Monday, May 6, 2013

Corn: more than its cracked up to be

We had a productive weekend working outside in the beautiful warm weather.  Finally!  It's been a mad dash to get everything done on schedule, and to make matters more complex I'm out of town for all of next week leaving Meridith to cope with planting and the maintenance of all our stuff by herself.  So I'm going all out to get as many things planted as possible before I'm gone. 

One of this week's accomplishments was the planting of our corn crops.  Corn gets a bad name these days, but that is a result of how it is grown and processed rather than its many virtues as a plant.  Corn is amazingly productive for a grain due to it being a C4 carbon fixing plant, which gives it a metabolic advantage over many other crops.  It is also easy to grow, can mature in a relatively short growing season, and has many uses.  We are growing three kinds of corn this year: Japanese hull-less popcorn, a hybrid sweet corn, and Mandan Bride flour corn.

At this point you may be wondering, "What the heck is a flour corn?  I've never heard of that."  That's what I initially thought, too.  Native Americans, however, knew the value of corn and developed many varieties intended for different uses and environments, and many of those were of the flour corn variety.  Flour corn is a starchier version with softer kernels that grind to a flour like consistency rather than gritty like the modern yellow dent corn varieties grown by farmers throughout America.  Flour corns typically have a higher nutritional content and a nuttier flavor than modern yellow corn because Native Americans bred their crops for nutrition and flavor rather than yield.  They were eating it, not selling it, and their priorities were perhaps a bit more food related than the modern farmer, who is typically more monetarily motivated.  If you would like to know more about how Native Americans grew, cooked, and ate corn and other crops, a great publication is available called Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden.  It is an account of Buffalo Bird Woman's gardening methods, a Hidatsa woman that was relocated to the Fort Berthold reservation as a child.  There is a great deal of fascinating historical info in this publication, not to mention a lot of great gardening ideas.

Mandan Bride flour corn was supposedly developed by the Mandan tribe of present day North Dakota.  I stumbled across a very interesting article about this corn awhile back and had to try it for myself.  I was curious about several things: would food made from it taste as wonderful as they say it is in the article?  Would it produce a considerable amount of corn in a small plot?  How would the yield compare to modern yellow dent varieties?  Is it resistant to local pests?  Because it was developed in an environment in close geographical proximity and with similar climate to our location, would it thrive here?

The statements about the flavor turned out to be true: it tastes wonderful.  We haven't had the opportunity to do much more with it than parching and making corn bread, but it has gotten rave reviews from us and our guests.  It has a light nutty flavor, and the finer consistency makes for corn bread that has a creamy rather than gritty texture.

It is also quite beautiful, and could be used for decoration if a person were to value that aspect of it more than its eating qualities.  I am not such a person, but I would not begrudge anyone that might want a few ears as part of a fall decoration.

If our crop of Mandan Bride is successful and we have enough to spare, we hope to bring some fresh ground Mandan Bride cornmeal to the market late this summer and give you all a shot at it.  We don't think you will be disappointed - we certainly aren't!

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