Winter Squash and Pumpkin

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Winter squash and pumpkins take space. Get used to it. For that reason, I don’t grow a lot of varieties. I do crowd them a bit and allow them to ramble, intertwine and generally take over the area I have set aside for squash. You can grow them intermingled with beans and corn, the way Native Americans did, but I don’t know how the heck they did any weeding after the first few weeks, because these Three Sisters gardens really turn into a jungle in a hurry. On the other hand, the Sisters are pretty efficient at choking out the weeds, so it’s probably a zero sum game. Some experts recommend you prune them, others say don’t prune. The rationale for pruning is that you are more likely to get larger fruit even if they are fewer. The don’t prune school of thought is that you are creating an entry point for bacteria and subsequent infection. I’m of the opinion that plants – like people – have robust defenses against infection and, if they are healthy, can easily handle pruning. If you live in a short-season area or got them started late, pruning can help you have at least a few ripe fruit rather than a lots of half-ripe fruit. To prune, allow the vines to get about three feet long, then remove the end buds. Thin the fruits as well, so you have one or two fruits per individual vines. Make sure your knife is very sharp and make straight vertical cuts so the open surface is as small as possible. You can, by the way, use the immature fruit just as you do summer squash. Once the rind has started to harden, you’ll have to peel them, but they can be sliced and fried. Add spices or a very small amount of sugar, as they won’t have developed full flavor. And of course, the chickens and pigs are happy to gobble anything that’s under-ripe.

Winter Squash Varieties

Squash and pumpkins are generally divided into four varietal groups: Cucurbita mixta, Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata, and Cucurbita pepo. The Maxima group includes Buttercups, hubbards, marrows and turban squashes. Cushaws are primarily Mixtas. Golden Cushaw, Orange Cushaw, and Orange Striped Cushaw are Moschatas. Other Moschatas include Butternut varieties and the “cheese” pumpkins. Pepos include the summer squash varies like crook-necks and zucchini, as well as gourds, Delicata and Acorn squash. What Americans call pumpkins and use for Halloween decorations fall in the C pepo group as well. These groups will cross within themselves but not across groups, so if you want to save seeds but don’t want to hand-pollinate (which is really easy with cucurbits), only grow one variety from each group.

Winter squash and pumpkins, like summer squash, need plenty of water – they have a huge leaf canopy, not to mention their fruit, so don’t ever try to short them in the water department. Winter squash and pumpkins can be canned but I prefer to freeze the puree as it tastes fresher. Or you can just take the whole stored fruit off the shelf and cook it when you want some instead of tying up shelf or freezer space. They also dehydrate well. You can find them in various colors aside from the standard orange: grey, green, bluish, yellow, tan, black and striped. They can be round, oval, shaped like a long cylinder or a cylinder with a bulbous end. Some are covered with “warts” or peanut-shaped growths. Others have knobs or turbans, or are deeply grooved. Although I don’t currently grow all of the varieties below, I have at some point.

