Ode to corn

Week 48, 2012

If you are a regular reader of the farm note you already know about the affection I hold for corn the plant. I feel exactly the same way about corn the food. I love it because it is our own native North American grain, in the same way that I love maple as our own form of sweetness. When I eat it I remember the corn in all its instars, from a bin of fluid yellow seed to the thousands upon thousands of milky tender seedling so tempting to the crows, to mighty summer grass waving in the wind, and finally the hefty ears on brown stalks, the kernels of which the kids and I test with our teeth in the fall until they are hard like stones. We had this year’s dried corn in the share for the first time last week, and I’m feeling seriously Mexicana in the kitchen right now, so let’s talk about how to prepare it. Please note, members, that the whole corn in the share is not quite dry enough to store at room temperature yet. You should not take more than you will use in a week unless you keep it in the fridge or the freezer.

Corn fulfills its potential for flavor, energy and nutrition when prepared according to traditional methods. I’m talking about nixtamalization: cooking it in an alkaline solution to free up niacin, which also changes the taste and the color. Nixtamalization is the difference between corn and hominy and it is why corn chips and tortillas taste like they do; once you try it and realize how easy it is you are going to go nuts making delicious and interesting things like pozole (hominy stew), tamales, your own corn tortillas (I just bought a tortilla press), and – praise the lard – tortilla chips. While you can nixtamalizize with wood ash, it’s more convenient to use lime (calcium hydroxide), which is sold as cal in Latino groceries and easiest to find around here during canning season as pickling lime. I bought Mrs. Wages brand at the hardware store this year, but since canning season is over and it is annoyingly expensive to buy online, I’ve ordered 20 lbs bulk to put in the share to get us through to next summer. I hope it will be here by next week. My favorite way to use hominy is in pozole (pork and hominy soup), a hearty one dish meal for a crowd. Other classic Mexican uses are gallina pinta (oxtail, pork and bean soup) and menudo (tripe stew), the traditional Mexican New Year dish. However, the possibilities are endless and don’t need to be Latino in flavor. You could use hominy in a chowder, in chili,  a cheesy casserole, or a cold salad.

In other news, real cold and some snow arrived last night. The team, bolstered this week by volunteers Travis and Cynthia, has been working hard to get roots out of the ground before it freezes solid. In came the winter leeks (which are shorter and more flavorful than the summer leeks we have been eating); the rest of the Brussels sprouts (we have more than we could ever use before they go bad so please take extra to share with your friends); half of the parsnips (the other half was left to winter and sweeten in the field until spring); and the whole field of mangles, those 20 lb fodder beets that will help feed the dairy cows through the winter. They are piled in a straw-covered clamp to the west of the barn, a heap I’m calling Mt. Beetmore. The farmers also sorted and moved six thousand pounds of potatoes to the basement of our house. The dusty, dark smell of them has wafted up through the floorboards so that it hits you when you open the front door.

We had three new calves born in the dairy herd this week. Only Betty’s was a heifer but oh what a pretty one she is. Amy found her and so claims naming rights. I love her choice: Beatrice. Peter and Brian and Leo are putting finishing touches on the new barns; we should have animals in them in two weeks. Meanwhile, the cattle, horses, and sheep are grazing the last of the fall forage. Our new Angus bull is not used to rotational grazing and is also not the most well behaved bull on the planet; it took a brave posse to move him to a new paddock this week. Either he’ll get the hang of it or he will be in the share this winter, after he has bred the cows. We have Christmas trees in the share this week, and don’t forget, this Saturday is the Magic of Christmas in Essex celebration in town. Santa arrives at the blinking light at 9:15. Chad and Fern and Arch will give him a wagon ride to the firehouse for a free pancake breakfast starting at 9:45. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this white 48th week of 2012.

Kristin & Mark Kimball

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