Sweet Corn From the Garden – In December

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From Gene Logsdon
Garden Farm Skills

It can get cold enough to freeze spit before it hits the ground in a northern Ohio December, but we are still enjoying corn from the garden even as the jingle bells ripen on the evergreen trees.

Sweet corn? Yep, but not sweet corn the way you usually think of it. I love parched corn and why this delicacy seems to have gotten lost in the endless forests of corn in the midwest is a downright shame. Parched corn is easy to come by too, and if it is not lower in calories and cholesterol than other snack foods, don’t tell me because I am going to keep on eating it anyway.

We deliberately plant more white sweet corn (Silver Queen) in our late June planting than we can eat as roasting ears. We let the surplus hang in the garden through the fall, drying on the stalks. Sometimes we harvest the ears after they are almost dry and hang them in the garage. But it is less work just to let the ears remain on the dead cornstalks through winter and fetch a few ears as needed. As they dry on the cob, sweet corn kernels wrinkle considerably. In fact the sweeter the corn, the more it wrinkles. Once dry, the corn lasts at least until next harvest. There may be some advantage to leaving the corn in the garden over winter because hanging in a warm building, it can get so dry that it won’t parch as well. It is better in any event to leave the kernels on the cob until you want to parch them. The kernels shell off by hand very easily, at least with Silver Queen.

Parching sweet corn is about like popping popcorn. Put a very light skim of olive oil in any pan you have a cover for, or a skillet you can fit a cover over, and add a layer or two of dried corn kernels. Heat up a kitchen stove burner or the top of your wood-burning stove and keep agitating the pan on the hot surface so the corn won’t burn. The kernels will scorch rather easily, so you have to make sure the stove top is not too hot and to continuously shuffle the pan or skillet over the burner to keep the corn moving around inside. A older-type corn popper with a stirrer that you can crank works well. The kernels sometimes pop audibly, especially if they get too hot, and a kernel will actually pop out of the pan occasionally if no cover is used. But the kernels, unlike popped corn, only swell up as if they have suddenly developed weight problems. Salt them to taste or not at all, if salt is a no-no for you.

My fondness for parched corn began because I like to eat a little something snacky and crunchy with my bourbon as I do happy hour after work— happy as in cracking up at how the human race managed somehow to do something today even loonier than it did yesterday. I went through spells of potato chips, pretzels, peanuts, and crackers, only to be overwhelmed by too much salt or grease or oil or other ingredient I don’t even want to know the origin of. While I prefer white corn like Silver Queen, yellow sweet corn works just as well. Among parched corn gourmets there is general agreement that older varieties like Yellow Bantam, Sunglow, and Silver Queen are better than the newer super sweet varieties because the former have that more pronounced corn taste we appreciate. But any sweet corn will be satisfactory. I also like Silver Queen because the dried kernels are larger than dried yellow corn kernels and therefore are larger when parched, and to me crunchier. I have not tried to parch regular field corn, but presume it would not be as tasty as sweet corn.

Surplus corn? No problem. Give your friends who “have everything” a quart of parched corn for Christmas. I bet they’ve never received that before.
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Also see: Seeds of Change Organic Parch Corn

Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.
Author: The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land) 2007
Gene’s latest book: The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life
Gene’s Posts

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5 Comments

Kim: Find someone who grows more sweetcorn than they can eat. Don’t tell them about parched corn. Ask if you can have the ears too old to roast for sweet corn. Gene Logsdon

Anita: Just saw your comment. Will try your recipe. We are running out of this year’s corn for parching. We are going to try open pollinated field corn. See if it is as good as sweet corn. It might not be tender enough. My dentist frowns on people who like to chew on hard crunchies. Gene Logsdon
Jan: I don’t peek. I make Carol peek. Gene Logsdon

I have never heard of “parched corn” before, but it sounds delicious. I wish I would have known about it when I had a larger suburban lot–I just can’t devote enough space in my current urban plot to growing corn.

I tried the parched corn one time. I had corn everywhere! I tried it in a cast iron skillet with a lid, but I kept trying to peek a look to be sure I wasn’t burning anything and everytime I lifted the lid, corn popped everywhere! I think a glass lid would have helped. I do have a popcorn popper with the crank on it … maybe I’ll try that. We can barely grow enough sweet corn to eat fresh and freeze, let alone dry it on the stalk! Lucky you. Try roasting pumpkin and sunflower seed in a little oil and tamari or soy sauce. You know all that salt and grease is the only thing that makes live worth eating!

Parched corn is fantastic, and there’s a reason that posole is a traditional food this time of year in many southwestern households (where corn was even more of a staple for much longer than the rest of the country). If you ever get tired of eating it plain, and have a lazy afternoon, cook some up with pork, garlic, onion, and chili. Yum.

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