fall 2006 departments
3 grist for the mill Editor’s Letter 4 what’s in season Heritage Turkeys: Preserving a Thanksgiving Tradition, Plate by Plate by Wendy Wasserman 6 Edible Imbibables Brewing Up Autumn in Iowa by Katie Roche 7 subscription form 8 what a difference a day makes A Day Trip from Iowa City to Decorah by Kurt Michael Friese 17 buy fresh, buy local moving forward by Mallory Smith 18 Incredible edibles Food Finds in Ames by Brian Morelli 19 behind closed doors Rummaging Through My Fridge by Rob Cline 20 edible endeavors Practical Farmers of Iowa: 21 Years of Sustainable Success 20 advertiser directory



Preserve the Apples, Preserve the Orchard
Simple Methods of Apple Preservation Can Also Help Protect Iowa’s Treasured but Dwindling Orchards

on good land

by Kurt Michael Friese

13 14

Rudy’s Tacos: Waterloo’s Model of Local Food
by Kamyar Enshayan

movers and shakers

Iowa forager

Inside an Iowa Wild Food Foray at Squire Point with Mycologist Damian Pieper and Members of the Prairie State Mushroom Club by Damian Pieper

Visiting Old Friends in the Woods


Notes from the foodshed
Traceability: Finding Food in Iowa
by Ken Meter




cover The Bounty of Wilson’s Orchard by Carole Topalian

14 15

Edible iowa river valley fall 2006 1

our contributors
Rob Cline is the marketing director for The University of Iowa's Hancher Auditorium. He is also the founding president of the Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance and an active freelance writer. He lives in Cedar Rapids with his wife Jenny and his children, Bryan, Jessica and Emily. Kamyar Enshayan is an agricultural engineer and runs the University of Northern Iowa's Local Food Project ( /foodproject). He is a member of the Cedar Falls City Council.

EDIBLE iowa river valley
PUBLISHER Wendy Wasserman


for the mill
Dear Reader, Thank you so much for picking up the premiere issue of the only periodical dedicated entirely to the food scene in east and central Iowa. Edible Iowa River Valley is a seasonal magazine that celebrates the abundance of Eastern Iowa, from the bluffs of Decorah to the Des Moines metro area, and from our Mississippi River towns to our fertile farms and fields. We showcase the family farmers, chefs, food artisans, farmers’ market vendors and other food-related businesses for their dedication to using the highest quality, seasonal, locally grown products. If you love food that is raised with care, prepared with passion and served with love, then you’ll love the people, places and stories of Edible Iowa River Valley. It’s appropriate that Edible premieres here and now. We’re a member of a nationwide family of publications, each locally owned and operated and each dedicated to showcasing the food that makes its region great. Now Iowa stands alongside places like Santa Fe, San Francisco, Phoenix, Brooklyn and Cape Cod (among many others) as a home to an Edible magazine. For our first edition, we sought out the people who know food, and the people who know Iowa, to present their takes on autumn’s harvest flavor. You’ll hear from our resident beer maven, Katie Roche, about the great fall brews from Iowa’s microbreweries, and from confessed mushroom geek Damian Pieper about a walk in the woods. Rob Cline will take you “Behind Closed Doors” in a sneak peak into his refrigerator, and Kamyar Enshayan reveals the secret to the success of Waterloo landmark Rudy’s Tacos. We have the first in a series of updates on the Buy Fresh, Buy Local program in our state, and the first nonprofit profile in our series Edible Endeavors. Meanwhile, we’ll show you where to get a great Thanksgiving turkey that preserves the heritage of the holiday, and take you on a road trip from Iowa City to Decorah while Brian Morelli reveals where to find the good eats in Ames. All that and more in 24 pages of full-color Edible yumminess. So sit back, pour yourself a nice cold local brew and dig in! And you can find even more, like area food events and where to find Edible on our website at Oh, and by the way, every issue of Edible is free on the newsstands but it sure would be a great thing if you’d pass this issue along to a friend, get a subscription for yourself and your extended family, and maybe even stop by our wonderful advertisers and tell them that you saw their ad in Edible. Then, tell your friends, coworkers, neighbors, people you stop next to at stoplights or ride in elevators with that Edible is here and they should pick up a copy. Thanks again for checking us out, and please write and tell us what you think at Enjoy! Wendy Wasserman, Publisher Kurt Michael Friese, Editor-in-Chief
Edible iowa river valley fall 2006 3

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Kurt Michael Friese CONTACT US Edible Iowa River Valley 22 Riverview Drive NE Iowa City, Iowa 52240-7973 Telephone: (319) 400-2526

Photo by Dan Videtich/Radish (Used with permission)

Born and raised in the Heartland, Edible Iowa River Valley editorin-chief Chef Kurt Michael Friese earned his BA in photography at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa before graduating from the New England Culinary Institute, where he later was a ChefInstructor. With more than 25 years of professional foodservice experience, he has been Chef and owner, with his wife Kim McWane Friese, of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay for 10 years. Devotay is a community leader in sustainable cuisine and supporting local farmers and food artisans.

Mallory Smith is a native of Iowa City. She has a BA in Home Economics from the University of Iowa and an MBA from Western Illinois University. Her interest in food and business has led to a variety of noteworthy jobs including Peace Corps Volunteer, Guest Services Director for the Kellogg Center for Rural Development in Honduras and Deli Manager at New Pioneer Co-op. Smith owns and manages M Smith Agency, a business that helps clients such as Practical Farmers of Iowa-Buy Fresh, Buy Local, Eulenspiegel Puppets and Midwest Community Development Institute to develop and market their services. Smith lives in West Liberty with her husband Jose and three sons: Erik, Tony and Diego.

Ken Meter, president of Crossroads Resource Center in Minneapolis, serves as an economic and strategic advisor to the Aldo Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, and has worked with six Iowa regions to compile economic analysis of the local farm and food economy. He taught economics at the University of Minnesota. Brian Morelli is a journalist who covers university news for the Iowa City Press-Citizen. A recent University of Iowa graduate, Morelli has a major in journalism and minor in political science. Prior to writing, Morelli traveled for several years primarily in the U.S. and Canada, and he cooked professionally at several restaurants across the country, most recently at Devotay. He currently resides in Iowa City with his wife and two children. Damian Pieper was born on a farm in sight of Hamill, Iowa on January 6, 1942. He enjoyed a great deal of freedom in some areas of life, but was always scolded for going barefoot. When the family acquired some timberland a few years later, he was never prevented from exploring every inch of the property, only being warned to “Watch out for the Poison Ivy and carry a stick in case you see a rattlesnake.” He assumed he was supposed to use the stick to kill snakes, but usually lost the stick long before spotting the first snake. He entered college the day after graduating from high school. Having attended 3 different colleges, he remains an undergraduate in good standing. An Iowa girl with 8 years in big-city Brooklyn (that's New York, not Iowa), Katie Roche has returned to the Iowa River Valley as Executive Director of SOTA, the Summer of the Arts, an umbrella organization that includes the best of the summer festivals and activities in Iowa City. Katie is Edible's resident brewhound, seeking out the best of the regions 17 microbreweries. A recent arrival to Iowa City, Edible Iowa River Valley publisher brings her culinary curiosity, her background in food marketing and public policy, and her enthusiasm for all things tasty with her. She most immediately moved to Iowa from Tokyo, Japan, where she was a senior consultant for, a new website venture showcasing American food culture to Japanese consumers and media. Before living in Japan, Wendy was on the marketing team for Whole Foods Market in Washington, DC, and was the Marketing Associate for one of the company's top ten stores.
2 fall 2006 Edible iowa river valley

CUSTOMER SERVICE Edible Iowa River Valley takes pride in providing its subscribers with fast, friendly service. Subscribe • Give a Gift • Buy an Ad (319) 400-2526

LETTERS To write to the editor, use the address above or, for the quickest response, email us:
Edible Iowa River Valley is published quarterly by River Valley Press, LLC. All rights reserved. Subscription rate is $28 annually. Call (319) 4002526 to inquire about advertising rates and deadlines, or email Wendy Wasserman at No part of this publication may be used without written permission by the publisher. ©2006. Every effort is made to avoid errors, misspellings, and omissions. If, however, an error comes to your attention, please accept our sincere apologies and notify us. Thank you.

