Heirloom corn is gaining in popularity as more people taste the vast differences and depths in flavors compared to commercially grown hybrid sweet corn. Comments like “It tastes more like corn than any store-bought corn I’ve ever had” and “The flavor lasts much longer and is much stronger than what I’m used to,” are common when people first taste roasted heirloom corn.
What many don’t realize is there is much more to discover in heirloom corn than just the sweet, fresh eating varieties. After all, corn has been the foundation of nutrition in Mexico and Central America, as well a surprising amount of North America.
William Woys Weaver does a marvelous job of introducing and explaining the different types of corn in his extensive book Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, the result of over 30 years of growing, tasting and cooking with heirloom vegetables.
Here’s a couple of very old heirloom corn varieties that deserve a spot in your garden:
Country Gentleman Corn is a sweet corn variety well suited for fresh use, canning and freezing. It was introduced in 1891 by Peter Henderson & Company of New York, but not available much anymore for the home gardener.
Excellent in canning and freezing, it is at its most flavorful best when fresh. Its milkiness made it the standard corn for creamed corn recipes once so popular with Victorian cooks.
Stowell’s Evergreen Corn is semi-sweet, originating as a cross between Menomoni Flour Corn and the Iroquois Northern Sugar Corn brought back from the Sullivan expedition in 1779.
One of the oldest named varieties still available, it can be pulled up whole in the fall before fully ripe, root and all, and hung upside down in a cool pantry or barn. Fresh corn could be picked well into February from these semi-wilted plants, thus prolonging the fresh corn season giving the name ‘Evergreen’. This storage concept was borrowed from the Iroquois, who stored their sweet corn in this manner and in the era before canning, this corn filled an important niche in the rural American diet.
North America was once a land of many native cultures, languages and traditions. It is estimated that more than half of the foods known today originated on the North American continent and fed Native Americans.
This book showcases recipes and descriptions of traditional methods for preparing breads, soups & stews, meats, vegetables, salmon, desserts and special treats.
The 51 recipes include foods common to many tribes, such as Fry Bread and Fruit Leather, as well as regional favorites. Succotash is common in modern times, but it originated in the northeast, where the Algonquins planted and cooked corn and beans together. Cranberry Bread and Cream of Chestnut Soup are other recipes adapted from northeastern tribes.
Cherokee Sweet Potato Bread and Choctaw Carrot Bread came from the southeast and Wild Rice and Mushrooms is from Minnesota, where Native Americans still harvest the grain known as wild rice. Buffalo Barley Stew is a Great Plains dish, Salmon Cakes and Poached Salmon originated in the northwest, and several recipes contain the blue cornmeal, peppers and herbs of the southwest.
Pickled jalapeños and garlic have been favorites of ours for a couple of decades. Long enough that we don’t remember exactly when we first started liking them, or where we came across them, but we just know we’ve enjoyed making them for a really long time!
We recently discovered this variation on the theme – using honey instead of sugar for the sweetness and adding an unusual spice mixture to kick things up a notch. We think this is fabulous!
The pickling mellows the heat and punch from the garlic and jalapeños, while the light sweetness brings some nice counter balance to the boldness. The spices bring traditional pickle background flavors into the mix, leaving most people with a look of intrigue on their faces after tasting it.
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We work to achieve this by challenging and changing conventional gardening thinking, providing successful and unique methods and techniques while inspiring the power of choice and action for the individual.”