Beautiful Corn

In "Beautiful Corn," market farmer and naturalist Anthony Boutard weaves together this unique plant's contribution to our culture, its distinctive biology and the practical information needed to grow and enjoy it at home.

Beautiful Corn

America's Original Grain from Seed to Plant

Cover Courtesy New Society Publishers

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Beautiful Corn (New Society Publishers, 2012) advocates a return to the nourishing whole grain that built America, in place of today's genetically modified crops processed by industrial agriculture into synthetic sweeteners and cheap meat. Come along on this lyrical and inspiring journey through the seasons, learning about growing and using corn in the traditional way. 

With the approach of the harvest moon, the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, we watch the rows of corn as the leaves start to yellow and die back and the husks covering the ears of grain begin to dry. The field develops a distinct rustle in the breeze. The swallows that spent the summer swooping and jostling above the tassels are long gone. A covey of young quail fatten up on the seeds and insects in the field, startling us with whirring wings. Gardeners and farmers, even insects and animals, betray an anxious energy as the season changes. All of us are preoccupied by the need to store food for the months when Ceres pines for her absent daughter. For the gardener, the time is a frenzy of pickling, canning, freezing, and drying.

We exorcize our anxiousness by visiting the field regularly, and bring in early maturing ears to add to the seed stock. The husks are pulled back without removing them so the kernels can dry. Leaving the husk on is our notation that it is an early ear good for seed. A marker is used to jot the collection date on the husks, and to remind us that they are more than decoration.

As corn matures, the high sugar level in the plant supports pastures of suckling aphids, turgid with honeydew, and their attending ants. Packs of predaceous ladybugs and their larvae hunt down the aphids. The yellow jackets are also feverishly hunting for food to nourish the new crop of queens deep in their underground nests. At this stage, the aphids exact an insignificant toll on the plant. It has plenty of sugars to spare, and the aphids are merely part of a miniature drama worth observing for a few moments.

The drying husks turn a sandy brown, telling us the kernels are ripe. Sometimes the ears of corn will droop after ripening, especially the heavy dent types. In a wet season, this droop is advantageous, because it allows the husk to shed the rain and keep the grain dry. If the weather cooperates, the field is the best place for the ears to dry. Having observed grains during this period, I suspect the plant aids in the drying process, either passively or actively removing water from the ear. Off the plant, the ear takes longer to dry. However, conditions do not always favor field drying. In the wet maritime climate of the Pacific Northwest, for example, the mature corn generally has to be gathered and husked in the field before it fully dries.

Keep an eye on the weather forecast. A warm, rainy spell can causethe kernels to split and sometimes even germinate on the cob, a strange and disturbingly Oedipal scene. Popcorn kernels are particularly susceptible to splitting, rendering the corn worthless. If the forecast anticipates a wet streak, you can carry out the final stage of drying the ears under cover. The most reliable way to dry corn is to husk it and let the cobs dry in a barn, garage, or some other well-ventilated, covered area. It’s better to err on the safe side.

Gathering and husking  

In the farming communities of eighteenth-century New England, harvesting of the crop was an opportunity to organize a “corn frolic.” Farm families banded together and moved from farm to farm, harvesting the corn and preparing meals as a community event. The collective effort framed as a social event eased the drudgery of the task and kept spirits high. Although corn with yellow ears was favored at the time, an occasional red ear would appear in the field. Under the rules of the frolic, a young man who happened on a red ear could kiss the woman of his choosing. In a classic “heads I win, tails you lose” scenario, a young woman finding a red ear had to submit to a kiss from the single men in the party. Leaving aside the inequity of the red ear proposition, the harvest as social occasion sweetened the chore and kept the pace brisk for the farm youths.

As you gather the corn, whether alone or in a frolic, with or without red ear rules, it is important for everyone to check the corn carefully for any sign of molding or damage. If corn borers have worked on the tip of the ear, snap off the damaged part and shake away the frass (crumbs and debris) left by the grub.

Grain molds are nasty customers and must be taken seriously. Some of them produce toxins that cause disease or are carcinogenic. The most notorious of the mycotoxins is aflatoxin, produced by the fungi Aspergillusflavus and A. parasiticus. Aflatoxin was first identified as the agent causing disease and rapid death in turkeys in England in 1960. It can infect many different seed crops, with peanuts being especially susceptible. These and other dangerous fungi grow when grain is stored under conditions that are too humid. The problem is significant in commodity crops where it is impossible to monitor the drying of individual ears. If the grain is fully dried before storage, and any ears showing infection by mold are discarded, it is not a problem.

There are several other molds that produce mycotoxins, including those belonging to the genera Fusarium, Gibberella, and Penicillium. Mold can take hold following insect, bird, or animal damage. More often than not, it affects just a few grains at the tip of the ear; if that’s the case, we simply snap off the affected portion. Sometimes ears have split kernels, and if so, we discard the whole ear.

