When discussing corn, it’s my experience that people automatically think of the traditional yellow-kernel sweet corn we find at the grocery store, which is especially good if it’s local and fresh picked. When I mention Indian corn, however, the thought of food disappears and usually becomes a decoration. And while there is no doubt the multi-colored kernels are beautiful, did you know they’re also tasty and packed with nutrients like antioxidants?
Native to North America, corn has been around for a long time and like many foods, most of it has fallen victim to genetic modifications that have stripped away much of the nutrients, and even flavor, in exchange for larger yields. Similar to my own efforts regarding ancient grains, Dave Christensen has been working tirelessly for more than 40 years to not only preserve but advance the yield, quality, and nutrition of Indian corn.
This is our 12th year working with Dave growing various varieties of Indian corn. In recent years, we have planted his black-kernel Montana Morado maize as well as his signature Painted Mountain corn, which comes in nearly every color you can imagine. As with most fruits and vegetables, the brighter the color the more antioxidants there are. Indian corn isn’t sugary like sweet corn but that doesn’t mean it can’t be eaten. There are all sorts of ways to take advantage of this nutritious grain! My favorite is a corn casserole made by soaking the corn for two days, boiling it for a couple hours and then putting it in a pan and topping it with homemade salsa and cheese. It tastes a little like hominy and it’s delicious!
Here on the farm, my produce manager, Charley, has been working with Dave for the better part of a month hand-harvesting our two and a half acres of Indian corn. Dave goes through first looking for specific genetic traits he wants to keep, both on individual cobs and the plant itself. The rest are harvested for seed, or food, and dried.
We dry the corn kernels using air circulation which can take as long as a week. Once the ears are dry, they need to be shelled, meaning the kernels are separated from the cob. The sheller we are using is over 100 years old but thankfully it’s been rigged to run off a small motor rather than the original hand-crank.
Overall, the process is long but it’s a fun harvest with all the amazing colors of this beautiful corn.
If you’d like to know more about Dave Christensen and his ongoing work with heirloom corn, I recommend the article, Citizen Scientist.