Wednesday, January 13, 2010

True Grits

I grew some field corn last summer, as I do every summer. This is not the same kind of corn that we eat on the cob with such pleasure every summer.  It is quite different: the stalks get  taller--sometimes a lot taller-- and  you  have to leave the corn on the stalk for longer:  about 120 days on average.  The stalks and ears turn brown and dry up, and the plant dies.  The ear of corn is hard and dry to the touch.  You rub the dry kernels off the cob, and then you can use them to make hominy or grind them to make cornmeal or corn grits.

Field corn falls into two main categories:  dent corn and flint corn. In the Southeast, dent corn grows the best.  The kernels actually have a little dent at the fat end of the kernel.  There are lots of old varieties of field corn, and it is fun to grow a different one every summer.  My favorite is an old one called Hickory King.  But recently I've also tried Painted Mountain, an early flint corn, and some Peruvian varieties, and Tennessee Red Cob.  Painted Mountain was disappointing, as were the Peruvian varieties.  I planted Tennessee Red Cob last summer because it was supposed to be drought tolerant.  Of course, as a result we had record rainfall.  But Tennessee Red Cob didn't seem to mind.  I got a lot of ears.  I keep them in a feed sack, and periodically, I get a few ears out and rub off the kernels, dry them on low in the oven, and then grind them.

The other day I cracked them instead of grinding them into cornmeal. I was trying to make a coarse meal for grits.  When you buy quick grits in the grocery store, you are buying hominy grits.  Hominy is corn that has been nixtamalized:  that is, the kernels have been cooked in an alkali solution to loosen the hull, and then the hull has been rubbed off.  These de-hulled kernels are whole hominy.  (You can buy it in a can.)  If you dry the whole de-hulled kernels and then crack them coarsely, you have hominy grits, and they cook quickly, in about five minutes, because they have been pre-cooked.

I was making un-hominy, non-nixtamalized grits.  I just took the raw, dry corn and cracked it, as one would for chicken feed.

These kinds of grits take longer to cook--about 40 minutes--but they taste very good.  I cooked one cup of grits in four cups of water on the wood stove, very slowly, stirring frequently to keep them from sticking or burning.  This is like making polenta, the Italian cornmeal dish, or "cornmeal mush," as one of my friends calls it.  After the grits had thickened, I stirred a cup of milk in.

I thought that these Tennessee Red Cob grits tasted pretty good.  But Hickory King still wins the taste test.  This summer, I think I will plant a few hills of TN Red Cob, a few hills of Hickory King, and a few hills of gourdseed corn.  I've never grown that one before, but it's very old, and it shells easily.  I got it from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  It could be that growing these corns close to each other may cause them to cross pollinate a little, but then I will just be breeding a new corn that's sweet, drought tolerant, and easy to shell. Perfect!

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