For the backyard and market grower, the mold problem is easily managed by casting an eye over the ears at each step of the way, from field to mill. If you have others helping you, make sure they understand what to look for by keeping a few sample ears showing mold problems; store them in a plastic bag or mason jar. Remember, a mature kernel has a black or brown mark where it attached to the ear. Do not confuse that part of the kernel with mold.

For husking a small backyard cornfield, simply pull the husks off by hand. If you plan to hang the ears by the husk, pull some of the leaves back, leaving them attached to the cob. On a larger scale, it helps to have a tool to loosen the husk at the silk end before you pull it off the cob. A century ago, when corn was still husked totally by hand, all manner of husking tools and gloves were available. A couple of variations are still manufactured. At my suggestion, our staff tried them, but they favor an improvisation of a traditional tool: a large 20D nail loosely secured to the wrist with a loop of twine, its shank well wrapped in duct tape as padding. They use the pointed end of the nail to open the husk.

According to Abel, a member of the farm’s staff who grew up in rural Oaxaca, his grandmother uses the sharpened leg bone of a chicken in this manner. A hole in the knuckle is used to fasten the twine to the bone. Of course, you need a long-legged, active bird raised in a pasture to have a bone hard enough for the task; the weak drumstick of the sedentary, corpulent Cornish Cross favored by the poultry industry won’t be of much use. In other places, a spike of dense, non-splintering hardwood such as persimmon or hawthorn is used. As with any other handwork, if you get the cadence right, the task is very pleasant.

Drying and storing  

After husking, bring the corncobs under cover and lay them out to finish drying. Never put the moist ears in a bowl or leave them piled on the floor or on a tarp. Moist air is heavy and pools in low areas; mold will grow rapidly in the center of the pile or the bottom of the bowl. Moldy corn is only fit for the compost heap.

Late-ripening corn plants tend to build up a high aphid population. The slow ripening of the cobs creates a bottleneck and the sugars accumulate in the husk and cob. There is no need to worry about the aphids. They will soon die, and will fall off when the corn is shelled.

For drying small quantities of corn, you can tie the ears together by their husks and hang them in an area with good air circulation. Alternatively, stack the cobs loosely on a spare table, turning them daily to promote even drying. The dense air will drop away from the corn. For larger quantities, we use two-foot (60-cm) by four-foot (120‑cm) wooden frames with galvanized hardware cloth bottoms. Available from hardware stores, hardware cloth is made from woven wires and is an intermediate mesh between insect screening and fencing. The size of the openings is determined by the number of wires per inch. A 4 × 4 hardware cloth has four wires per inch, creating ¼-inch (6.4-mm) square openings, and works well for drying corn. If you want to dry small grains and legumes on the screens as well, the more expensive 8 × 8 cloth, with ⅛-inch (3.2-mm) openings, is more versatile.

We stack the frames on steel sawhorses, separated with furring strips, and place them in a location with good air movement. Weather permitting, we move the drying screens outside during the day. The legs of steel sawhorses are slippery so rodents can’t climb them. From time to time, we rotate the screens and make sure the ears are drying well. We tip the contents of the screen into an empty one; that way the ears are rearranged as well. We bring the screens into a room with a dehumidifier for the final stage of drying.

The dehumidifier is a valuable appliance for both the home gardener and market farmer. Winter squash and pumpkins stored in a dehumidified room will last much longer than in a humid room. Beans and grains are safely dried indoors with a dehumidifier operating in the same  room. Together with a fan, this appliance is a gentle way to draw down the moisture inside buildings, preventing mold and mildew. Most appliance and home improvement stores carry a range of dehumidifiers.

To preserve the freshness and vitality of the grain, we leave it on the ear until we are ready to process or plant it, which is the traditional way to store the grain. When the ears are thoroughly dry, with not a trace of moisture left in the cob, we pack the ears into small grain sacks and put them in storage. For small quantities, open-mesh onion sacks are useful. Even in storage, we run a dehumidifier on occasion just to be on the safe side. It is important to be vigilant for moist conditions that might produce moldy kernels at any stage of the storage process.

In places where the winter is quite dry, farmers hang the corn under the eaves on the dry side of the barn or house. Hanging bundles of corn have rustic appeal, but left outside they will soon attract rodents and birds. In New England, where I grew up, it is a custom to tie a trio of cobs to the front door knocker in the autumn. After a week or so, we would hear knocking at our front door and the dog would get all riled up. When we opened the door, a blue jay would fly away.

