Corn and soybeans are staples of Iowa Agriculture in 2019. The USDA estimated Iowa farmers produced 2.52 billion bushels of corn in 2017 and 564,000 bushels of soybeans in 2018! But the term “corn and beans” meant something a little different to Iowa farmers before 1900. In 1700, the Ioway grew flour corn in many varieties. It could be eaten green, like sweet corn, or dried and ground into flour. Beans, for the Ioway, referred to dry beans, the kind we now think of for use in soups. In 1850, settlers planted open-pollenated field corn—mostly for feeding animals. A pioneer thought of beans as dry beans for soup, green beans for eating fresh out of the garden or pickling. By 1900, the corn was still open-pollenated and most beans came from the garden. Soybeans were only just being used as experimental for animal forage and as a cover crop. It wasn’t until the 1940s that soybeans were grown on a larger scale as a grain. This week at Living History Farms, our historic kitchens explore the ways corn and the various beans were incorporated into daily eating habits. Visit the 1850 Pioneer Farm on Monday for a cornbread baking demonstration. Wednesday, the Tangen House staff will try their hand at corn pudding and the 1700 Ioway Farm interpreters will prepare hominy on Thursday.
“What’s Cooking” Program Presenting Sponsor – Hy-Vee
The Ioway word for corn is waduje. Flour corn was considered one of the “three sisters of life” and was planted in hills along with beans and squash in the garden. In late July to early August when the tassels were dark, the corn ears had entered the “green corn stage,” or milky stage. The green corn was boiled or roasted on the ear and eaten or mixed with beans and other items, put in soups, and used to make corn bread. Corn could be turned into hominy by boiling the kernels in lye, made from a mixture of elm or cottonwood ashes that had been boiled in water, until the hulls came off. The corn would then be washed twice and put in fresh water to boil a second time if they were prepared for eating immediately or would be dried to save for later. Corn would also be parched so that the hulls cracked open and burst. The next corn harvest occurred when the corn was fully ripe in October. Husking parties were held to husk most of the corn. The best of the larger ears of corn would be braided together into strings and hung to dry.
In 1850, corn was a common crop for Iowa pioneers. Much of the crop was used to feed livestock, providing fodder for cattle and hogs. The Iowa Agricultural Census of 1850 estimated over 211,000 (about 690 per farm) bushels harvested in Polk County alone. Some of this corn was ground to feed the farmer, making “Indian meal” for corn breads or corn puddings. Grist mills began to pop up across the state for grinding cornmeal; otherwise the farm family had to grind small amounts with a grater or coffee mill on their own. In the first year or two of a farm’s settlement, the farmer might rely on cornmeal for the family, selling any wheat he could produce for cash.
“To Cook Hominy: Wash in several waters, and boil it five hours, allowing two quarts of water, and a half a teaspoonful of salt, to every quart of hominy. Drain it through a colander, and add butter and salt, if needed…When cold hominy is left of the previous day, it is very good wet up with an egg and a little flour, and fried.” —Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, 1850.
Indian Meal Cakes
Adapted from American Agriculturalist August 1842.
This will make a small (8”) Dutch oven corn cake.
One pint of Indian meal 1/2 pint of flour
A piece of butter half as large as an egg 1/2 teaspoonful of salt
One teacupful of boiling water One egg
Milk to make the consistency of a batter 3/4 teaspoon saleratus (baking soda)
Optional: 1/4 cup sugar
Place in a buttered bake kettle and bake until done in the center.
By 1900, field corn was raised as animal feed for their own animals or for sale to others. The farm family purchased cornmeal for cooking, rather than ground their own, at the general store. Farmers considered a “corn to hog” ratio. If the amount of corn needed to fatten a hog could be sold for more than the pork, they sold corn. If the pork would make more money they fed the corn to their animals and then sold the hogs. Green field corn would still be eaten as a summer treat. It could be combined with other garden produce, such as tomatoes or lima beans, for tasty summer side dishes.
Take a pint of fresh shelled Lima beans, or any large fresh beans, put them in a pot with cold water, rather more than will cover them. Scrape the kernels from twelve ears of young sweet corn; put the cobs in with the beans, boiling from half to three-quarters of an hour. Now take out the cobs and put in the scraped corn; boil again fifteen minutes, then season with salt and pepper to taste, a piece of butter the size of an egg, and half a cup of cream. Serve hot. –The White House Cookbook, 1887.
Corn Pudding for Tea
Ingredients: One dozen ears of sweet corn, three eggs, one pint ofmilk, three table-spoonfuls of sugar, a small tea-spoonful of salt, a little butter, a little flour if the corn is quite young, with a little less milk; if thecorn is older, omit it; grate half of the corn, and cut the other half. Bake. –Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving, 1876.
Soybeans were domesticated in China around 3,100 years ago and were introduced to America by Samuel Bowen in Georgia in 1765. Bowen obtained a patent for soy sauce during this time as well. The plant was first called Chinese vetch, and was not referred to as “soybean” until 1804. Today farmers in more than 30 states grow soybeans, making soybeans the United States’ second largest cash crop. The United States is growing more than 76.5 million acres of soybeans; we are first in the world for soybean production. The majority of the soybean crop is processed into oil and meal. Oil extracted from soybeans is made into shortening, margarine, cooking oil, and salad dressings. Soybeans account for 80 percent or more of the edible fats and oils consumed in the US. Soy oil is also used in industrial paint, varnishes, caulking compounds, linoleum, printing inks, and other products. A 60 lb. bushel of soybeans yields about 11 pounds of oil and about 48 pounds of meal.