  • Butternut Squash – originally developed by Charles Leggett, of Stowe, Vermont, in the 1940s. He took some seeds to the Waltham extension station and it was refined there, primarily by Robert Young. This is an excellent keeper, yields well and has a nice nutty taste. It also makes pretty good “pumpkin” pie.
  • Table Queen Acorn Squash – there are a number of different varieties of acorn squash, but I don’t really think there’s a lot of difference from one to another. I grew this one for several years, and although it’s got a great flavor and is prolific, in my experience it doesn’t store as well as the other winter squashes. If you grow it, plan to eat these first, and save your other winter squash for later in the year. It was introduced by the Iowa Seed Company in 1913.
  • Hubbard Squash – I’m not sure why this one is called Hubbard, as it was developed around Marblehead, Massachusetts, having arrived there by way of either the West Indies or South America around 1798. It’s a big squash, with fruits typically well over 12 pounds. It stores very well. Great flavor.
  • Delicata – This one has a tough skin, which helps it stay good in storage. It tastes kind of like sweet potatoes. Since nobody in my family is very fond of the flavor, I quit growing it, but it’s a good squash. Been around since the 1890s or thereabouts. The seeds are very good when roasted.
  • Spaghetti Squash – This is a Japanese heirloom, supposedly from the 1890s, but the earliest US catalog to list it is from 1937. Instead of dense flesh, it has strands just like spaghetti. It doesn’t store as long as most winter squash. If you’re gluten-sensitive, this squash lets you have your spaghetti and eat it, too. It’s also good with butter, pesto or olive oil and garlic. Although a lot of recipes suggest you microwave it, I prefer to cut in half and bake cut-side down in a pan with a little water for about 20 to 30 minutes. Since it’s the only squash hubby will eat, I grow it mostly for him.
  • Banana Squash – this is the big daddy of winter squash; the fruits can get up to 70 pounds. It probably came from Peru, as seeds have been recovered from archaeological sites that match up to today’s cultivars. It hit the US in 1893, courtesy of R.H. Shumway. It’s a lo-o-o-n-n-ng season squash – 120 days or more. Great flavor and generally stores well.
  • Long Neck Pumpkin – the name is a misnomer, because it’s really a squash rather than what we call a pumpkin. Sometimes called the Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck or Canada Crookneck. I love this what-ever-it-is. The flavor is great, whether you eat it like squash or make pumpkin pies with it. The long neck is solid flesh, with a small seed cavity in the bulbous end, so peeling is a snap – whack the neck into rounds, cut around the edge to remove the rind, and use it. Once you’ve removed the seeds, the bulbous end can be turned cavity up and roasted or filled with stuffing. It’s been around for at least 150 years and stores well. I think this makes the best pumpkin pies of all the squash/pumpkins.
  • Connecticut Field Pumpkin – all indications are this one was being grown by the Nauset tribe when the Pilgrims hit Plymouth Rock, but it’s been around since 1700 at least. It needs a long season, at least 120 days, but it’s very productive, stores well and tastes good. Livestock like it, too (and so do the deer, who will devastate the field).
  • Small Sugar Pumpkin – if you want to make pies, this is a good choice. It’s not a huge pumpkin, maybe 8 pounds, but the flesh is sweeter than most and it yields well. It’s mentioned in seed catalogs from the 1930s but may well be older.
  • Rouge vif dEtampes – sometimes called the Cinderella Pumpkin, because it looks just like Disney’s coach and four before the fairy godmother started messing with it. It’s a beautiful old French heirloom from about 1880, and the fruits can be picked small and used like summer squash. I’ve grown it, but I wasn’t impressed with the taste, so I don’t grow it any more. It’s great for fall displays, however, and the flesh is a gorgeous deep reddish-orange. For cooking, I’d mix it half and half with another pumpkin or winter squash and puree them together.
  • Amish Pie Pumpkin – this variety produces great big pumpkins, as in about 60 to 80 pounds per fruit. Developed by an Amish gardener in Maryland named James Robinson, it looks like a regular pumpkin on the top but tapers on the bottom, for a tear-drop shape. Although it’s probably been around longer, it didn’t start showing up in seed company offerings until 1999 and is still a little hard to find. Lots of people rave about the flavor but I would say it’s just OK. It did not store well for me.

If I could only have one, I’d choose the Long Neck Pumpkin. It’s prolific, good for fresh eating or to make pie, and it’s easy to peel, unlike Hubbard, which I would rank as its closest competitor. Long Necks also store very well. For pumpkins, I would go with the Connecticut Field Pumpkin, for similar reasons (although it’s not easy to peel). The other thing I like about all of these is that they’ve really stood the test of time.

Nutrition

Winter squash are generally a good source of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium and magnesium, and a very good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and manganese. Pumpkin also provides iron, copper and riboflavin, and both vegetables are loaded with fiber.

