NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665

September 16, 1999

Prairie Fare: Simple Pleasures Are What Produce the Back-Yard Garden

Anyone who's eaten a vine-ripened tomato that's still warm and anointed only with salt and freshly ground black pepper knows why people grow gardens. Ideally, I like to eat my first ripe tomato sitting atop a thick, buttery slice of fresh homemade bread, it too warm. But when time is short, as it usually is, I settle for store-bought bread at room temperature. Either way, one slice of bread won't hold the entire tomato, and my second slice of bread usually receives a generous painting of mayonnaise before the tomato goes on.

Those initial just-picked cucumbers I eat get the same sandwich treatment. My wife Nicki and I also grow several varieties of bell peppers, some of which mature into brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange. Strips of these peppers, sauteed in olive oil along with bits of minced garlic and sliced onions, combine with provolone cheese to yield an exceptional grilled sandwich. As with my simpler tomato sandwich, the only additional ingredients required are salt and pepper, or perhaps some crumbled oregano or crushed fennel seed, or both.

But regardless of whether a sandwich is basic or beau, its palate-pleasing potential will fall short in the fall if it is not partnered with soup, it too preferably comprised of fresh ingredients. What better way to inaugurate the visual splendor that is autumn than with a hearty, colorful meal consisting of a soup-sandwich combo. Carrots, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, spinach, turnips, cabbage, rutabagas, beets--any can be the main ingredient in a soup that is as healthful as it is flavorful and aromatic.

And of course, there's corn too. Corn chowder is without question one of my favorite soups. I usually like corn chowder chunky, chock-full of corn kernels, potatoes, onions, celery and crumbled bacon or diced ham. But the recipe that follows intrigued me because of its simplicity. More time for making sandwiches, I say, or for taking a walk and enjoying the changing landscape.

Simple Corn Chowder
Yield: 8 servings

2 onions, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons canola oil
4 cups corn kernels (raw or frozen)
1 cup grated raw potato
3 cups low-fat chicken broth
4 cups buttermilk
teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
salt and white pepper to taste

Combine onions and oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven and saute over medium heat until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the corn and potato and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for another eight to 10 minutes. Add the broth, bring soup to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes before placing mixture in a food processor and pureeing until smooth. Replace the soup into the saucepan, add the buttermilk and rosemary. Stirring frequently, continue cooking over medium-high heat until mixture boils. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until soup reaches desired consistency, anywhere from five to 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and white pepper. Serve hot.

What's Your Take on This, Julie?

As the temperature dips and autumn colors come into focus, it's time to warm up after fall yard work with some comfort foods like a steaming bowl of chowder. Chowders are hearty soups that may contain seafood, vegetables or milk. The great composer, Ludwig van Beethoven, once told his friend "only the pure in heart can make good soup."

Whether Ludwig's sentiment was true or not, the merits of different chowders are still debated among the proponents of the cream-based New England clam chowder versus the tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder. This week's chowder recipe features a Midwest favorite: corn. A serving of Simple Corn Chowder contains 220 calories, 7.5 grams of fat, 25 percent of the daily vitamin C recommendation and 16 percent of the daily calcium recommendation.

The calorie content of Corn Chowder may be lower than what you might expect because in place of cream, this recipe contains buttermilk and fat-free chicken broth. Buttermilk is virtually free of butter fat; it's the liquid that remains after butter is churned. A cup of buttermilk provides flavor and richness but only 100 calories and 2 grams of fat. Buttermilk also contains about 285 milligrams of calcium per cup, or about a quarter of the current daily recommendation.

Corn, or "maize," has a place in American history because Columbus and his group were the first to report seeing this grain. Corn is rich in carbohydrates and has been used as food for humans, feed for animals, fuel, building material, jewelry and even money by the Indians of Central America, Peru and Mexico.

Fresh corn should be used promptly for the best flavor and sweetness, because the sugars convert to starch after picking, especially if it's left unrefrigerated. An ear of fresh corn provides about 2/3 cup of kernels. Look for ears that are filled with even rows of plump, milky kernels and a husk with fresh green color. And of course, avoid worm-infested ones. Corn can be boiled, grilled, microwaved or roasted. It's also quite easy to pressure can, or freeze fresh corn for enjoying later.

Along with appreciating the colors and flavors of nature, remember that the physical activity that you accumulate by doing fall yard work counts toward the Surgeon General's recommendation for 30 minutes of daily physical activity--on at least five days of the week.


Sources: Dean Hulse (701) 231-6136
Julie Garden-Robinson (701) 231-7187

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