I received Carol Deppe’s book The Resilient Gardener recently as a gift. Deppe’s work is a trove of arcane knowledge on gardening four staples — corn, potatoes, beans, and squash — plus raising ducks. I’d like to write a review of the book once I have the chance to put to use more of its advice. For now, you’ll probably see references to the book popping up frequently in posts.
Last summer I grew Bloody Butcher corn, a deep red heirloom variety. The ears have been hanging and dry in my storage closet-cum-corn crib and I’ve been looking for how to put the corn to an edible use, but didn’t know the best application. You see, since industrialized corn production became so dominant, we’ve largely forgotten about the wealth of varieties of corn and how to use field corn as an ingredient. When you’re going to process a few million tons six ways to Sunday, subtleties of flavor and cooking properties matter little.
As explained on the chapter on corn in The Resilient Gardener, three broad types of corn can be put to particular uses. Inside corn kernels, like all seeds, are the germ and endosperm. Flint corns have a large amount of endosperm of a hard glassy, flint-like texture. Flint corns make good polenta, johnnycakes, puddings, or other boiled applications. Flour corns have little flinty endosperm and a large amount of fluffy, starchy endosperm. Flour corns make, of course, good flour which can be made into bread and cakes. The best flour corns can apparently make a flour with properties comparable to wheat flours. Dent corns have equal amounts of flinty and flour endosperms. They are derived from crosses of flinty and flour corns and have a dent in the kernel when dried due to the two types of endosperms shrinking different amounts when dry. Flint corns have properties of both flour and flint corns and drawbacks all their own.
You can tell what type of corn you have by cutting a kernel in half and inspecting the endosperm. Bloody butcher kernels have a dent, but their interior is full of floury endosperm and little if any flinty endosperm. An intriguing application of flour corn described by Deppe was parched corn. Parching is cooking by dry heat and this is basically what corn nuts are. Flour corns will expand until the endosperm puffs slightly and seed coat cracks, but won’t quite pop because the kernels are too large and without the internal moisture of popcorn. The result, lightly salted, is a crunchy, wholesome snack much like nuts that sweetens as you chew and the starches break into sugars.
It’s hard to tell which corn varieties make good parched corn, but red corns tend to be good, so I had to give it a try. And since I was making homemade corn nuts, I wanted to add some spice. Here’s the recipe and method.
1 cup corn kernels
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp salt
1 T chili powder
pinch of ground cumin
Preheat oven to 250. Heat a 12-inch cast iron pan on medium high heat, then added the corn. The kernels writhe on the pan’s hot surface as the water inside turns to gas and the seed coat bursts open. After a few minutes of heat and occasional shaking, the corn is parched. In a second skillet heat over medium 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon sesame oil and the chile flakes. Put the spices in a mixing bowl. Add the nuts to the oiled skillet and toss until the oil coats the kernels well. Deglaze the pan with the Worcestershire and soy sauces and continue cooking until the kernels are coated and sticky. Dump the kernels in the mixing bowl and toss with the spices. Spread the kernels on a half sheet pan and put in the oven for 10-20 minutes until the spices are well adhered. Cool the corn nuts and enjoy.
Parched corn is the perfect accompaniment a cold beverage of your choice. They are quite crunchy and you can’t eat too many in one mouthful, but sitting out for a cocktail party or game night, they’ll be sure to disappear. Bloody Butcher seems to be a great candidate for parching. Try substituting lime juice for one of the sauces and other spices, such as paprika or ground ginger to create different flavor combinations.
Figuring out how to use my heirloom field corn was a real treat and I can’t wait to grind it into flour for what I hope will be fantastic cornbread. Stay tuned.