Edible Iowa River Valley is proud to be a member of Edible Communities (

Photograph, Carole Topalian

what’s in season
by Wendy Wasserman

turkey tips
Heritage turkeys are best purchased directly from the breeder, and you will probably need to add picking it up to your preThanksgiving rounds. When you think about the size, include a few extra pounds to account for the weight of the feathers, bones and giblets. The breeder will process the birds and remove these extras for you, but if you want the giblets, say so. If you missed your chance this year, tell the breeder you are interested in a bird for next year. This will give him an idea of how many birds to prepare for.

Cooking Heritage Turkeys
When cooking a heritage bird, be aware that these turkeys take, on average, about 10 percent less time to cook than their conventional counterparts. Start them off at 425–450 degrees covered in parchment paper (not foil). The bird needs to reach an internal temperature of 140–150 degrees to be done, and the parchment paper should be removed at least 30 minutes before that time. You will also need to stay on top of basting to keep the bird moist. For additional heritage turkey cooking tips, go to

heritage turkeys
An Unconventional Tradition
Ode to the food holidays of autumn and winter—when eating Slate, White Holland, Beltsville Small White and Royal Palm. becomes an endurance test! First comes Halloween, then Election They are all descendants of original breeds that were once Day (I usually ponder politics over a pint of ice cream), National plentiful throughout North America. Many heritage species were Homemade Bread Day (Nov. 17), National Chocolate-Covered originally crosses between regional varieties of wild turkeys and Anything Day (Dec. 16), and then Hanukkah, Christmas, domesticated birds, which makes sense because turkeys are one of Kwanza and New Years. But the mother of all American food the few animal breeds that originated in North America that have since been domesticated. Despite holidays is, of course, their once plentiful numbers, Thanksgiving. these breeds were once on the When thinking about verge of extinction and now are Thanksgiving, think about raised mostly on small family Iowa’s turkey story. Iowa is farms that have an interest in among the top states for turkey preserving food traditions. production, but most of the Saving heritage breeds and birds are conventionally raised in the social, cultural and economic coops where some of a turkey’s history that comes with these favorite pastimes, roosting up food traditions is one of the main high and pecking at fresh bugs missions of Slow Food’s Ark of and grass, are not encouraged. Taste project. Slow Food is an Iowa is also one of the greatest international organization states for wild turkey hunting, dedicated to preserving food where success rates for hunters traditions and the communities are considered some of the that rely on them across North nation’s best. Most of these birds A proud American Bronze Tom shows his colors. America and the world. Slow are descendants of flocks that were reintroduced to the wild by the Department of Natural Resources Food’s Ark USA is a list of all sorts of foodstuffs that have helped form America’s history: from fruits and vegetables, cured meats, in the 1960s. On the other hand, there is a cluster of poultry farms that raise cheese, cereals, pastas, cakes, confectionery to, of course, heritage heritage turkeys with an all-natural diet of bugs and grass, plus turkeys. Farmers who raise these breeds are also recognized for room to strut and roost. When that fateful day in November rolls their dedication to food and cultural history. around, these birds are long on tasty dark meat with thick, meaty Patrick Martins, former Slow Food USA director and cothighs. founder Heritage Foods USA, called Iowa poultry farmer Henry Tom Wahl and Kathy Dice start thinking about this every Miller eight years ago in Kalona, about 15 miles south of Iowa spring. Tom and Kathy are the owners and operators of Red Fern City. Martins recognized Miller’s dedication to the fine craft of Farms, a sweet spot tucked along a gravel road in Wapello, about farming and his concern for poultry, and convinced him to 25 miles southwest of Muscatine. Here, in addition to expand his poultry flock to include four breeds of heritage maintaining a fertile grove of chestnut trees (which they harvest turkeys. Now, in addition to his chickens, Miller also raises a as part of the Southeast Iowa Nutgrowers Association), pawpaws variety of heritage turkeys and is recognized by Slow Food USA and persimmons, Tom and Kathy raise goats, broiler chickens and as a farmer dedicated to preserving endangered poultry breeds. turkeys. Like Red Fern Farms, Miller gets his birds direct from a hatchery The turkeys that Tom and Kathy raise aren’t the big-breasted when they are merely days old and raises them on free range white birds that end up on super market shelves and over 99 pasture, without antibiotics. percent of Thanksgiving tables across the country. Red Fern Farm Together, farmers like Tom Wahl, Kathy Dice and Henry turkeys are the svelte dancer-like Narragansetts and waddling Miller are carefully bringing back breeds once on the verge of American Bronze turkeys—two heritage turkey lines bred from a extinction by creating a market demand. They are not alone, long line of prized turkey progeny. In June, Tom and Kathy get according to Heritage Foods USA, which specializes in heritage their poult (turkey chicks) directly from a hatchery when the hatchlings are no older than 4 days. They are carefully and breeds of meat and vegetables. Until recently, there were fewer lovingly raised on a turkey’s delight of fresh pasture, tasty crickets than 500 farmers raising heritage breeds; now that number is and plump grasshoppers. Tom and Kathy diligently rotate their nearly 5,000. Each farmer might not have more than a dozen or grazing grounds, protect them from coyotes and do whatever else two birds, but as market demand increases, so will their flocks. So add the heritage turkey to your own Thanksgiving needs to be done to make sure they are happy. There are eight heritage turkey varieties raised in this country: traditions. You can help preserve a bird, even if you don’t take Standard Bronze, Narragansett, Bourbon Red, Jersey Buff, Blue time out for National Homemade Bread Day.
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To order
Red Fern Farm Tom Wahl & Kathy Dice 13882 I Street Wapello, IA 52635 (319) 729-5905 Miller Farm Henry & Ila Miller 1012 Juniper Ave Kalona, IA 52247-9117 (319) 656-3518

To Learn More
For more information about heritage breeds and their conservation, see:

Photograph by Kurt Michael Friese.

