Iowa—The Farmers Market State?

Increasing attention is being paid to local food, as evidenced by the proliferation of farmers markets. Ostensibly where producers come together to sell their meats, cheeses, produce, etc., farmers markets connect us to the bounty surrounding us, acting as a respite from the sterile environments of a supermarket or megastore. Many of us—perhaps even MOST of us—have at least weekly access to a market where we can buy local goods. For me, it’s party of my weekly routine. I take my reusable bags and fill them with beets and salad greens from Christopher Farms, pork and Oyster mushrooms from Eli Creek Farms, honey from Dale Scheidler, grassfed beef from To Tend and To Keep Farm, apples from Richie Stegmaier, lamb from Russell Sheep Farm and so on. Farmers markets are certainly landmarks on the terrain of the Flyover States.

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So, Who Has the Most Markets?

According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), there were over 8000 farmers markets across the country in 2013, a 5-year increase of nearly 40%.1 The 10 states with the most markets are:

  • 1. California (759 markets)
  • 2. New York (637)
  • 3. Illinois (336)
  • 4. Michigan (331)
  • 5. Ohio (300)
  • 6. Pennsylvania (290)
  • 7. Massachusetts (289)
  • 8. Wisconsin (286)
  • 9. Missouri (246)
  • 9. Virginia (tied with Missouri) (246)
  • 10. Iowa (229)
  • 10. North Carolina (tied with Iowa) (229)

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Well, if you’re a geographer, you’ll recognize that there is another factor at play here—the number of people living in these states. California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina are also among the United States’s 10 most populated states. In essence, we are looking at a list of the most populated states. So we really can’t compare these states directly. Well, what do we do now?

In Which We Normalize Our Data

To enable use to compare our states, we need to look at the number of farmers markets relative to population, which we do by normalizing our numbers. Normalize , in our case, means that we are going to take our raw numbers (count of farmers markets and the absolute populations of the states) and generate values for the number of farmers markets per population. Here’s how we do it:
Number of farmers markets in a state/Population of state
This will give us the number of farmers markets per capita (or per person). However, that’s going to yield a small number. So, we will multiply that value by 100,000, which tells us the number of farmers markets per 100,000 people.

So, NOW Who Has the Most Markets?

Surprise, surprise—looks like Iowa is the clear winner! Yes, the Hawkeye State has an astonishing 7.41 farmers markets per 100,000 people! If we look at the top farmers market states on a per population basis, the list looks quite different!

IowaGglE

  • 1. Iowa (7.41 markets per 100,000 people)
  • 2. Wisconsin (4.98)
  • 3. Massachusetts (4.32)
  • 4. Missouri (4.07)
  • 5. Michigan (3.35)
  • 6. New York (3.24)
  • 7. Virginia (2.98)
  • 8. Illinois (2.61)
  • 9. Ohio (2.59)
  • 10. North Carolina (2.36)
  • 11. Pennsylvania (2.27)
  • 12. California (1.98)

Wow! California actually drops to the bottom of the list (remember, though, that I’ve only examined the states with the most farmers markets). But still—an truly incredible showing! In another post, I’ll explain why I’m not all that surprised that Iowa is at the top. But it certainly is surprising to me the magnitude of this! And the Flyover States fare quite well here–4 out of the top 5 (Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Michigan)!

1Farmers market data sourced from here. Population data are from the US Census Bureau.

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Roasted Za’atar Pumpkin Seeds

Wondering what to do with those pumpkin (or winter squash) seeds beside throw them down the disposal? Roast them for a satisfying snack! This recipe calls for za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice/herb blend. A typical batch of za’atar is made from a mixture of dried thyme, oregano, and/or savory, as well as dried sumac, sesame seeds, and salt. Sumac is a spice that adds a sour, lemony, tangy note to foods. It is NOT the poisonous variety found in the eastern United States. The edible one has red fruits, whereas the toxic one has whitish-gray fruits.

You’ll note that I don’t have exact measurements in the Ingredients list—I don’t know how large your pumpkin was, so I can’t tell how many seeds you have. It doesn’t really matter, as the “recipe” is really more a set of scalable steps. And if you don’t like za’atar (or can’t get it in time, though you can order some at Penzey’s Spices), feel free to substitute a different blend (or even make your own!). By the way, I used a white pumpkin for this.

What You’ll Need

  • bowl(s)
  • colander or strainer
  • dish towel
  • spoon or fork for tossing
  • baking sheet
  • parchment paper or silicone baking sheet

Ingredients

  • pumpkin seeds left over from roasting, cooking, or carving
  • oil, such as olive or sunflower
  • kosher or sea salt
  • za’atar

How to Make the Roasted Zaa’tar Pumpkin Seeds

  1. Preheat your oven to 300°F (150°C).
  2. I’m assuming your seeds and the attached flesh/fibers are in a bowl. Remove the seeds from the flesh and place them in a colander or strainer; don’t worry if you don’t remove every last molecule of fibers—it won’t compromise the roasted seeds. Discard the flesh and stringy bits.
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  4. Rinse the seeds and dry them in a towel.
  5. Place the dried seeds in a bowl. Add some oil—start with a teaspoon. You can always add more. Using a spoon or fork, toss the seeds. They should be coated, but not swimming in oil.
  6. Add a couple of pinches of salt (how many depends on how salty you like things, but remember that the za’atar also has salt).
  7. Toss the seeds so that the salt and oil are well distributed among the seeds. Then add the za’atar (to taste). Toss again to so that it is well mixed.
  8. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone sheet. Spread the seeds on the sheet as evenly as possible.
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  10. Roast for about 10 minutes. Stir and roast for another 10 minutes. If the seeds are smelling toasty and starting to brown, remove them from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet. If not, roast for another 5-10 minutes, until done.

