October 6, 2013

Drying Corn, for Corn Meal

Originally from the Yucatan, Oaxacan Green Dent corn is a primitive heirloom selection, which produces these distinctively dark green and olive colored cobs. Primarily a corn meal variety, it is also ornamental.

This year I wanted to grow something really different - something that I never grew before, and I settled on trying some dry field corn, more specifically, an heirloom green Aztec variety called Oaxacan Green, a dent type of dry corn, which  foodies-in-the-know have become obsessed lately, as it produces the finest corn meal, with a deep, earthy and sweet flavor. In November, I plan on making the most delicious corn bread from my very own corn meal. Until then, I must properly dry the cobs first. Today, I picked the crop, which I am drying on our porch, as rain is expected for the next few days. Hung out like this, the cobs will dry in three weeks, and then I will finish it off in the over to ensure that no moisture remains in the corn kernels.

Corn meal corn
If you want to grow corn for drying, and grinding for meal, allow the cobs to dry as long as you can
on the corn stalks in the garden, before harvesting, ideally, during dry weather.

I  really don't know why I have never grown dry corn before? I suppose it's comes down to the basic economics of volume and harvest - a 200 square foot raised bed of field corn will only produce about a bushel of corn, barely enough for three quarts of corn meal ( just guessing), but after reading Joseph Tychonievitch’s new book about Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener, (Timber Press), I became inspired to try growing, drying and grinding my own corn - if only to experiment, and to experience something special. Special, because where else could I find freshly-ground heirloom varieties of corn like Aztec Green besides from my own garden? Oh, yeah...and I was getting a little board, so this sounded like a fun project.

Oaxacan Green can be misleading, as some ears are nearly black, or indigo, while others are a bright, olive green.
Once pulled out, the kernels are  more grayish green, with pale tips. The corn meal will appear only slightly darker than normal corn meal, if not a little grey.

There are many varieties of dry or 'field corn. Even the non gardener knows about dry corn, as pop-corn and colorful ornamental 'Indian Corn' are both technically 'dry field corn' selections. The best for grinding into corn flower ( - like for tortilla's)  are selections grouped under names like ‘flint’ or ‘ dent corn’ ( named because of the indent on the top of the kernel). These are old, if not ancient varieties,  so essential to the success of our own species, and yes, even to the success of others creatures like cows, raccoons and squirrels.

Dent Field Corn
Each kernel, on 'dent' varieties gets a slight indentation on the end of the kernel when dry, hence the name, Dent corn.

Dry corn today, is still a major agricultural crop, but certainly not for most home gardeners,  as we are lucky enough if we can find space for sweet corn. And those bright golden bins or cribs of dry yellow corn that we see local farms?  Just not the look we are after. Most of us just want to have a few pounds of home-made stone ground corn meal from a super-flavorful heirloom variety so that we can make some tasty treats. Home grown and home ground corn meal is supposed to be incredibly more delicious and nutritious ( but - delicious)..and delicious than stale, store-bought corn. I will let you know how it turns out, as I am in the drying stage of this project.

Aztec Green Corn
Dent corn drying on my back porch, out of the rain. I never expected the corn to look so nice - next year, I need to
plant even more interesting varieties - pop corn, strawberry corn, Indian corn. The best part of all this? Peeling back
husks to see what you have. So rewarding.

How to dry corn

Air  drying 'in the field' (in the raised bed?) is the preferred method, but with rain expected for the next week, and then cold, damp weather, mold might be an issue, and one I want to avoid. So today I picked my corn, which has matured ( it's OK, I peaked!), and is ready to dry because the husks are drying out and turning beige.  I am also averting disaster, as I also fear that allowing the corn to dry in 'my field', the crop could be destroyed by a single nighttime raid from a band of raccoons, or a passing flock of crows, and then there are the squirrels. 

I just handpicked my corn, and hung the cobs in the dry safety of our glassed-in back porch. Tied into knots, the husks and cobs are tied to a bamboo pole, which in turn is hung near the ceiling. Not only will this ensure even drying, it looks pretty attractive, too. Now the cool,  late autumn breezes and sunshine can dry the kernels on the cob, as I have chosen to remove the kernels later, once semi dry. I've been warned that if I wait too late to remove the kernels, that once might have a difficult time doing so, as thumbs and fingers can become sore and scratched from the dry cobs, but as I do not have a thresher or whatever they call the "corn kernel removing device" found in some old New England barns, and on modern farms, I will use my hands. Hey, if squirrels can do it!

 Grinding Dry Corn

What I do want is a nice stone grinding wheel, or better yet,  vintage corn grinder, but I think that I will be using my Vitamix or getting the corn mean attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer ( any advice anyone?). I’ll let you know how the corn dries, if I need to switch to drying the corn kernels in the over, and I will share anything that I make with the ground corn. Please share thoughts or ideas on what I could possibly make. Johnny Cakes? Corn Bread? Hmmm?

Growing your own sunflower seeds
Heads of sunflowers have also been picked to dry on the back porch. In this way, squirrels cannot get the plump
seeds which need to dry thoroughly before eating. After a slight roast in the over, the seeds will be ready to eat.

As if I don't have enough going on this weekend, Lydia decided to give birth to her puppies last night, so I have been
up for 46 hours, as I am the only one home this week, as Joe is with the other dogs at our National specialty dog show in
Pennsylvania (I need to share this too - remember our puppies that were born last October during Superstorm Sandy? Well Weasely, our male Irish Terrier  just won Best of Winners and Best Dog earlier today, I had to watch it on Facetime). As for these pups - I delivered the pups by myself ( ugh!), with the first one being still born on Friday night at midnight, Liddy brought it to me on my pillow, thinking that I could revive it, then off to the whelping box, a pot of coffee and the rest of the night was planned, and rather smooth sailing. Fergus and Lydia are the proud parents of 5 girls and one boy. Whew.


  1. Beautiful colors! and Congratulations on the new litter.

  2. I can hardly wait to see the finished corn meal (and hear the steps along the way). Great doggie news too!

  3. what a bunch of cute puppies!!!!

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  5. Anonymous9:34 PM

    These are such beautiful pictures of the Oaxacan Green Corn. I live in the Pittsburgh area and was thinking about growing this variety this summer. I have been ordering dried blue and white corn from Mexico to make nixtamal for fresh masa (used to make tortillas). It is so nice to see photos of the drying process. How did it work out for you? Did you like the cornmeal? Thanks!

  6. Anonymous9:35 PM

    These are such beautiful pictures of the Oaxacan Green Corn. I live in the Pittsburgh area and was thinking about growing this variety this summer. I have been ordering dried blue and white corn from Mexico to make nixtamal for fresh masa (used to make tortillas). It is so nice to see photos of the drying process. How did it work out for you? Did you like the cornmeal? Thanks!

  7. Anonymous4:09 PM

    For anyone contemplating, the Kitchen Aid grinder attachment works great! I have ground Oaxacan Green, Bloody Butcher and Otto Flint corns this year.

  8. Anonymous2:05 AM

    The Oaxacan Greeen Dent corn is identified with the Zapotec people of that region that currently live there and not the Aztec.

  9. cornpeople11:41 AM

    Thank you for keeping these important genetic lineages alive!
    To get the most nutrition out of heirloom corn varieties, you must nixtamalize the corn,
    which means boiling in an alkaline substance. This is the way you release the aminos acids in corn
    and make more nutritious, this is how people subsisted on corn.
    let's re-indegenize ourselves

    1. Oh right - as in 'liming' corn for posole or hominy, right?


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