Edible iowa river valley

fall 2006


edible imbibables
by katie roche

brewing up autumn in iowa
Just when the Iowa summer is at its most lush, the trees heavy with leaves, the waves of prairie grass rounding out the landscape like a muse for a Grant Wood painting, I inevitably start longing for fall. They say that you can’t appreciate an Iowa winter until you’ve sweated through an Iowa summer, but for me the reward for the long, hot summer will always be the instant feeling of coziness that comes with the colors and the cool of autumn. As the fields are taken in, the way that we eat and drink naturally changes. As a beer connoisseur I find autumn’s beers to be reflective of the season’s flavor, earthiness and spice. Just as a chilled Pinot Gris cannot be beat on a blazing July day, it is hard for me to imagine anything more perfect than a pint of Pumpkin Ale to mark the moment. In fact, where winter beers often lean on the heavy side, offering a higher alcohol content to warm us nose to the toes, autumn’s beers are often surprisingly lightweight, though many brewers do preview the winter’s heavyweights by introducing some spice and body to their fall beers. Here are some the best Iowa beers and road trip-worthy breweries to keep you comfy: After visiting the charming and historic Amana Colonies you’ll find that you need something to wash down the requisite jams, mustards and fudge that inevitably weigh you down at the end of your explorations. At the traditional Millstream Brewery you’ll find that it’s just as hard to leave this town without a sampler six-pack. Their Oktoberfest Beer is one of the most true-to-form German-style lagers available. Nothing dramatic here—you won’t be pondering over remnants of cinnamon sticks as with some other fall beers. This is just a good malty beer with full, strong, smooth flavor. It usually sells out to locals and visitors to their Oktoberfest celebration and is almost always gone by the middle of October. The Millstream Brewery produces about 1,600 barrels a year and only distributes in eastern Iowa. So, if you want to taste the lovely and light Schild Brau Amber they’ve been making for 21 years, leave your lederhosen at home and get ye to the Amana Colonies.
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Bricktown Brewery & Restaurant 299 Main St. (at 3rd) Dubuque, IA 52001 (563) 582-0608 Millstream Brewing Company 835 48th Ave. Amana, IA 52203 (319) 622-3672 Old Capitol Brewworks and Public House 525 S. Gilbert St. Iowa City, IA 52240 (319) 337-3422 Raccoon River Brewing Company 200 10th St. Des Moines, IA 50309 (515) 362-5222

Photographs, Carole Topalian

Over the years if I’ve learned one thing about beer sampling, it’s that a good base of fried food might allow you to imbibe for a bit longer than, say, a stomach full of field greens. Beer requires a solid base to stand on and one of my favorite weird brewery foods that does the job right has to be deep-fried pickles. So shimmy up to the bar at the Old Capital Brew Works in Iowa City and order up a plate of these strange craveables with Harvest Moon Belgian Wit. Brewed with Curacao orange peel and coriander seeds, only a great microbrewery could convince a palate that orange and pickle should be paired. And now that the scaffolding is in place, please don’t leave without trying the Pumpkin Splitter Ale. Served only in October, it’s the perfect prelude to November’s full-herbed and bitter Big Cock Country Indian Pale Ale (IPA). American IPAs have been the subject of debate because they are a totally different experience than their weaker and less citric English ancestors, but this is one gulpable IPA that brew snobs can agree on. Oh, beer! How you make everyone a better dancer … at least that’s how we feel when we’re getting a boogie on with one hand around a frosty pint at the Raccoon River Brewing Company in Des Moines. The menu is full of fresh foods that beg you to forget the concept of pub food altogether, and I’m further convinced by the great live music and a serious selection of hand-crafted inhouse beers. If the smoky soul sisters of Public Property, Iowa’s most danceable reggae band, on October 27 aren’t enough for you, blaze up your taste buds with a MacCoy’s Scotch Ale. Imported smoked malt gives this self-described “highland alternative” a distinct flavor. It’s one of the strongest and darkest beers of my fall picks; be prepared for a beer that’s more a sipper than a quencher. So when you need to replenish your system after Public Property’s ukulele surprisingly presses your funk button, I recommend a sweet and hoppy West Coast Wheat to help you feel as creative as the scene at Raccoon River. Last but not least, I have to give a shout out to my hometown brewery in Dubuque, aptly named Bricktown. Housed in a massive, renovated turn-of-the-century warehouse that in a dealturned-down could have been the manufacturing site of a longshot idea known as “the automobile,” this brewery does not suffer from the same lack of vision that plagued its former tenants. When Dubuque Star Brewery sadly closed doors in 1999 after being in operation since 1898, this river town, which was already on the road to a major renovation, did what river towns do best: bounce back with something shiny and new, housed in history. So, as you’re sipping a Laughing Ass, which gives American-style beers a good name, take a moment to reflect on Big Miss out the window and the abundance that she’s brought to the valley that she forged.

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Edible Iowa River Valley is published quarterly by River Valley Press, LLC. 22 Riverview Drive NE, Iowa City, Iowa 52240-7973. Telephone: (319) 400-2526. Distribution is throughout the greater Iowa River Valley region and nationally by subscription. All rights reserved. Subscription rate is $28 annually. Call the number above to inquire about advertising rates, deadlines, or subscription information or email us at: No part of this publication may be used without written permission of the publisher. © 2006 All Rights Reserved.



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Edible iowa river valley

fall 2006


what a difference a day makes
by kurt michael friese

a day trip from iowa city to decorah
and all day Saturday. It’s only 30 miles up Highway 52 from Postville to Decorah, past the Bily Clocks Museum & Antonin Dvorak Exhibit in Spillville. Decorah is home to one of Iowa’s greatest gifts to the food world, Seed Savers Exchange, where they care for more than 30,000 varieties of heirloom seeds, 80 head of rare Ancient White Park cattle, beautiful gardens and a new post-and-beam visitors’ center. In downtown Decorah, you could enjoy a frosty treat at the 50-plus year-old Whippy Dip, shop at Oneota Co-op, and then sit down to a fantastic supper at La Rana Bistro. La Rana is a cozy place with a nice wine list and excellent, carefully prepared food from local ingredients. If you can stay the night, consider the Hotel Winneshiek, just a block from La Rana, and recently restored to turn-of-the-lastcentury grandeur. Or, double back to Spillville and the homey Taylor-Made B&B. Now’s the perfect time to take this trip, while the fall colors are at their best and the air is crisp with apples and pumpkins. For a wonderful way to enjoy autumn’s abundance, take a day trip or overnight jaunt through some of eastern Iowa’s most scenic small towns. Start on a crisp October morning two miles north of Interstate 80 at Wilson’s Orchard, just off Highway 1. Take in the cool orchard breeze as it mingles with hot apple turnovers from their bakery. Be sure to ask to see the Hawkeye Apple trees, source of the original Red Delicious. Solon is just 5.2 miles north on Highway 1, and you can stop at Savvy for a great cup of coffee, or, if your timing is right, Redhead is a delightful little restaurant. From there, another 6.4 miles up Highway 1 will bring you to Kroul’s pumpkin patch, which is a treat to visit anytime, but kids especially like it in October when the pompous pumpkins are everywhere and scarecrows watch over the dry decorative corn, gourds and squash. Then it’s on to Mount Vernon, where you can stroll through the leaves of the beautiful Cornell College campus, and do a little antiquing. Before settling into a delicious meal at the Lincoln Cafe, one of the area’s true hidden gems, consider selecting a bottle of wine from DeVine Wines, just a couple doors down. Taking Highway 30 west from Mount Vernon just a few miles will bring you to Highway 13, which will take you north to the quaint village of Strawberry Point, home of the world’s largest statue of a strawberry, and nearby Backbone State Park, Iowa’s oldest. Next stop, an unusual town that was made famous by Stephen G. Bloom’s book Postville: A Clash of Cultures in the American Heartland (Harvest Books, 2001), which tells the story of how a Lubavitcher rabbi bought a declining meat-processing plant there and turned it into a kosher processor, simultaneously turning the tiny town of Postville into the city with the largest percentage of rabbis in the world. Don’t miss the kosher market, Jacob’s Table, but remember they close two hours before sundown on Friday,
8 fall 2006 Edible iowa river valley