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Corn Recipes

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Boiled Corn on the Cob

The best corn recipe involves a pot of boiling water, butter and salt. Once the water comes to a boil, go pick the corn. Shuck it, clean off the excess silks and toss it in the water. When the water starts to boil again, give it about three minutes, then take out the corn, slather with butter and salt, and eat. The best way to butter corn on the cob, by the way, is to butter a slice of bread and then roll the corn over the bread until it’s coated with butter. Works much better than trying to use a knife with a glob of butter on it.

Grilled Corn on the Cob

The second-best corn recipe is equally as simple: Dip the unhusked corn in water, shake it off and put it on a grill or in a 350°F oven. Turn it a few times and cook about 15-20 minutes on the grill or 30 minutes in the oven. Perform the same butter trick with a slice of bread.

Corn Dip

  • 6 ears sweet corn
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large jalapeno pepper, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • 8 ounces/2 cups shredded jack cheese
  • 12 ¼ ounce can sliced olives, drained
  • 2 Tbs sliced green onions

Cut corn from cob. Sauté onion, garlic and jalapeno in butter, add corn, cook until tender. Set aside. Combine remaining ingredients, mix with corn and cheese. Bake in greased 2 quart dish for 25-30 minutes at 400. Sprinkle with olives and green onions, and serve with chips or veggie sticks.

Venison and Corn Stew

  • 1 cup dried corn kernels (you can also use frozen corn; skip the soaking and add it to the pot about ten minutes before serving)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup chopped beef suet, deer suet or lard
  • 3 pounds venison stew meat2 pounds deer bones
  • 3 large onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 green chiles, roasted, seeded, and chopped
  • salt and cayenne pepper to taste
  • 4 cups beef or venison broth

Cover corn with 2 cups water, bring to a boil, boil 1 minute, and remove from heat. Cover pot and let sit for an hour. Cut meat into 1-inch cubes. Heat the suet or lard in a heavy cast-iron pot. Sear meat and bones. When browned, remove and put aside. Sauté onions and garlic in the same pot until onions are translucent. Add the chiles and remaining seasonings. Return meat and bone to pot. Add the corn with its liquid. Add beef stock to cover. Bring mixture slowly to a simmer and simmer gently until meat and corn are both tender, about 1 1/2-2 hours. Remove bones and serve.

Corn Pudding

  • 5 eggs
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 cups whole kernel corn
  • 1 quart home-canned creamed corn

Preheat oven to 400 °F F. Grease a 2 quart casserole dish. In a large bowl, lightly beat eggs. Add melted butter, sugar, and milk. Whisk in cornstarch. Stir in corn and creamed corn. Blend well. Pour mixture into prepared casserole dish. Bake for one hour.

Southern Cornbread

  • 1 tablespoon lard
  • 1 cup plain white or yellow cornmeal
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1¼ cups whole buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg

Preheat oven to 425°. Place lard into a deep 8-inch cast-iron skillet. Place pan in oven until lard has melted and is very hot, about 8 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, melted butter, and egg. Make a well in center of dry ingredients. Add buttermilk mixture; stir until combined. Carefully pour batter into hot lard. Bake until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Corn Relish

  • 3 large ears of fresh organic corn
  • 1 small onion (or a quarter of a large one)
  • 3 tomatoes, diced, or 3 peaches, pitted and diced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Celtic sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons whey

Sterilize a quart jar and lid. Shuck the corn of its husks and rinse the threads that cling to the corn away under running water. Cut the corn kernels from the cob into a large bowl. Add tomatoes or peaches. Dice the onion very fine. Add to mixture. Pluck the parsley leaves from their stems and add. Add sea salt and whey. Stir the mixture with a spoon. Then pound it lightly with a wooden mallet or a meat pounder. Spoon the mixture into a 1-quart canning jar. Leave at least 1 inch of headroom between the top of the corn mixture and the lip of the jar. Press the mixture down firmly, so that the whey and the vegetable juices cover the corn mixture. If there is not enough liquid for this, add a little filtered water or more whey. Screw the lid on to finger tight. Let the jar sit on your counter at room temperature for 3 days. After 3 days, refrigerate the corn relish. It is ready to eat now and will keep in the refrigerator for many months.

