From GENE LOGSDON
I get carried away sometimes with my misgivings about corn farming, so I have to balance that out occasionally with praise for one of my favorite foods. A reader, I think it was Ken, recently asked me to write about our experiences with cornbread and so I will, although I know many of you could do it better.
Daughter Jenny provided the photo of me and the corn. The ear is 14 inches long with 22 rows of kernels if I remember correctly. I don’t see any practical reason to try to grow big ears of corn except for the fun of it, although with ears like this it would not take an impossible number of stalks per acre to make a record breaking yield. The corn is open pollinated Reid’s Yellow Dent, which I grew for about 35 years and quit only last year when the deer started eating every bit of it. I hope to be able to grow a bit of it in the garden now. Friends and family who have used it for cornbread always come back for more. I have a hunch that if our corn does taste better it is because it is fresher than store-bought meal. As any food ages, it loses taste. We use new corn every year. The trick is to store it on the cob in a dry cool place, shelling only as needed. Leave the corn out in the field in the fall as long you can. When I bring it in, I tie the ears we want to save for cornmeal by the husks to wires in our airy garage with metal disks at both ends of the wire so mice can’t get to the corn. Looks sort of like clothes on the line. Carol also stores ears of corn in the freezer after they are dry. This is a good thing to do if you are having problems with weevils.
We grind cornmeal in a C.S.Bell hand-cranked mill. It has metal grinding plates, not stone, but hand-cranking is so slow they never heat up. The old worry that metal filings get into the meal may be true, but in forty years we have not been harmed. I bought a Bell because they are made in Tiffin, Ohio, fairly close to where we live and I could go over there and look at them. I am so old-fashioned I like to see something and talk to the seller personally before I buy.
We use our mill mainly to grind wheat for regular bread flour, with cornmeal as a sideline. This mill does both quite satisfactorily. Grinding by hand is rather hard work. I could put a motor on the mill, but we grind only small amounts at a time, so hand-milling suffices. Good exercise. The crank turns harder on corn than on wheat, but not easy in either case. The trick is to let the grain dribble into the grinding plates slowly. Carol usually controls the feed rate while I crank. The mill can be adjusted for various grades of fineness. We like our cornmeal, as well as our wheat flour, on the crunchy side. We think sweet corn is too gummy to grind into meal but we have not experimented with it very much. Carol thinks that some of the older sweet corns, like Yellow Bantam or (white) Country Gentleman, might grind okay if well dried. There are of course other foods where corn meal comes into play, especially as breading for fried fish and vegetables like eggplant. Yum.
Carol has tried many cornbread recipes and this is her favorite: one cup sifted all purpose flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 4 teaspoons of baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1 cup yellow corn meal, 2 eggs, 1 cup of milk, 1/4 cup of soft shortening. Sift flour with sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in corn meal. Add eggs, milk and shortening. Beat with electric or hand beater until just smooth, about one minute. Do not overbeat. Pour into 9 by 9 by 2 inch pan or in muffin pan. Bake in hot oven, 425 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until done. Our daughter, Jenny, who is as particular a cook as Carol, favors the same recipe. If she has to buy cornmeal, her preferred kind is Bob’s Red Mill.
There’s a detail in freezing sweet corn that we think makes a difference. Carol shaves the corn from the cob with a sharp knife but cuts a tiny bit high so as not to cut into the cob. Then she scrapes the cob with her knife to get out all the milky pulp. That’s why we think her corn tastes so good, especially when it is fried with strips of green pepper and onions in bacon grease. Double yum.
We love parched corn, using white sweet corn, dried as described above. We currently prefer Silver Queen or Argent. Pour a little oil in the popper pan, dump in enough corn kernels to almost cover the bottom, stir or shake pan to prevent burning and shortly the kernels will puff up or almost pop a little. Sprinkle a little salt on. Triple yum.
My sister Rosy and her husband are our neighborhood’s popcorn champions. They grow their own —preferred variety now is Robust Yellow after trying many others over the years. After experimenting with every conceivable popping method, they use a Whirley Pop popper from Wabash Valley and use naturally dried corn (as described above) starting about Thanksgiving after harvest on the current year’s crop. They shell about twenty five ears at a time and store in their freezer. About February, Rosy starts sticking a moist paper towel in the container with the kernels so they don’t dry out too much. She uses peanut oil for popping, sometimes vegetable oil or lard. With the stove burner almost on high, two thirds cup of kernels pops in about a minute to a popper full. She adds only a sprinkling of salt, no butter. I differ on the butter, my favorite food. On the other hand, the newer varieties of sweet corn are so tasty to me that I no longer smear the roasted ears shamelessly with butter.