If You Go
Backbone State Park 1347 129th St. Dundee, IA 52038 (563) 924-2527 state_park_list/backbone.html Bily Clocks Museum & Antonin Dvorak Exhibit 323 S. Main St. Spillville, IA 52168 (563) 562-3569 Closed December-February DeVine Wines 125 1st St. W. Mount Vernon, IA 52314 (319) 895-9465 Hotel Winneshiek 104 E. Water St. Decorah, IA 52101 (563) 382-4164 (800) 998-4164 Jacob’s Table 121 West Greene Postville, IA 52162 (563) 864-7087 Kroul Farm Gardens 245 Highway 1 S. Mount Vernon, IA 52314 (319) 895-8944 or 895-8999 La Rana 120 Washington St. Decorah, IA 52101 (563) 382-3067 Lincoln Cafe 117 1st St. West Mount Vernon, IA 52314 (319) 895-4041 Oneota Co-op 415 W. Water St. Decorah, IA 52101 (563) 382-4666 Seed Savers Exchange 3094 North Winn Road Decorah, IA 52101 (563) 382-5990 Taylor-Made B&B 330 Main Street Spillville, Iowa 52168 (563) 562-3958 Whippy Dip 130 College Dr Decorah, IA 52101 Wilson’s Orchard 2924 Orchard Lane NE Iowa City, IA 52240 (319) 354-5651
Photograph, Kurt Michael Friese

Edible iowa river valley

fall 2006


on good land
by Kurt michael friese

apple recipes
Big Batch Applesauce
Choose your favorite kind of apples, since nearly any kind will do. You’ll adjust the sweetness at the end. Leaving the peels on will change the texture, flavor and sometimes the color (red ones will) of the sauce. This is entirely a matter of personal taste. To can applesauce, pack in hot jars to 1/4 inch from the top. Process in pints or quarts for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath.

preserve the apples, preserve the orchard
Simple Methods of Apple Preservation Can Also Help Protect Iowa’s Treasured but Dwindling Orchards
years to come to fruition, and with war on the horizon, Iowa’s orchards were plowed under and replaced with corn and soybeans. But Hiatt’s little tree resprouted, phoenix-like, from the severed trunk. It grows there today, cared for by its own horticulturalist from Iowa State University Extension, serving a symbol of what was and still could be in Iowa’s apple market. Joyce and Chug Wilson know these challenges all too well and have had plenty of offers from land developers to plow their trees under in favor of zero-lots, split-level ranches or “McMansions.” They’ve been tempted, but have never relinquished the land. It’s far too valuable to them as it is, which the glint in Chug’s eye shows you when he so much as talks about his apples, or when you see Joyce pull her magnificent apple turnovers from the oven in the orchard store. Enjoy one of those hot turnovers as you ride behind Chug and his wide-brimmed hat aboard his big old tractor, towing you and many others on a tour of the land on a crisp October morning. Preferably, share the experience with one or more children. Pick a basket of Suncrisps, Blushing Goldens, Spigolds and Crispins. In fact, pick two baskets full, or even three. Don’t worry about having too much; they store very well, and you can preserve even more by saucing, drying, canning or freezing them. Treasures like Wilson’s Orchard, and the other orchards around the state, will survive only so long as there is demand for their luscious products. Buying more and preserving the excess is a good way to support the artisan-orchardists of Iowa, while also getting lots of tasty treats for your family. To store your fresh-picked apples, Joyce says, place them in a plastic bag with a dripping wet cloth or paper towel. Refrigerate them as soon as possible (ideally at 35 degrees and near 100 percent humidity) apart from other fruits and vegetables. The early summer apples will keep this way for a week or so, but later apples like Gala, Honeycrisp and Blushing Golden will last for three to six months. Canning apples is not as daunting as it may seem. As with all canning, cleanliness and organization are the keys to success, and, done right, you’ll have the perfect filling for a hot apple pie on New Year’s Day or beyond.

Apple Pie Filling for Canning
10 cups water 1 cup cornstarch 4 1/2 cups sugar 1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg 2 tsp fresh ground cinnamon 1 tsp salt

1/2 bushel apples, peeled (if desired), Joyce Wilson pulls another fresh batch of delicious apple turnovers quartered and cored from the oven at Wilson’s Orchard store. 2 quarts (or so) water Combine 2 cups of the water with the Sugar to taste, perhaps as much as 4–6 cornstarch, and stir until smooth and milky. This is a “slurry.” Set cups, depending on your taste and the type of apple. aside. Place the apples in a large, heavy-bottomed kettle or stockpot, with enough water so that they won’t stick to the bottom while cooking. Place over medium-high heat, bring to a simmer, cover and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. When apples are tender, remove to one or more large cookie sheets until cool enough to handle. For a chunky sauce, use a fork or potato masher to achieve desired consistency. For a smooth sauce, pass the apples through a food mill. Sweeten to desired level after mashing. Mix the remaining ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Mix the slurry again and add gradually to the boiling mixture, stirring it constantly. Turn down to a simmer, cook 2 or 3 minutes more, stirring constantly, then set aside. Peel and slice enough pie apples (Granny Smiths are the classic) to fill 7 or 8 quarts. Fill the jars with apples. Pour cooked filling over; seal. Cook in pressure canner at 5 pounds pressure 5 minutes more, or for 20 minutes in boiling hot water bath. Editor’s Note: Always follow the instructions that accompany your canning equipment.


fall 2006

Edible iowa river valley

Photographs, Kurt Michael Friese

One sure sign of autumn in the Iowa River Valley is the increase in traffic on Highway 1 just north of Iowa City. Not only is it a scenic drive (see “What a Difference a Day Makes” in this issue), but it is also the way to the famous Wilson’s Orchard. Here Joyce and Chug Wilson care for 80 rolling acres and nearly 140 varieties of apples that people drive well out of their way to enjoy. Strolling amid the well-tended rows of apples, you can feel almost instantly at peace. There is no traffic noise, no blaring advertisements, no background static—only the occasional tickling buzz of a honeybee flying by to see who is appreciating his work. In mid to late October, the trees are usually heavy-laden with yellow, blush, red and gold, and this year is no exception. Chug Wilson calls the 2006 crop “a limb-buster,” which is a welcome relief after 2005’s disastrous late-spring freeze, which wiped out the blooms on Wilson’s trees and left a harvest of zero. “We had to import apples from Wisconsin” to sell in the orchard store, Chug told me on a recent visit. “Never had to do that before.” Like all farming, growing apples is a very challenging undertaking, subject to the whims of weather and the market, insects, environment and urban sprawl. Iowa was once the second largest apple producer in the country, not behind Washington but behind Michigan. The ubiquitous Red Delicious apple was originally called the Hawkeye, and was developed in the late 1800s by Madison County farmer Jesse Hiatt. He sold the rights to the Stark Brothers Fruit Company of Missouri, which propagated cuttings from the original tree near Peru, Iowa, and hybridized it out of all resemblance to it’s origins. Today, Red Delicious apples found in grocery stores are bred for appearance and durability, not flavor. On November 11, 1940, the “Armistice Day Freeze” swept across the Midwest, devastating many states, and none was more hard-hit than Iowa. Because its storied orchards, known to be the best nationwide, were still heavy with leaves and fruit, the ice storm destroyed them. Lightning split Jesse Hiatt’s Hawkeye in half. Since orchards are expensive to replant and can take up to 10

