As I mentioned in one of my previous emails, one of the rows we’re planning for the Learning Garden is of corn. We’ll have a small plot of open pollinated sweet corn, but the majority of the row will be taken up with flint, flour, and dent corn varieties. Prior to some winter reading (and I must give full credit here to Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener for much of what I am going tell you in this email, but since I will be synopsizing, all errors will be my own), I could no more have been able to list those 3 names than I could tell you what the differences between them were. As the self-described “learning” part of the Learning Garden, if I thought about corn at all, I thought there were two basic kinds: sweet corn and field (cow) corn. I eat corn tortillas and the occasional piece of polenta or cornbread. I just never thought about them.
A few years ago, I acquired the DVD King Corn, which is the humorously told tale of the very big place corn has in our society (courtesy nowadays of high fructose corn syrup). And I can honestly say it caused me more than a little bias against the grain. But that was the story of agribusiness and its petrochemical-fueled, government-subsidized, practically inedible monoculture crop. Ours will be the story of the rich and diverse food that was raised by the native Americans.
According to Deppe, indigenous farmers did eat some of their corn green (sweet), but even then it was mostly dried and eaten rehydrated, not like the corn boils we think about today. Speaking of sweet corn: am I the only one (aside from Deppe, I was interested to read) that prefers their sweet corn raw? My mother cooked it 13–15 minutes, and we all slathered it in butter and salt and pepper. Then, as I began cooking for myself, I got to the point where I was cooking it maybe 3–5 minutes and skipping the butter (back when butter was the “bad” fat). The last few years, I just shuck it and eat it. I’ve wondered if it’s the new breeds of sweet corn that don’t need cooking to be good, or maybe it’s that I get my corn much fresher from the farmers’ market or stands than my mother did. Thoughts?
Back to the native Americans and their wonderful varieties of corn: the 3 types of corn have different makeups of endosperm, which is the part of a corn kernel that holds the nutrition the embryo of the seed (called the germ) would use as it began growing and what makes the grain nutritious for humans as well.
All corn kernels have 2 types of endosperm, flinty (hard and glass-like) and floury (soft). Flint corn has more flinty endosperm, flour corn has more of the floury kind, and dent corn is a mix. Dent corn kernels, in fact, get the classic dip at the top from the fact that the flinty endosperm forms a ring around the core of floury endosperm, and the dry structures of the two types are different.
Flour corn was grown by the Indians of the American Southwest, although some varieties were grown further north. It grinds easily into a soft flour that can be substituted readily for wheat in breads and desserts. It is also used as parched corn (another new vocabulary word for me, at least in this context). To parch corn, you brown dried corn in butter. Some of the kernels may pop, but unlike popcorn (which, like sweet corn, is a special variety of flint corn), most will stay whole. From the look of the pictures I’ve seen, it reminds me of those packaged corn “nuts,” and it’s considered a great high-energy snack.
As I mentioned, flint corn includes those varieties we use for popping and eating green, and when dried, it takes much more work to grind. Even ground as fine as possible, it retains a gritty texture. This makes it perfect for making polenta, Johnny cakes, and puddings.
According to Deppe, dent corn has too much floury endosperm to taste fully cooked as polenta, and too much flinty endosperm to be used in fine-textured breads and cakes. Feed corn is a dent variety, and most of the commercially available (coarse) corn meal and polenta is also dent, but with the flinty endosperm mechanically removed for the latter, which, she claims, is “yet one more tasteless, nutritionally stripped travesty of the agricorn industry.”
Obviously, this lady really loves her corn! And from what I’ve read, she (and we) have good reason to. Much the way I’ve learned to appreciate the taste of locally grown, heirloom tomatoes and local, pastured meats, I look forward to discovering what real corn tastes like.
Bloody Butcher dent. Mandan Bride flour. Oaxacan Green dent. Abenaki Culais flint. Mandan Parching Lavender flour. Hopi Blue flint. Exciting, isn’t it? Another opportunity to
Buy it locally grown
or Raise your own!