Corn Tortillas

  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1 tsp melted lard or tallow
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 cups warm water

Cut 24 squares of parchment paper. Mix masa harina, salt and lard. Stir in 1 ¼ cups water to make soft dough. Knead, adding additional water to make very soft dough. Cover and set aside 5 minutes. Press each tortilla between two squares of parchment paper. Cook each tortilla in hot dry skillet 30 seconds, flip and cook 30-60 seconds, then flip again and cook 30-60 seconds. Store in ziplock bag in fridge up to 5 days.

Arepas (Venezuelan Stuffed Corn Cakes)

  • 2 cups white cornmeal
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 ½ cups warm water
  • ¼ cup lard

Arepa Filling #1

  • 2 cups Monterey Jack, shredded
  • 1 cup queso fresco
  • 2 tbs minced cilantro
  • 2 scallions, sliced thin
  • 1 Tsb lime juice
  • ¼ tsp chili powder

Arepa Filling #2

  • 1 cup shredded cooked chicken
  • 1 medium avocado, cut in chunks
  • 2 Tbs minced cilantro
  • 2 scallions, sliced thin
  • 1 Tbs lime juice
  • ¼ tsp chili powder

Preheat oven to 400. Mix dry ingredients, stir in water, form dough into 8 3-inch rounds. Cook in lard in skillet until golden on both sides. Bake on greased baking sheet until they sound hollow, about 10 minutes. Split and stuff with filling.

Cornbread-Filled Onion Rings

  • 2 medium (8 to 10 oz each) yellow onions
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup bacon drippings, lard or coconut oil

Peel onions and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Remove centers of onion slices to leave 1/4-inch thick rings. Prepare batter by mixing ingredients in order given. Place onion rings in griddle that has been coated liberally with oil and heated to 350 degrees or medium heat. Fill each onion ring with batter and cook on one side. Turn and cook on other side. Serve hot.


Cheesy Squash, Corn and Onion Casserole

  • 2 lbs. winter squash
  • 1-1/2 lbs. fresh onions, cut into narrow wedges
  • 2 ears corn, cut from cob or 2 cups frozen corn thawed
  • 2 cups jack cheese, grated
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1-1/2 cups olives, quartered

Peel squash, cut in half, scoop out soft pits with spoon and cut into small cubes. Steam squash 17-20 minutes until tender. Drain. Sauté onions 7 to 10 minutes or until tender. Butter a 3-quart dish and layer with half onion, half squash, half corn, half of each cheese and half olives. Repeat layering except for olives; set aside. Bake uncovered at 375 for 30 to 40 minutes or until hot and light golden brown. Sprinkle with olives. Let stand 10 minutes.

Tomato Corn Salad

  • 2 large chopped tomatoes
  • 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions
  • ¼ cup vinegar
  • 3 Tbs minced fresh basil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 4 cups fresh corn
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs mustard

Mix first eight ingredients in large bowl. Sauté corn until tender, stir in garlic for about 30 seconds, add mustard. Add to vegetable mixture and toss to coat.

Succotash

  • 3 medium ears fresh corn
  • 4 Tbs butter
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen Lima beans
  • ¼ tsp salt-packed
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh parsley leaves

American colonists learned about this dish from the indigenous peoples of the Northeast. It could be made with fresh vegetables when they were in season, but its real value lay in the winter. Both corn and beans (limas are the classic bean in succotash) dry well. The flavor could be varied by adding other vegetables such as onions and boosted nutritionally with fresh or dried meats such as venison or wild turkey. For fresh lima beans, place the shelled beans in 2 cups water, bring to boil and simmer about one hour. Drain. If your lima beans are dried, soak them overnight, drain, and cook in fresh water at a simmer until almost tender (about 40 minutes). Cut kernels from cobs and scrape cobs with back of knife. Melt butter until foaming subsides. Saute onion until soft, stir in garlic and cook 30 seconds. Stir in remaining ingredients (add frozen limas at this point) except parsley, cook about five minutes, then stir in parsley and serve.