Wilson’s Orchard 2924 Orchard Lane NE (On Highway 1, 2.2 miles north of I-80) Iowa City, IA 52240 (319) 354-5651 Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., August, September and October

Edible iowa river valley

fall 2006


movers and shakers
by kamyar enshayan

rudy’s tacos: waterloo’s model of local food
A few years ago, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier ran an article headlined “Chains vs. Independent Restaurants” in which the independents complained about how the chains are taking their market share. A few days later, I noticed a letter in response by Barry Eastman, owner of the local independent restaurant, Rudy’s Tacos in Waterloo. “As restaurant owners our job is to create the best food possible. In order to take the chains head-on, we have to produce a better product, period. To achieve this goal, we must first improve the quality of our ingredients. This can easily be done by purchasing fresh, local ingredients directly from local farmers. This is something the chains cannot do. And the chains are going to keep coming. Now is the time for independents to prove what being local is all about.” In 1997, a couple of my students and I tracked two chickens all the way back to the eggs and wrote a report called “A Tale of Two Chickens.” One chicken was raised locally and organically; the other came all the way from Alabama, from a ConAgra processing plant. The chicken contract grower (one of 160) was raising 140,000 chickens eight times per year, was dissatisfied with the price ConAgra was dictating to him, and did not even know what was in the feed. ConAgra brought him the feed, which contained two kinds of antibiotics, on a routine basis from a ConAgra feed mill. Based on ConAgra’s most optimistic projections, the net annual income of the contract farmer I spoke with—after growing nearly a million chickens per year—was $21,000. After trying the locally raised chicken, Eastman started serving local, organic chicken as a standard part of Rudy’s menu. His chickens come from Welsh Family Organic Farm near Lansing. They buy the chicks from an Iowa hatchery, raise the feed organically and do not give animals any drugs. They raise a total of 150,000 chickens per year, setting their price so that they can make a living (“far better than $21,000 a year,” they told me). On the dinner plate, these two chickens would look identical, but they represent two different rural economies, two different futures, two different qualities. In the much shorter, local foodsupply chain, Eastman knows he is getting the freshest, highest quality ingredients; he also knows exactly where the ingredients

Rudy’s Taco’s owner Barry Eastman with some of his locally grown produce

“Puppets” by Matt Kollasch. “Barry Eastman” by Arion Thibourmery

come from, and he knows the farmers. He is supporting the livelihood of the farmers, who, in turn, support a variety of other local businesses. Now, nearly 10 years later, Eastman buys chicken, beef, pork, cheese, tomatoes, onions, peppers, cut flowers and soy-based oil locally. Nearly 70 percent of food purchases for Rudy’s come from 15 or so nearby food and farm businesses. That’s huge compared to any high-end restaurant in the nation. And Waterloo’s Rudy’s is simply a popular local diner serving excellent food at a very reasonable price. Barry Eastman’s work has been an inspiration other restaurants in the area. Last year, 21 buyers (restaurants, grocers, retirement homes, hospitals and colleges) purchased $600,000 in locally grown foods, a quarter of it by Rudy’s alone. Eastman says it is easy to buy from local farmers, it has worked great for him and his customers love it. As Eastman wrote, it is time for independent restaurants to show “what being local is all about.”

Rudy’s Tacos 2401 Falls Ave Waterloo, IA 50701 (319) 234-5686 Welsh Family Organic Farm 1509 Dry Ridge Dr. Lansing, IA 52151 (563) 535-7318
Edible iowa river valley fall 2006 13


fall 2006

Edible iowa river valley

iowa forager
by damian pieper

notes from the foodshed
by ken meter

visiting old friends in the woods
Inside an Iowa Wild Food Foray at Squire Point with Mycologist Damian Pieper and Members of the Prairie State Mushroom Club
After Dean Abel and I passed the Squire’s Point Sign, an American goldfinch led us down the shady lane toward the parking lot. The weather was perfect, and no mosquitos were out, perhaps due to the previous chilly night. Through the open window, I heard a house wren sing and then a cardinal flew across the lane. Out from the woods beside the parking area appeared two earlybirds, my friends Tom Schulein of Iowa City and Roger Heidt of Robins. A cottontail rabbit dashed across the gravel as Roger explained the four-letter notation for listing birds. Tom said he heard a great-crested flycatcher, but none of us could see it. The miniscule white flowers of honewort and windflower greeted us along the broad trail as well as thread petals (or daisy fleabane). As I snacked on the intensely lemon-flavored yellow wood-sorrel and somewhat less lemony green fruit of gooseberry, I looked up to see myriad little purple-brown, four-petaled flowers looking down at me. They were the flowers of Native American wahoo. Dean pointed out a very large crown coral fungus, two or three yards off the trail on a length of dead tree branch. I pulled branches down to pick the fruit of a Siberian black mulberry overhead. Tom said he heard the call of an ovenbird. Then he spotted the little white bird’s nest fungus. Roger admired the ebony spleenwort scattered here and there in the area. Dean recognized a lady fern and we all saw the maidenhair fern. Dean thought he found the poroid version (meaning “having pores”) of coral slime. Checking it later, under the microscope, proved that it was, indeed, the poroid form. I noticed a small population of apparently very young sensitive fern on the opposite side of the path near the place where I picked and chewed a few prickly gooseberries. We all admired the airy patches of white-flowered Eurasian marsh bedstraw. At first, I thought it might be the fragrant bedstraw, but no one could detect much fragrance from it, including a young man who had been jogging up the path toward us and was pressed into service to sniff the flowers. He agreed with everyone else that they had no detectable fragrance. Roger collected a Scutellinia species and some Hemitrichia calyculata (nearly microscopic yellow pom-poms in yellow Martini glass-shaped cups) while Tom collected an identifiable eyelash cup. Roger found a Phellinus shelf, some little black foot polypore and a few carbon balls. “What’s this?” queried Tom, who had got ahead of the rest of us. It took only a glance from three yards away to convince me that he had located Galiella rufa, or rubber cups. “Squeeze them,” I ordered. He demurred. “Go ahead, squeeze them hard,” I repeated. He must have thought they looked delicate for he gave one such a hesitant touch that it couldn’t possibly have shown how squeezable they are. It was a new species for Tom, so he was quite excited about finding it. I came across an old dry branch with a lot of split gill on it and scribbled that into my notebook. “What are these little gray balls?” said Tom, to no one in particular. Could these be—hey! I think—yes! These must be Lycogala epidendron, the exploding “Pepto-Bismol balloons.” He was not afraid to squeeze those until they exploded with a most satisfactory pink ooze. Then we heard Dean shout “Eureka! I found it.” Always on the lookout for the miniscule and the unusual, he had spotted Cordyceps varibilis amid the moss of a well-rotted log. We all took time out to inspect both sides of its sporocarp, and the mummified remains of the
14 fall 2006 Edible iowa river valley