You can roast seeds at a higher temperature. It will go faster, but you do increase the risk of burning the seeds.

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A Rainbow of Pumpkins (and the Wizard FROM Oz)

The Pumpkin Color Spectrum

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Last week, you learned about the Flyover connection to pumpkins, so this week we’ll turn our attentions to different kinds and colors of pumpkins. Although pumpkins are a type of winter squash, I’ll keep this week to the Non-Orange Ones We Actually Call Pumpkins (I’ll examine non-pumpkin winter squashes some other time). Most of us may be familiar with the traditional orange-skinned varieties, the stuff of Jack-O-Lanterns and pies; however, pumpkins can be found in other colors as well, particularly green, red, white, and blue. A look at my local Hoosier farmers market yielded pumpkins in an array of colors. Why not see what’s available at your local market?

Green

You may have seen green pumpkins adorning front porches as part of an autumnal tableau. Those are likely immature or unripe orange pumpkins. They certainly add a nice color accent to seasonal décor but, given that they are not ripe, shouldn’t be used for eating.

White

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A rarity no more, white pumpkins, such as the Lumina, Casper, or Cotton Candy varieties, have an other-worldly look to them. These ghostly gourds are quite cook-able. However, their flesh is light-colored, so this is not the one to pick if you are looking for the traditional deeply orange pie. Best to leave this one for recipes like muffins or pumpkin bread. You can also use the light chunks in a richly spiced pumpkin curry.

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Red

Well, red-orange. The gorgeously saturated Rouge vif d’Etampes pumpkin (a favorite of French cooks) has a squat shape, akin to the carriage that Cinderella (of fairy tale fame) would have ridden in. In fact, the other name for this variety IS Cinderella pumpkin. It’s of the Cucurbita maxima species (like buttercup squash). Because it’s called a pumpkin, I’m including it in this post and not a winter squash post.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see these at my local farmers market this year (it was a very cool summer). Better luck next year!

Blue

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I’ll have a Bloooo Halloween without you…sorry about that. But yes, Virginia, there IS a blue pumpkin (wrong holiday, I know). In fact, there are several varieties of them. The one shown here is the Jarrahdale pumpkin, an heirloom from Australia. Shaped like a drum, this ribbed pumpkin feels very heavy for its size, with dense, sweet flesh. It is said to be an excellent variety for pies.

Beige

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The Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, a beige variety, is also known for being an excellent choice for pie baking. Popular in Long Island (surprise, surprise), the name “Cheese Pumpkin” is owed to its appearing like a wheel of cheese. Although noted for pies, the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin is equally at home in a soup. Cheese pumpkins are of the Cucurbita moschata species, which differs from the Cucurbito pepo of your more common orange pumpkins. Other moschata varieties include crookneck or neck pumpkin (elongated and curved) as well as zucchini, butternut squash, and acorn squash. I’m including the cheese pumpkin here because it is called “pumpkin”.

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Curried Pumpkin-Apple Soup

A bowl of hot pumpkin soup is a rite of fall in my kitchen. This particular soup is easy to make and freezes well, too.

What You’ll Need

  • measuring cups, solid and liquid
  • measuring spoons
  • chopping board
  • knife for chopping
  • vegetable peeler
  • small knife or garlic press (for garlic)
  • large saucepan or soup pot
  • wooden spoon or whisk
  • blender, regular or immersion

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter (use a neutral oil for a vegan version of the soup)
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 large apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 2 tsp mild curry powder, divided
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 cups pumpkin or winter squash puree (about 1 can of prepared pure pumpkin, NOT pumpkin pie filling)1
  • 1/4 cup apple juice (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • salt and freshly ground pepper for finishing
  • sour cream or crème fraiche (optional)

How to Make the Soup

  1. Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the onions with a pinch of salt and cook until tender and translucent, but not browned.
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  3. Add the apples and 1 tsp of the curry powder, plus another pinch of salt. Cook until apples are a bit softened, about 4 minutes.
  4. Add the ginger and garlic. Cook for another minute.
  5. Add the chicken stock, pumpkin, and salt (if your stock is salty, add only a half-teaspoon of salt, as you can adjust the taste later). Stir or whisk so that the pumpkin is fully incorporated. Then bring to a boil.
  6. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20-30 minutes.
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  8. Remove from heat and stir in the apple juice, if using. Using a blender, puree the soup. If you are using a stand blender, you will probably need to do this in 2 batches, since you should not fill the blender jar more than 2/3 full, lest you risk an unpleasant surprise.2
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  10. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  11. Top with sour cream or crème fraiche, if using.
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A variation on this soup would be to saute the onions and apples in coconut oil, replace half the stock with coconut milk, and top the completed soup with a squeeze of lime instead of sour cream. That gives it not only a Caribbean twist, but also makes the soup dairy-free and vegan (assuming you use vegetable stock).

1I’ve made this with both canned pumpkin and kabocha squash puree. Kabocha squash is dense and sweet, so no need for the apple juice.
2The combination of steam from the hot soup, plus vibrations from the blending, may result in your blowing the lid of the blender off and redecorating your kitchen in Midcentury Soup Design. So, if you are using a stand blender, firmly press down on the lid while blending (protect your hand with a mitt or towel).

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