Pasta, Corn and Avocado Salad

  • 1 pound pasta
  • 1 lb. of corn kernels can use fresh or frozen
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1 tablespoon of Dijon style mustard
  • 4 tablespoons of oil
  • 2 tomatoes large, diced – can also replace with sliced cherry tomatoes
  • ½ red onion diced
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley or basil
  • 1 jalapeño seeds/veins removed and finely diced – optional
  • 1-2 avocados pits removed and peeled, diced or sliced
  • Salt/pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. You can add the corn kernels during the last 4-5 minutes of cooking the pasta. Drain the pasta and the corn. Let it cool down a bit. Mix the lemon juice, mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl or jar. Transfer the pasta and corn to a large salad bowl. Add the diced tomatoes, diced red onions, diced hot or sweet peppers, and chopped parsley/basil. Add the salad dressing and mix well. If serving immediately add in the avocado. If not refrigerate the corn pasta salad and chop/mix in the avocado right before serving.

Cobb Pasta Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

  • 1 pound pasta of your choice
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 large avocado, seeded and diced
  • 1 ½ cups sweet corn
  • 6-8 slices bacon, cooked
  • 5 tablespoons chives, minced
  • 4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
  • 4 hardboiled eggs, diced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small garlic cloves, grated
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

Cook pasta until al dente. Run under cold water to cool. Toss pasta, tomatoes, avocado, corn, chives, blue cheese, eggs, ¼ teaspoon pepper and ½ teaspoon salt together in a large serving bowl. Set aside. Whisk vinegar, garlic, Dijon and honey together in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour dressing over pasta salad, toss to combine. If you are serving right away, toss in bacon. If you are storing for a few hours or overnight wait to add bacon until right before serving. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Homemade Fermented Corn Relish – Adapted from Nourishing Traditions cookbook

  • 4-5 ears corn
  • 1 small organic tomato
  • 1 small organic onion
  • 1/2 organic red pepper
  • 2 Tbs fresh cilantro leaves or 1/2-1 tbl dried cilantro
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbs sea salt
  • 4 Tbs liquid whey or additional Tbs salt

Seed and chop red pepper. Chop onion, tomato and cilantro. Cut fresh corn off the cobs. Place vegetables, corn, and remaining ingredients in a large bowl and pound lightly with a meat hammer or wooden pounder to release juices. Place ingredients in a wide mouth, one quart mason jar and press down with the pounder to allow juices to cover. Keep relish at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly with lid and leave the homemade corn relish on the counter to ferment for 2-3 days and then refrigerate. Homemade corn relish will last a month or more in the refrigerator.

Pickled Corn on the Cob

  • 6 to 8 ears of sweet corn, husked and silk removed
  • 10 cloves of garlic
  • 3 jalapeños, seeded and sliced into rounds
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns6 tbsp. kosher salt for brine
  • 2-plus quarts of water

Cut the ears of corn into 1 1/2-inch lengths. You should get about four to five pieces per cob. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the corn. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove the corn to an ice-water bath. When the corn is cool, add them to the jar or crock, along with garlic cloves, jalapeños, and peppercorns. Whisk salt into 2 quarts of water until it is dissolved. Pour brine over the corn, adding more water if necessary to cover the cobs completely. If you’re using a pickling crock, weight the corn down with a plate or other heavy object to keep it submerged. Cover with towel or plastic wrap and set jar in a cool, dark room or cellar. Let the corn ferment for one week at room temperature. Like sauerkraut, it will become more sour the longer it sits. When you’ve reached the desired taste, seal the jar with tight fitting lid and refrigerate. The corn should last up to three months.