traceability: finding food in iowa
With its lush, sprawling expanses of corn and soybeans, and with numerous livestock operations scattered across its plains, Iowa is often viewed as the epitome of a farm state. Indeed, Iowa ranks third in the nation for farm sales, selling $15 billion in 2004, and leads the nation in production of grain, hogs and eggs. Northeastern Iowa is a national leader in organic food production. Food sales at Oneota Coop in Decorah are rising 30 percent per year. Yet immense clouds loom on the horizon. From 1998 through 2004, Iowa farmers lost $2.8 billion dollars raising food commodities, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. For five of those years in a row, farm losses averaged $1 billion a year. Rising energy costs may inflict greater losses. Already production losses are deeper than during the credit crisis of the 1980s. This downward spiral is a long-term one. Iowa farmers earn $3 billion less per year by farming (adjusted for costs of living) than they earned 35 years ago, despite doubling their farm productivity. This gives Iowa the dubious honor of posting the greatest loss in production income of any state in the nation. To compensate, farm families take on off-farm work. Federal subsidies also help, averaging $1.7 billion per year. Yet this is still a striking dependence on public moneys, at a time when political leaders say that, after Iraq and Katrina, we cannot count on federal money being available. Further, the World Trade Organization has ruled that U.S. farm subsidies harm developing countries, and must be scaled back. Even in their best years, farmers ship billions a year out of the state, buying farm inputs that are sourced elsewhere. Their purchases of petroleum products, livestock feed and farm chemicals each year would be enough to pay for all food eaten at home by all state residents. Tragically, farmers who work at a loss have also helped undermine the region’s water quality. The Iowa DNR reports that nitrogen and phosphorus levels in Iowa streams are “two to 10 times the levels considered appropriate for healthy waters.” Manure and commercial fertilizer, it adds, cause one-third of nitrogen inputs and 99 percent of phosphorus inputs. Yet Iowa suffers from an even more curious dependency. Living in one of the most productive farm states, Iowans buy almost all their food from other states. Farmers currently sell only 0.1% of their production directly to consumers. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University calculates that on average, food is consumed 1,500 miles away from the farms where it is produced. This means most of the $6.5 billion dollars Iowa residents spend buying food each year leaves the state—even as farmers struggle. Moreover, as the Wall Street Journal reported late in 2005, the U.S. itself is becoming a net food importer on a permanent basis—with imports of Iowa’s most prized commodities, such as grains and meats, rising. Iowa consumers, who have taken for granted the availability of

Photograph, Carole Topalian

insect larva it had parasitized and killed. “This is an old artist’s conk isn’t it?” Tom asked, as he showed it to me briefly before tossing its dead, rotting carcass aside. Then he drew everyone’s attention to a bit of hair on a log. Dean identified that as Stemonitis. It seems to have been a slime-mold day for Tom and Roger. “Nice, soggy, moldy log. Oh boy!” exclaimed Dean. Who else but a mycologist could sing the praises of such? Up ahead I saw a large, dead, oak snag. Likely a century old before it died. Odd that the largest oak in sight had died while slightly smaller ones thrived all around. It was well covered with small brackets, which, on closer inspection, proved to be ancient, decayed remains of Trichaptum biforme, the “purple edge” or “purple tooth” fungus. “Here are some dead man’s fingers,” I heard Tom say. But I did not go to investigate those, because just in front of me, small groups of ET fingers peeped out from under an enormous fallen log. Judging from the number of fingers, the log must have squashed the entire ET crew. Both finds, of course, are fungal and not animal. I wandered off to another log that no one had yet inspected. Right on top was a young Agaric, which I guessed to be of the species Tricholomopsis platyphylla, but Dean pointed out to me that its gills were free and slightly pinkish. He later identified it as Pluteus pallidus, the little fawn mushroom. A few inches away, and on the same log, were half a dozen holes through the bark, each large enough to hold a pen or fat pencil. From three of those holes, fungous structures had emerged that seemed to have a micro-suede, deep-brown surface. Their shape was somewhat irregular and each stood on a stout, green-black stipe. I had discovered the “Mystery Mushroom” of the day. I glanced back to see Roger had whipped out his collapsible saw. While Roger sawed away at the log, Dean searched for a suitable container to hold the unknown life form for further study. It now rests in a moist chamber, an antique glass tumbler with glass lid, in Dean’s kitchen. He inspects it daily, waiting for developments, hoping it will identify itself. None of us could. Dean announced the finding of Coprinus radians, and Tom replied, “Dean taught me that one last year.” We trekked uphill into a small remnant of a pine plantation, hoping to locate other species in the different habitat, perhaps some blue mushrooms. Instead, I found a single well-dried specimen of earthstar, too weathered to be identified to species. Tom, Dean, and Roger chatted about the future possibility of arranging a Bioblitz, or all-species inventory at Hickory Hill Park. Roger collected a small cluster of mushrooms, which I was able to immediately identify as Coprinus quadrifidus, shingle top inkys. We returned to the parking lot for a well-deserved, and wellanticipated, picnic lunch. We lingered on there, enjoying the perfect weather and marvelous surroundings. On the way home, I saw a Robin and then, a great surprise, a Falco sparverius, the American kestrel, flew across the highway, so close in front of us that narrow tan and white stripes that cover its underside in flight were clearly visible. Back home in the kitchen, the fragrances of cooking fawn mushroom and shingle top inkys made my mouth water. Supper was a delicious finale to a fine day thoroughly enjoyed. Damian Pieper and Dean Abel are editors of the Prairie State Mushroom Club newsletter, Symbiosis. This article is adapted from field notes first published in Symbiosis, Volume 22, Number 4.

cheap foods raised far away, may be in for a rude surprise. That illusion has been based on cheap oil, also subsidized by the federal government. Now, roughly 17 percent of all energy used in the U.S. is required for bringing food to our tables—a total of $139 billion per year. Moreover, oil supplies are peaking. Our food choices are highly dependent on the price of oil, and upon political and military decisions made far away. This leaves the state highly vulnerable. As Iowa consumers become divorced from the supplies of their food, they suffer in other ways; 61 percent of Iowans are overweight. The medical costs of obesity total $790 million per year. Many Iowans are tired of feeling helpless in the face of such trends. They have set to work building new local food networks. Their work has been strengthened by the Leopold Center’s crucial role in convening campaign leaders to deepen strategic efforts. With Leopold Center support, I have been privileged to work with six regional foods efforts in 26 Iowa counties, analyzing farm and food economies in each place. One example is the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition,
Edible iowa river valley fall 2006 15

centered in Decorah (see page 9). Here, a combination of farmers, lenders, Main Street businesses, input dealers and consumers has launched a bold strategy to localize the food supply. Woodbury County’s resolution requiring county offices to buy local, organic foods when available has inspired like-minded work nationally, including a similar resolution in Cherokee County. Woodbury also gives a property tax break to farmers who convert to organic food production, apparently the first county in the nation to do so. University of Northern Iowa’s local foods project is also nationally revered. With sparse funding, it has fostered tremendous growth in local food sales from farmers to restaurants, institutions and schools. Sales have risen from $100,000 to $600,000 over the past eight years. New food manufacturers are also springing up. In Clarinda, Naturally Iowa produces organic milk, yogurt and ice cream— and molds its own bottles from a corn-derived plastic. Food Alliance Midwest has worked with Naturally Iowa and with Practical Farmers of Iowa (see page 20) to identify new markets. Consumers are also organizing. Here’s to Our Health in Wright County found there is already a quarter-million-dollars’ worth of local food sales there. They’ve helped new farmers’ markets emerge, and have publicized the established word missing here? as well. ZJ farms in Solon raised special funds so that low-income neighbors could buy shares in their Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm (see Food Security, page 15). Several Slow Food chapters hold taste

