Sunday, February 23, 2014

{Field-to-Table} Flint Corn

If you have been to visit our table at the co-op's indoor markets over the last couple of months you would have seen bags of multi-colored corn kernels. A rainbow of colors from red to blue, yellow and even striped. All these kernels came from the same variety of corn--Mandan Bride--all could come from the same ear. This will be a fleeting winter treat for market-goers and a special treat for this year's CSA and Farm Share customers. Our Mandan Bride, as well as our (red and yellow) Roy's Calais flint corn will not be at summer markets.

Preparing for market with shallots and heirloom flint corn.
I recently re-read an article John found last year The Search for Mandan Bride and along with our recent sales of flint corn I wanted to highlight just how awesome this corn is. Last season was our first experience growing flint corn, with the intention of using it for cornmeal and animal feed. In the fall, the first corn we ground up (using our coffee grinder) was made into cornmeal muffins. I was amazed and delighted how much of a difference you could taste in fresh, heirloom, homegrown cornmeal. Store bought is no comparison.

"One key factor in the variety’s delicious flavor, Van Eeckhout told me, was that the corn was freshly ground. But even more importantly, it was ground whole. Most commercial cornmeal is made from yellow dent corn, or field corn, which has much tougher outer hulls on each kernel than the sweet corn we eat as a vegetable. Those fiber-rich outer hulls and the protein- and fat-rich core of each kernel—called the germ—are removed before grinding, robbing the cornmeal of nutrients—and flavor. Mandan Bride ears contain a combination of flint kernels (which are enclosed in hard shells) and flour kernels (made entirely of soft starch), adding interest and substance."

2013 flint corn stand
We trialed three different varieties of flint corn in 2013--Bloody Butcher, Roy's Calais and Mandan Bride. The very tall stand pictured is Bloody Butcher, which performed poorly at our site and we are not interested in trying again at this time. On the right is the Mandan Bride, which we were very happy with.

"It’s also, according to Van Eeckhout, “a real pain in the butt” to grow...weak stalks tip over before the corn has dried...So it must be picked by hand—never mind the laborious process of shucking, drying, and grinding."

The process of harvesting and processing this corn was indeed rewarding. It's nice that the harvest comes all at one time in the fall. John and I enjoyed walking through the rows, catching up in the evenings oohing and awing over the brilliant colors as we picked.

"All this corn was shucked while watching Sons of Anarchy or Breaking Bad." John wrote on a card accompanying a Christmas gift of flint corn to a friend. Netflix has indeed been a helper during such shucking and sorting exercises.

We may grown some flint corn for 2014, on a smaller scale, but we have to be conscious about the rotation, as corn is hard on the soil and our space is limited.

John holding an array of flint corn cobs.
One of the benefits of being small, independent, and organic (in transition to organic certification) is that we get to choose what we grow, we get to experiment and trial unique items. Last year also ended up being a great year to grow this corn, as we were surrounded by a sea of soybeans, not corn.

A customer stopped by yesterday at market and commented, just as the author in that article, that her polenta was exceptional and she really enjoyed it. We haven't tried making polenta at home yet, simply cornmeal muffins and pancakes, but it's on the list of new things to try!

Alternative Roots Farm will be at the New Ulm Community Market and Cooperative's indoor market again on March 8th, 9am-1pm. Stop by and pick up some flint corn, it may be your last chance in 2014!

Brooke at market, with Megan Burris, owner of
Imbue Botanicals. Photo courtesy of Megan.

:: The Latest from {Alt.Roots} ::

• Newest Farm Newsletter: February Farm News •

CSA Shares still available :: Full Shares, Half Shares, Monday & Wednesday delivery •
Farm Shares still available :: 3 remaining, $100 or $150 amounts •
Call or email to reserve a share!

Why Heirloom?

Quotes from The Search for Mandan Bride, Minnesota Monthly, Nov. 2006

Saturday, February 1, 2014

In the Kitchen :: Dry Beans

Homegrown 'Hidatsa Shield Figure' beans soaking.
One way we have tried to be more savvy in the kitchen is by utilizing dried beans.

It has taken us some getting used to the routine--remembering to start soaking the beans the day before, keeping a variety of dry beans stocked--but now it is a staple in our kitchen (and pantry).

 As I find, over and over, with these sorts of food and homesteading goals you have to have patience and keep trying until your goal becomes a habit. Changes to your food lifestyle, whether it's beans or eating more veggies don't come without challenge and often there is some spoilage in the process, it's okay.

Why cook dry beans? Initially I believe we wanted to incorporate more beans because we ate a low meat diet, so this was a way of incorporating more protein, but there are so many good reasons.

Cooking a mix of heirloom dry beans.
Dry beans fit the budget. They are very economical. Buy them in bulk and you may be able to buy a pound of beans for the cost of 4-5 cans of beans! Don't forget to check your local farmers' market in the summer for local dry beans too.

Reduce packaging waste. Those bulk beans have a lot less packaging. You can put them in whatever cool jar you have around the house, or even make them a decorative item in your kitchen.

We store our dried beans (store bought or homegrown) in ball jars, or other
reused jars. Easy to see what you haveand pretty! You can often bring
these containers to refill right at your co-op.
Reduce your sodium intake. Canned beans have higher amounts of sodium. An alternative is Eden brand canned beans which contain no added salt, instead they use kombu seaweed.

Avoid BPA. Many canned goods have bisphenol-A  (BPA) in their can linings. (Eden does not.)

Use them for any meal. Breakfast burritos, salads, soups. Which makes them a great item to make if you do a prep day over the weekend for weekly meals.

They are pretty hands-off. Throw some dried beans in a bowl and cover them to soak--ignore them until its time to cook them. When it's time to cook, drain the beans, then throw them in a crock pot with new water--ignore them until they're done!

Here are a few resources for your future adventures with dry beans. If you have any favorite tips, tricks or recipes share them in the comments!

Dry beans headed for the pantry.

Making the Basics: cooking with dried beans
Tips for making beans easier to digest
Heirloom Dry Beans
"Add Salt When Beans Are Just Barely Tender: Adding the salt at the beginning of cooking can sometimes prevent the starches in the beans from breaking down, so they'll be a little over-firm even after long cooking. The best time to add the salt is when the beans are almost finished cooking. When they are tender enough to eat but still too firm to really be enjoyable (aka, al dente), add the salt."