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Monday, March 23, 2015

Corn Prone…

Jim's corn shellerYou tell me whar a man gets his corn pone, en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.

Mark Twain

It was some time back I stopped by the Beez Neez Apiary Supply to see what mischief my friend Jim Tunnell was up to. I found him in the supply room hunkered down and fussing over what appeared to be an instrument of torture, vestiges of the medieval Inquisition. “What in the world is that contraption?” I asked, puzzled at the Rube Goldberg machine he was tinkering with. Jim looked up from his labors, a big smile on his face as if he’d put the finishing touches on a miniature nuclear reactor. “It’s a corn sheller,” he boasted like he’d just won the lottery. “I discovered it at the Evergreen State Fair.” A corn sheller, eh? No household should be without one.

On the other hand, I would venture to say corn eating households know not the least thing about corn shellers ( The Ripple included until recently). And why would they? Sweet corn, “corn on the cob,” all sloppy with butter and (mind you) lightly salted, is the corn of preference, brought on platters steaming to the family table. Shuck the husks, pull away the silk, and immerse the ears in boiling water for five minutes or so: corn, the American way, buttered, tender, and mouth watering. And then, of course, there’s cornmeal in a box.

Seed catalogs these days feature a myriad of sweet corn varieties; however, if it’s corn meal you seek for corn bread, corn muffins, cornmeal mush, a pone or two, most catalogs are bereft of seed to accommodate. The old corn crib varieties--field corn or dent (so termed because a dimple forms as each kernel dries)--are corn grist for the mill. Two or three years back I sent for Reid’s dent corn seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (out of South Carolina). Reid's dent cornBecause of our short growing season I’ve only been able to harvest a few mature ears from the twelve foot stalks. (Note: most of the seed catalogs come from the East Coast or Midwest; their geography allows a longer growing season, so their seed to maturity dates don’t apply to our maritime climate: Reid’s dent 110 days) I pulled back the husks, bundled three or four ears together and hung them in the shed to dry.

Drying corn: a few years back I attended a swap meet/flea market at the Fairgrounds and happened upon a curious object, a piece of one inch stock eighteen or twenty inches long. Staggered on each of the four sides of the wood were spikes made from six or eight penny nails. The stake was topped off by a hook. The curio had a tag attached: “Corn dryer” it read. With a cob impaled on each spike, the mature corn could then be hung in a warm place to dry. A neat idea and simple to make.

Now the next best thing to having a corn sheller is to have a friend who has a corn sheller, and an added bonus is if same friend has a grain grinder. Jim Tunnell was such a friend. “Bring in your Reid’s dent and I’ll have my grandchildren shell it for you and I’ll grind it into meal,” Jim offered. Cornmeal from my own backyard garden…I was excited at the prospect. My two years’ crop yielded up just shy of a gallon of pale yellow grinds

When I opened one of the quart jars, the enticing aroma of fresh corn burst from within. It was as if I’d caught the drift of steam from a pot of bubbling sweet corn. I thought I’d conduct a little olfactory test, compare my store bought box of Alber’s cornmeal to my garden fresh ground. Pulling the box from the pantry, then lifting the lid, I let the open container drift under my nose a time or two. No corn smell whatsoever; my nose detected at best only a sterile nothing.

Cornbread is my text for today. Since I been in New York I’ve rarely been able to run acrost any cornbread like it was back home. Up here they put 2-3 flour and 1-3 sugar and I’ve even found it fell so low as to have raisins in it.  This is called cake in the west.

                                                                  Woody Guthrie

Not only did Jim shell and grind my corn, he loaned me his book of cornbread recipes: Jeremy Jackson’s The Cornbread Book and shared his favorite cornbread recipe. I thought I’d test drive my homegrown cornmeal and give Jim’s recommendation a try. The recipe follows.


                                       Buttermilk Cornbread

1 Tbsp plus 1/4 cup canola oil

1 1/2 cups cornmeal (store bought if you had a crop failure)

1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour (or 1/2 cup soft southern flour such as White Lily or Red Band)

2 tsp. sugar (Sorry, Woody)

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda (yes, soda, mind you)

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 large egg

Preheat oven to 450 F. When it’s reached 450, put the 1 Tbsp canola oil into a 9” x 9'” baking pan or a 10 1/2 inch iron skillet and put pan/skillet into the oven to heat.

Whisk dry ingredients together making sure there aren’t any lumps of baking soda visible.corn bread fixin's

Separately,whisk the buttermilk, egg, and 1/4 cup oil together until they are smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined.

Remove the hot pan/skillet from the oven and pour the batter into the pan. The batter will sizzle as it hits the hot oil. Rock the batter into the corners of the pan and then quickly return  to the oven.

Bake the cornbread for 18-26 minute until it’s lightly browned. Serve hot.

Ah, the smell of fresh corn fills the kitchen, wafts its way into every corner of the house. And the flavor? Like munching breaded sweet corn. When I gushed about the cornbread’s wonderful flavor, Jim said he believed a portion of the grain germ is removed in commercial cornmeal, taking with it some of the distinct corn flavor.

Homegrown cornmeal…one more garden success to add to my “Some you Win” column. This year’s garden will feature a new maize: Earth Tones dent corn. Eighty-five days to maturity which knocks an entire month off Reid’s dent corn. Ah, pastel cornbread…I can hardly wait.pastel cornmeal

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  1. We'll have to enlist the help of the little chicken farmer with this year's corn patch. TMJ (Dad)