education workshops and build gardens in local schools, promoting higher quality cuisine. Importantly, Iowa’s Resource Conservation and Development districts have begun to realize they cannot attain good water quality, or stable farms, unless they focus their attention on economic development that builds local food, energy and recreation businesses. Prairie Rivers (six central counties near Ames) and Golden Hills (eight counties in the southwest) districts have taken the lead. Now the discussion is moving statewide. PFI also brings producers together to learn more effective production methods. Coalitions such as Women, Food and Agriculture Network and Iowa Network for Community Agriculture have added vision and vitality to these efforts by raising public awareness. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference has assisted several Iowa communities in mapping their local assets. Food Policy Councils, such as the state council housed at the Drake University Law School, helped coordinate policy attention to these efforts. Iowa State University scholars have often lent expertise. These are still fledgling efforts to stem immense losses. Yet indisputably, these lay the foundation for regional food networks of the future that will be essential, if we are to reverse the losses that are structured into the prevailing farm and food economy. Strangely, these courageous pioneers remain obscure to the mainstream media, and most consumers. Sidebar shown at bottom of next page

buy fresh, buy local moving forward
by mallory smith

“It is somewhere between idea and institution.” That is my answer when people ask about the progress of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local program in Iowa. Rolled out by Kamyar Enshayan in the Black Hawk County area in 2003, Buy Fresh, Buy Local Iowa is a marketing campaign that promotes the consumption of locally produced foods in our fair state. Iowa is one of more than a dozen states with campaigns doing the same good work. In fact, Iowa is one of the founding collaborators, thanks to the folks at Practical Farmers of Iowa, who enthusiastically stepped forward a few years ago to participate in the initial market research and campaign design. Other Buy Fresh, Buy Local states include California, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Montana. The campaign cycle begins in the spring with a membership drive and annual planning. In early summer local food directories are printed and distributed. Once that enormous task is taken off the to-do list, campaign focus shifts to events and educational outreach. Evaluation and planning wrap up the year. Fall and winter campaign activities include local meals at restaurants, farms tours, cooking classes and winter farmers’ markets. In Iowa the state campaign is an umbrella organization for a network of local campaigns, each with its own oversight committee, coordinator, support agency and evaluator. Local campaigns recruit members, manage budgets, print local directories and host events that highlight the benefits of eating local foods. Practical Farmers of Iowa, as the statewide coordinator, provides technical assistance, facilitates coordination among campaigns, encourages the development of new campaigns and seeks funding to provide challenge grants to catalyze campaign efforts. The hope is that by developing strong local support networks Buy Fresh, Buy Local Iowa will become sustainable—in other words, make the journey from idea to institution.
Editor’s Note: Mallory Smith will provide updates on activities of the various local programs in upcoming editions of Edible Iowa River Valley.

The eight Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaigns in Iowa are listed below. The chart includes the year each campaign began, name, support agency and the counties served. ’03 Black Hawk County Buy Fresh, Buy Local University of Northern Iowa Butler, Bremer, Fayette, Grundy, Black Hawk, Buchanan, Tama, Benton ’04 Des Moines Metro Buy Fresh, Buy Local Drake Agricultural Law Center Polk County ’04 Upper Iowa Local Food Campaign NE Iowa Food & Farm Howard, Winneshiek, Allamakee Coalition ’05 Buy Fresh, Buy Local Southeast Iowa Geode RC&D Louisa, Henry, Des Moines, Lee ’05 Fairfield Buy Fresh, Buy Local Pathfinders RC&D Keokuk, Washington, Wapello, Jefferson, Davis, Van Buren ’05 Quad Cities Buy Fresh, Buy Local Scott County Extension (ISU) Clinton, Scott, Muscatine ’06 Johnson County Buy Fresh, Buy Local Johnson County Local Food Alliance Johnson, Linn Prairie Partners RC&D Kossuth, Humboldt, Pocahontas, Calhoun

What You Can Do
As a consumer, there are many things you can do to gain a more secure food supply. Buy local. Look for local and sustainable labels when you shop, and ask your grocer to carry these foods. Eat at restaurants that serve local foods. Question the menu. Ask where your food comes from, and ask if the restaurant supports the Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign.
16 fall 2006 Edible iowa river valley

Invest in local “value-added” firms. Southeast Minnesota is now forming a regional investment fund, the Hiawatha Fund. Iowans are making similar plans. Convince your school, hospital, nursing home and local government to buy local. Support local foods planning through regional and state food councils. Support a “food” bill in Congress, rather than a farm bill for 2007 that will direct federal investments toward regional food networks and better conservation practices, and away from commodities.
Edible iowa river valley fall 2006 17

incredible edibles
by brian morelli

behind closed doors Rummaging Through My Fridge
by Rob Cline

food finds in ames
Buzzing 25 miles up Interstate 35, I detoured to Des Moines to shake down my old chef, Steve Feig, executive chef of Hotel Fort Des Moines and Raccoon River Brewing Company, for a few names that could help me navigate Ames’ sustainable food map. Ames is a university town in central Iowa, host to one of the state regent schools. A beacon of agriculture and technology, the 26,000-student Iowa State University houses the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and makes up about half the town’s population. Pat Breen, co-owner of Aunt Maude’s, spun out of my old chef ’s Rolodex. On the western edge of downtown’s Main Street, Aunt Maude’s has been a fixture in Ames for more than 30 years. “We have always bought local stuff whenever we could,” Breen said. “Why? Because it tastes better.” Wooden trim, stained glass, green floral wallpaper, wine bottles and mounted fish line the 100-seat dining room. First impression during my pre-dinner service visit was of an upscale bar and grill. Aunt Maude’s performs a major menu overhaul about four times a year and makes little tweaks year-round. In the heart of the season, July to October, Maude’s incorporates more than 50 percent local products, from milk, eggs and cream to chicken, beef and lamb to heirloom carrots and basil. “If we can get it we’ll try it, and if the quality is there, we’ll buy it,” Breen said. His nominee for best local dish might be the Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop for $21.95. The pork comes from Eden Farms, which is down the road in State Center. It is served with garlic-mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. Onion Creek Farms in Ames grew the garlic; the potatoes came from Small Potatoes Farms in Minburn and the asparagus spears from Reinhart Family Farms in Boone. “You can go on and on about sustainability and supporting the local economy, but the bottom line is flavor,” he said. “I think it makes a difference to people.”
18 fall 2006 Edible iowa river valley

Photographs, Chris Lynxwiler

After showing me through his kitchen, Breen directed me to a three-year-old neighborhood cafe on the west side of town. Called The Café, it is set in a new residential development, Summerset Village. Inside, mustard yellow walls contrast with brick floor and black exposed ceiling. A bakery and coffee bar sit beside an open, full-throttle kitchen. “It’s casual farmhouse chic,” said Kurt Chausse, who is executive chef of both The Café and Aunt Maude’s. From its in-house bakery and artisan breads, to breakfast, lunch and dinner service, it’s basic but hardly standard fare. The simplest details, the ones that in many restaurants are an afterthought, you can tell have been thought out. Even something that sounds basic, like the sausage and cheese omelet with potatoes and toast for $6.95, is made with house-ground sausage, free-range local eggs and homemade bread. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that people are interested in where their food comes from,” Chausse said, noting he uses about 85 percent local produce. Relationships with local farmers are at the heart of The Café. Chausse starts planning menus during winter strategy meetings with farmers. They look at what the farm wants to grow, what the restaurant wants and what the farm can grow. Winding northwest out of town, I head for one of their growers. Handmade Onion Creek Farms signs point toward a rustic dirt road that ends under shade trees. Contrasting traditional Iowa farm images—parcels of corn or soy blending into the horizon—Onion Creek offers diversity. Native prairie grass waves in a northern field, while purple basil and beets mix among arugula, tomatoes and leeks, not far from rows of recently picked filet bean plants. I park in front of a flower and herb garden. Joe Lynch, owner and operator of Onion Creek (with Lonna Nachtigal), meets me in his driveway. Despite Ames’ commitment to agriculture, Lynch says he is one of the few organic, diverse-crop farmers in town. And The Café and Aunt Maude’s are some of the only restaurants that in Ames that use local goods. Lynch stopped vending at the four weekly farmers’ markets (Wednesday and Thursday afternoon and two Saturday morning) because they are in flux. There is a struggle over regulations. The markets are organized by farmers, as opposed to city-backed markets in other areas, which leads to competing interests. With bushels of onions, boxes of tomatoes and bags of lettuce mix already set to go, Lynch opts for his own venture on an intown friend’s porch. About 40 regular customers stop by weekly, and some people visit his farm through the week to get produce. Also growing for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, he manages to carve out a living. “It is very satisfying to sell food to people who appreciate it,” Lynch says.

