Iowa is helping to scientifically improve today’s diet while working to solve the protein deficiency problem that plagues most of the world.

Several million pounds of textured high protein meat analogues are made each year in this new plant. For the adventurous, Bac-os are already a familiar taste treat. But General Mills is hoping that there will be worldwide acceptance of a variety of low-cost, high-protein soybean foods. Bontrae, with a flavor like beef, or a flavor like chicken, or a flavor like ham, can be used in any of your favorite casseroles calling for diced or crumbled precooked meats. Since it’s all protein and no waste, it is considerably cheaper. There are special dietary problems that can be solved with soybean products for babies and those not so young. Feeding the world tomorrow is a problem being solved today. And to think it’s happening in Iowa!