food fest 5: some kernels about corn
TODAY WE HONOR YAM KAAX, THE MAYAN GOD OF CORN, AND HIS AZTEC COUNTERPART, CINTEOTL. We celebrate the high-summer harvest of one of our favorite, and most important, crops. Welcome to Food Fest 5, a collaboration with my dear friend Deb and the Dinner Tonight blog. Come dig in and learn some kernels about corn, have a portion of Southern Corn Pudding, perhaps, and be sure to leave behind some recipes or tips of your own while you’re here.
It Ain’t What It Used to Be
Though corn is rightly labeled native to the Americas, the original plant from which today’s corn derives, called Teosinte (technically in the genus Zea), had a long and winding journey from its roots in Southern Mexico. Talk about the domestication of a wild thing!
The original grass had far fewer, tiny kernels, and not in anything so orderly an arrangement as today’s tightly packed heads that we call ears of corn. Have a look at these images (especially the macro ones) to see how heroic a job has been accomplished.
Starting more than 7,000 years ago, careful cultivation and selection by native peoples of the Americas and much more recently by farmers in wider reaches have yielded corn for feed, flour, (must I say fuel, too? eek!), and also our so-called “sweet corn,” the most domesticated creature of all. Fewer, bigger ears were a goal, as was reducing the hardness of the shells. Eventually so was developing a plant that could produce where it was not hardy. Today corn is the biggest U.S. crop, but what’s being grown is all those hybrids, not open-pollinated or heirloom varieties with all their genetic history and charm.
Pigs Prefer Heirlooms (So Do Smart People)
So which kind of corn can a modern gardener rely on?
According to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange of Mineral, Virginia, pigs know a good thing when they smell it. So do chickens and horses and cows:
“It is a fact that when pigs, chickens, horses, and cows are given a choice between open-pollinated and hybrid corn,” the SESE catalog states, “the animals invariably prefer the old open-pollinated varieties, possibly because of the higher protein content.”
Their wonderful catalog offers many OP varieties, and several hybrid sweet types as well.
I count 96 varieties of corn listed in Glenn and Linda Drowns’ Sand Hill Preservation Center catalog of Calamus, Iowa, among my very favorite sources for vegetable seed. Glenn, a science teacher, has a passion for some other crops of the Americas, most notably sweet potatoes and squash, and also raises heirloom poultry, and in all these cases his collection is ever-so-colorful. Not all varieties are available in any given year, but I am happy just to read about them, frankly, and know that they are all safe in his able and devoted hands.
To Freeze, or Not to Freeze?
I planned to freeze corn this year from the local farmstand, and then I read the directions, about big pots of boiling and ice water, about blanching and cooling and cutting and…
Oh, my. I am exhausted before I begin.
Maybe I will do it the way that suited Ellen Nearing of the various “Living the Good Life” volumes, books I have read over and again the last 25 years.
“Corn need not be blanched for freezing,” she writes in her cookbook “Simple Food for the Good Life.” Phew! “Remove the husks and put directly into freezing bags, without any water or washing. To be eaten, put cobs in a shallow baking dish, spread with butter and bake in a hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes.”
Corn for What? For Parching!
I didn’t know there is a whole world of corn that’s ideal for dry-roasting and eating that way, called parching corn. Well, at least I didn’t know about it until I read this story in Mother Earth News. Fascinating.
Southern Corn Pudding
Or maybe I will do absolutely nothing except get good and fat, turning some of the current local crop of corn into puddings and eating every spoonful myself.
Years ago, I used to spend the holidays with transplanted Southern friends, replete with Smithfield hams and (heaven-on-earth) corn pudding. Naughty as it may be, it’s my favorite corn recipe other than really good cornbread (which I like with kernels in, and cooked to a crackling crispy crustiness in a well-oiled black cast-iron skillet in the oven…but more on that another time).
I don’t have my old friend’s recipe, and she has long ago moved to France and operates a world-class cooking school…where they probably don’t teach corn pudding. But a lovely must-have little cookbook by “Fannie Farmer Cookbook” author Marion Cunningham called “Lost Recipes” has one simply titled:
Southern Corn Pudding
2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
2 cups milk, heated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 1½-quart casserole.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Pour into casserole, and put casserole in a pan. Add enough hot water to reach halfway up the casserole sides. Bake until firm (about 45 minutes).
HOW THIS CROSS-BLOG FOOD FEST WORKS:
Now it’s your turn: Have a recipe or tip to share in the comments below? Then be sure to go visit Deb and the Dinner Tonight folks and do the same. The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or tip and favorite links (whether to your own blog or another’s) at both host blogs, mine and Deb’s. Thanks for attending our fifth weekly Food Fest…see you next Thursday for our anything-goes Cornucopia of fresh vegetable ideas, just in time for the Labor Day weekend.