Delicious Home Grown Corn – and a tasty movie about the industrial kind
It’s easy, if you have the space. The hard part is ignoring the latest megasweetamazing hybrids featured in seed catalogs, each a new breakthrough in orgasmic splendor. Please try. It’s better to buy that kind of sweet corn directly – or at one remove – from a farmer, assuming the farmer is growing it somewhere near you which they probably are if you have enough space to grow corn.
+ The farmers are pros. They actually do know what they’re doing.
+ All these yummy modern hybrids hold quite well after picking, especially if kept chilled. The old rule about getting the water boiling before you pick the corn can safely be set aside for sugar-enhanced and supersweet varieties.
+ Help keep small farms from turning into subdivisions by purchasing the food they produce. (If they produce it sustainably, so much the better, but growing corn takes up so much real estate “local” trumps almost everything else.)
+ You need the space for the wonderful sweet corns that cannot be bought at any price, even from boutique organic farms at the cutting edge of fashion. Stowell’s Evergreen! Country Gentleman! And the subject for today: Black Mexican, an incredibly flavorful variety that’s tender and juicy when immature, then still delicious as it grows increasingly starchy and finally winds up being the best cornbread you ever baked.
In spite of its name, Black Mexican is a New York State heirloom, introduced in the mid-19th century and probably given its exotic name as a marketing ploy. And in spite of the fact that it’s usually listed as sweet corn, I have my doubts. True sweet corn eventually gets starchy, but it never develops enough starch to make credible cornmeal.
The Black Mexican is on the right. We’ll discuss the other varieties – and the cross-pollination that leads to those dots – some other time.
Whatever class you put it in, Black Mexican’s life as great corn on the cob is pretty limited. The pure white tender and juicy stage ( maybe one ear of it, underneath at the back) only lasts a few days. The unique splendor is that it remains outstanding
When it’s still very sweet but slightly starchy (more white than black): curried corn soup; summer succotash with fresh green beans; creamy corn pudding spiked with jalapenos…
When it’s very starchy but still slightly sweet (more black than white): any place fresh shell beans would be good; in marinated salads; in pilafs with rice; in tomato-based fish stews…
When it’s meal corn that hasn’t dried yet (not shown. kernels are completely black and starting to stiffen but are still soft enough to puncture with a fingernail). You need a grain mill to grind it after it’s fully dried, but if you catch it at this stage you can use the processor to make a sort of proto-cornmeal that works fine in most recipes. All you have to do is use a little bit less liquid and boost the still-developing starch with a small amount of flour or cornmeal.
Blanched, cut from the cob and ready for freezing, this batch is a little past “slightly starchy” because that’s when Bill was down to harvest it. The yellow spots are the germ, which reminds me to point out that blue corns tend to be the highest in protein.
Seed for Black Mexican, aka Black Aztec and Aztec Black, is sold by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Seeds Of Change, among others, I’m glad to say. When we started growing it about 15 years ago it was difficult to find, and saving corn seed is a lot harder than saving tomatoes: varieties must be separated by at least a quarter mile unless you’re up for considerable fiddling.
(Opinion is divided on whether Black Mexican and Black Aztec are the same thing. We have grown both – or at least both as available retail – without seeing significant differences)
That dark green and orange line in the middle distance is a stand of hybrid feed corn; all plants as close to identical as human ingenuity can manage.
The documentary King Corn gets that rating because it’s not only fun to watch, it’s also – if there can be such a thing – a refreshingly gentle polemic. The narrators, a savvy pair of quasi-innocents deeply influenced by Michael Pollan, revisit their distant Iowa roots and through a year of growing the stuff discover how subsidized feed corn, sold to the public as a fine idea: more food for everyone! at low prices! turns out to be a taxpayer milking, fossil fuel guzzling threat to public health that’s dismantling farm communities all over the Midwest. Take a look. Even if you think there’s no connection between America’s weight problem and an average daily consumption of 200 to 400 calories’ worth of high fructose corn syrup,* you might want to see how much of its cost is coming straight out of your wallet.
* Amounts we eat of anything are notoriously difficult to measure. This range is based on pounds of HFCS per person per year as conceded by the Corn Refiners Association (41, citing the USDA) and asserted in King Corn’s press kit (73, citing the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).