How to Nixtamalize Corn

  • 2 cups dry corn
  • 2 cups sifted wood ash
  • 1/2 gallon water

The reason you nixtamalize corn is to free up the B vitamins. If corn is the primary grain in your diet, lack of these vitamins can cause a nutritional deficiency called pelegra, Boil ashes in water for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let settle for 30 minutes. Pour the lye water slowly off the top, leaving ashes on the bottom (eye protection and rubber gloves are a good idea). Add the corn to the lye water and simmer for 30 minutes. It will turn color in the first minute of boiling, telling you your solution is strong enough. Remove from heat and let stand, at room temperature, overnight. In the morning, drain and rinse the kernels, rubbing them between your hands to free the skins. Grind it. I put it through through the Kitchen Aid meat grinder’s fine plate twice, then pulse in the food processor. Use fresh in recipes like tortillas, or spread out in a thin layer and let dry completely.

Salmon Bake

  • 20 ounces red potato wedges
  • 2 salmon fillets (6 ounces each), halved
  • 3/4 pound uncooked shrimp(31-40 per pound), peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 pound summer sausage, cubed
  • 2 medium ears sweet corn, halved
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil1 teaspoon seafood seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 medium lemon, cut into 4 wedges

Divide potatoes, salmon, shrimp, sausage and corn among four pieces of heavy-duty foil (about 18×12-in. rectangles). Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with seasonings. Squeeze lemon juice over top; place squeezed wedges in packets. Fold foil around mixture, sealing tightly. Grill, covered, over medium heat 12-15 minutes or until fish just begins to flake easily with a fork, shrimp turn pink and potatoes are tender. Open foil carefully to allow steam to escape.

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Corn

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Hard to believe corn was developed from a grass, but that’s the story. Teosinte, corn’s ancestor, didn’t look much like our tall stalks with plump ears; amazing what a few thousand years of careful selection can lead to. We may enjoy corn on the cob, but for most of human history, corn’s value was in the dried grains that could be stored for winter food. There’s evidence that the native peoples of Mexico were eating corn 7,000 years ago. Sweet corn is a mutation of field corn that occurred a few thousand years back. In addition to sweet corn, the selection includes dent and flint corn, popcorn and gourdseed corn, which is really pretty much of a novelty. You may also hear the term field corn, which is basically a name for all corn except sweet and popcorn. When you’re eating it as a vegetable, corn is definitely one of those foods where you want to have the water boiling before you go out in the field to pick it. That’s particularly true of open-pollinated sweet corn, as it doesn’t have the storage qualities of hybrid sweet corn. It tastes incomparably better, though. Flint corn is a soft starch kernel covered by a hard coating, good for corn meal. Dent corn is similar but the cores are soft, which allows the ends to collapse when the corn dries, leaving the characteristic dent. This is the most commonly corn grown in the US, used for syrup, grits, meals, flours, biofuel, silage and livestock feed. Dent corn also makes good roasting ears. If you catch it in the very narrow window when it’s still milky, it’s pretty good as corn on the cob. Not real sweet, but a great corn flavor. Flour corn is mostly soft with a thin coat and is used for corn flour, although it can also be parched. Popcorn is very starchy, which is why it explodes when heated.