I am prone to feelings of anxiety. I feel anxious about the medical conditions I learn about via pharmaceutical advertising; I feel anxious about my fluctuating coolness factor with my three children; I feel anxious about ever-looming freelance deadlines. But until I agreed to pen “Behind Closed Doors” for Edible Iowa River Valley, I had never felt any anxiety about the food in my refrigerator. After all, other than my wife and kids, nobody really knows what’s in there—and they’re just as culpable as I for its contents. Yet somehow I agreed to open my own magnet-adorned door to set a baseline for future investigations into the iceboxes of others. The anxiety kicked in almost immediately. After all, when I was warned upfront that we didn’t want “a guided tour of organic Wal-Mart Cheetos and Diet Coke.” My first thought was, “Whew! At least the Coke is of the sugar-filled classic variety.” I shuddered at the thought of what “organic Wal-Mart Cheetos” might be. Then I started to worry. Did the contents of my fridge measure up? And measure up to what, exactly? Perhaps to an idealized refrigerator filled with food that is local, luscious and expressive of my family’s idiosyncratic personality. If that’s the standard, I have work to do. That said, all is not lost. The Amana Colonies are fairly well represented in our Amana refrigerator. At a recent meeting of the Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance held in Main Amana, I rediscovered the delicious offerings of the Millstream Brewing Company. The only beer I drink is of the root variety, and Millstream’s contribution to the category is exceptionally smooth and delightful. It’s just one of several great flavors. A lot of toast in the Cline household is topped with preserves that bear the Amana name. I’m particularly fond of the peach, which has a subtle flavor that isn’t too sweet. I have no complaints about the cherry, either. We also spice things up at our house with Mad Butcher Salsa. Not only do I enjoy the taste, I like this company’s attitude. As it says on the website ( “Mad Butcher Salsa was developed by real people from garden fresh vegetables in Northwest Iowa—not produced in some food laboratory by geeks who know nothing about flavor!” My wife and I are on a quest for the perfect popcorn and

next up in our informal taste test is Ellie Mae’s Gourmet Popcorn out of Breda, Iowa. Will it be the perfect combination of texture and taste? We’ll find out the next time the family gathers around the TV to watch our beloved St. Louis Cardinals. A huge chunk of fridge real estate is currently occupied by a watermelon. This, like the popcorn, is an experiment for us. The seedless melon, which sports a label that admits, “May contain an occasional seed,” was grown by Bell’s Melons in Conesville, Iowa. Does genetic engineering rob these melons of great taste? Don’t know yet, but I’m betting much less spitting is involved than with your standard melon. And that’s where we are at the moment: a few local treats scattered among more mundane fare. I know there are plenty of other interesting edibles out there and I’m headed into the community and into area refrigerators to find them. So this column is about more than peeking inside the crispers of local luminaries for the simple voyeuristic pleasure of it— though that would nearly be reason enough for its existence. It also represents an opportunity for me—and by extension, you—to learn about the unique and quirky foodstuffs that might deserve a spot in both our fridges and, ultimately, our mouths. I’m already stalking my first few fridges and will be back in this space with the results of my forays. Meanwhile, I have to file this column. The anxiety is getting to me.

Get into Rob’s Fridge:
Bell’s Melons 303 Burlington St. Conesville, IA , 52739-8530 (319) 725-6631 Ellie Mae’s Gourmet Popcorn P.O. Box 160 610 Main Street Breda, IA 51436 (800) 742-0228 Mad Butcher Salsa P.O. Box 219 Ruthven, IA 51358 (712) 837-5511 Millstream Brewing Company 835 48th Ave. Amana, IA 52203 (319) 622-3672
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Edible iowa river valley

edible endeavors
Iowa is home to a multitude of nonprofits and organizations focusing on the state’s formidable population of artisanal producers and small farmers. Some groups focus on the production side— helping farmers and small businesses that specialize in unique food products to stay on their feet and keep their doors open. Some organizations support the other side of the supply chain by helping consumers and customers easily access some of the wonderful products made with care in Iowa. Some organizations do other work across Iowa to keep Iowa’s cuisine alive. Edible Endeavors is our way of recognizing some of these incredible organizations. Each issue, Edible Iowa River Valley is proud to use this space to feature an organization so you can learn more about what it does, and how to assist these amazing efforts. If you know of an organization that is an Edible Endeavor and supports Iowa’s unique food culture, please let us know at PRACTICAL FARMERS OF IOWA: 21 YEARS OF SUSTAINABLE SUCCESS In the midst of the 1980s farm crisis, Story County farmer Dick Thompson and a group of fellow farmers were touring the state in a Winnebago camper, holding impromptu conversations with farmers and citizens about what was happening in agriculture. Thompson’s survival as a farmer was directly linked to his application of sustainable farming methods and his belief that the farm was a full ecosystem, with each part working together to create a dynamic and efficient whole. In 1985, Thompson helped found Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), with the idea of putting resources, information and ideas into farmers’ hands. In 1987, PFI initiated a statewide network of producer-researchers. More than 100 farmers have been part of the network, opening their gates to the public at farm field days across the state. These events combine practical management tips, data and observations derived from the on-farm trials and information from Iowa State University. Since 1987, 19,000 people have attended. PFI has grown into a complex and diverse organization that now includes over 500 farmers and nonfarmer members. In addition to gaining access to sources of sustainably produced food, nonfarmers who join the organization become an integral part of the growing movement toward a food system that supports local farmers, rural communities and a healthy environment. For more than 10 years, PFI has spearheaded a program devoted to helping farmers market products raised in an ecologically sound fashion. The program also connects PFI’s growing number of nonfarmer members with local foods and the people who produce them. Some of these programs include The Pork Niche Marketing Group, which addresses the burgeoning market for niche pork; the Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign, which provides a direct marketing outlet for farmers, and other ongoing workshops that provide farmers and food related businesses with the tools they need to succeed. PFI also holds an annual conference in Des Moines to foster networking among farmers and producers. PFI is recognized around the country as a prototype organization supporting sustainable agriculture. Many groups across the country are replicating PFI’s model. The growing demand for organic food, CSAs and farmers’ markets in Iowa, and across the nation, has been partially spurred by PFI’s quiet yet pioneering work. Practical Farmers of Iowa 300 Main St. PO Box 349 Ames, IA 50010 (515) 232-5661

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