Corn Varieties

  • Golden Bantam – Developed by a Massachusetts farmer named William Chambers in the late 1800s, this was the first corn bred specifically to be eaten fresh. Chambers would share fresh corn but never his seed, and it wasn’t until after his death that Burpee released Golden Bantam to the general public (1902). Not to say that farmers hadn’t been roasting or boiling field corn, but fresh eating wasn’t its main purpose. If you’re going to grow this variety, it’s best to succession plant or get it in the freezer as soon as it ripens, because it doesn’t stay in the milk stage very long.
  • Stowell’s Evergreen – a white sweet corn, developed by Nathan Stowell in New Jersey, in 1848. The “evergreen” part of its name refers to the fact that you can pull the corn just before it ripens and hang it upside down in the barn. The plant will stay green and the ears will continue to ripen for about a month.
  • Country Gentleman – introduced by Frank Woodruff and Sons in 1890. It’s a shoe peg corn, meaning the kernels are tightly but unevenly packed. It often bears better than other sweet corns because it will have three ears to the stalk instead of the more common two ears. Makes great creamed corn.
  • Hickory King – this is a classic hominy corn, with 12 foot stalks and great big yellow kernels. It originated in Appalachia in the late 1800s. Also good for roasting ears, grits, cornmeal, masa harina and corn nuts. It does better with some extra calcium, so bone meal in the soil is a good idea.
  • Reid’s Yellow Dent – an oldie and goodie, initially bred by Robert Reid in 1847. His son, James, continued to improve the corn between 1870 and 1900. It was a heavy producer; Reid got 120 bushels of corn an acre in 1877, when the average yield at the time was 27 bushels an acre. The ears are big and heavy. Makes good silage, hominy, masa harina, grits and meal. Sometimes you’ll get an ear with red kernels. In the days when husking bees were common, the fellow who found an ear with red kernels was entitled to claim a kiss from the girl of his choice. Husking corn by hand is a laborious process when you’re dealing with many acres of corn, and having a party to get the neighbors to participate in the husking is a good idea. The possibility of getting smooched was a sneaky way to get the youngsters to help.
  • Painted Mountain – Dave Christenson created this corn from over 70 different corns garnered from the descendants of Native Americans and homesteaders in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. He was trying to create a genetically diverse corn that would grow well in Montana. Although not an heirloom, as it’s only about 40 years old, this corn has more genetic diversity than any other corn out there. It’s extremely colorful, high in nutrients and antioxidants, and can be used for roasting, hominy or corn meal. It’s also a little more cold-tolerant than most corns.
  • Japanese Hulless Popcorn – these are small plants, maybe reaching five feet, but the popcorn kernels have a very thin skin and a great taste. It’s a fairly old variety, although no one seems to know just how old.
  • Six Shooter – this one is unusual because it typically bears at least six ears. They are a little smaller than most corn ears. The kernels are irregularly spaced and the cob often shows through. It tastes pretty good and freezes well. No one seems to know anything about its history and seeds are very hard to find.
  • Daymon Morgan’s Kentucky Butcher – this dent corn has big ears, up to 14 inches long, on stalks that can grow up to 18 feet tall. As the name indicates, the famous Bloody Butcher red dent corn was one of its parents. Daymon Morgan’s has multi-colored ears (meaning it’s high in antioxidants) and frequently presents you with all-red or all-blue ears. The Morgan family of Leslie County, in eastern Kentucky, began growing this corn in the late 1800s. Most seeds today are from corn selected by Susana Lein of Salamander Springs farm in Berea, Kentucky and sold as Kentucky Rainbow. It’s very productive, drought tolerant and good for roasting or corn meal.

If I could only choose one… Golden Bantam is hands down the best corn for eating fresh. It’s also a short-season corn (about 80 days) which is advantageous if you’re running late with planting or have an early frost. Reid’s Yellow Dent is the best choice for cornmeal. But for all-around use, I’d go with Painted Mountain or Daymon Morgan’s if I could only have one corn variety. Part of the rationale for my choice is that highly colored corns like these have more of those health-promoting antioxidants. While these will not be as sweet as a corn developed specifically for eating fresh, if you catch them during the short “milk stage” and cook them immediately, they will still taste pretty darned good.

Nutrition

Corn is particularly high in fiber, and while it’s mostly carbohydrate, it does have close to four grams of protein in an average ear. It also has a wide array of trace minerals and vitamins, including thiamin, folate, vitamins C, A, E, B6, and K, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, calcium, selenium and the antioxidants zeaxanthin and lutein.

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