Corn stored for animal feed is traditionally stored on the ear in a crib. A crib is a simple structure designed to keep the ears of corn dry and safe from rodents, and is still a common sight in some parts of the country. Traditional cribs are small buildings raised up on legs and constructed with outward-sloping ventilated walls. To keep rodents out, the legs were topped by a flat stone or pie plate, and glass panes were sometimes attached to the legs. Many farms also had a crib for the shelled cobs; when needed, the ears were burned to produce the cob ash used to coat meats in preparation for smoking. Cob ash is light and salty, and very different from wood ash.

Shelling the corn 

When you are ready to use the corn, it is time to shell the ear. Shelling is a good opportunity to keep an eye open for ears with exceptional colors and other notable qualities; reserve these for seed.

In small amounts, the popcorn and gourd seed varieties have loosely attached kernels, and can be shelled by rolling the ears on a hard surface. The pointed end of a “church key” type bottle opener pries off the kernels, albeit somewhat messily. This is how we remove small patches of moldy or damaged kernels. The dents have more tightly held kernels and, in our experience, guarantee more of a workout. It helps to purchase a rudimentary hand sheller that is simply a tapered ring with ribs on the inside. These shellers are of a fixed size: the taper is too big for most flint corn ears and not big enough for popcorn. They work well and save a lot of time for a backyard grower who produces a standard dent ear, such as Nothstine Dent.

You will need a hand-cranked sheller if you grow narrow eight row flints or popcorn in any significant quantity. You can find these shellers used at flea markets and antique stores. The C. S. Bell Company manufactures a hand-cranked corn sheller, which is easily mounted to a barrel or some other sturdy fixture. The design of this sheller has not changed since it was invented more than a hundred and fifty years ago. Its elegance and functionality reflect the age when the industrial era still looked fresh and promising.

We have mounted our sheller on a pedestal that diverts the loose kernels to a box. In a fit of Yankee frugality, I built it four feet (1.2 m) high so I only needed one sheet of plywood. Another six inches (15 cm) higher, albeit using an additional sheet of plywood, and it would have been more comfortable to use. Still, we can shell a lot of corn quickly and safely with this simple tool. The Bell sheller is gentle enough to use with popcorn. A hand-cranked sheller works well for large backyard corn patches and small commercial farms.

Cleaning the grain  

After shelling, the corn will have errant bits of silk and cob that are best removed before grinding. Cleaning is not strictly necessary, but you will have better quality meal or popcorn as a result of the attention. Popcorn with any amount of shriveled silk lacks charm when someone thinks it might be hair. For small batches, a hand-made screen of 8 × 8 inch (20 × 20 cm) hardware cloth will clean away much of the debris. Screening the grain in front of a household fan will remove the light debris. Doing the screening on a windy day works too.

A winnowing basket or tray was the favored tool for centuries. The winnowing basket is a shallow, oval basket about twenty-four by eighteen inches (60 × 45 cm) that was used to bounce the grain into the air; the light chaff and silk would float away on the wind. The rounded, asymmetric bottom collected the grain at the edge of the basket nearest to the winnower after each bounce. Lightweight wooden trays made of poplar with a wedge-shaped bottom were also made for winnowing. These are occasionally seen in antique stores, and new versions made from birch bark are available.

For a small market farm that needs to clean larger quantities of corn, a commercial fanning mill makes the task much easier. The model we use is the Clipper Office Tester from the A. T. Ferrell Company. The machine is simple and designed for desktop use. It accommodates two screens on a shaker, one for scalping (removing the oversized trash) and the other for sieving (pulling off the broken kernels and small trash). After scalping and sieving, the seed falls past an adjustable blower, which removes lightweight trash such as corn silk and chaff, and drops into a small tray. The machine takes a short time to clean when the job is done, and requires little space for storage. We have improved it for our purposes by fastening it to a cart and building a chute so the grain falls into a 70-quart (66-liter) bucket on the lower shelf of the cart.

A small fanning mill opens up a realm of possibilities for farmers who want to grow legumes and other grains or produce seed. We use ours to clean everything from tomato and turnip seeds to giant fava beans. Bolted to the cart, it is easy to move out of the way. Used versions of larger fanning mills are often available at a modest cost. However, they are not practical for small quantities of seed, and the larger screens are much more expensive and harder to store. Over the year, we use about forty different screen dimensions to clean the range of seed we produce on the farm. The cleaned grain is now ready to use.

Preparing Grain Corn for Cooking

The transformation of the hard corn kernels into edible food follows three distinct pathways. Archeologists believe the most ancient method of preparing corn for eating was by popping. The hard, indigestible grain was made palatable and digestible by exploding the kernels over heat. In the Peruvian Andes, the Inca made partially covered clay vessels for the purpose of popping corn. At its center of origin in Mexico, corn is prepared by steeping it in an alkaline solution, then rinsing it and cooking the kernels until they are soft. The softened grain is consumed whole or ground. Popping and alkaline steeping are centuries-old, distinctly American traditions. In contrast, dry milling of corn with stone or steel has roots in the Indo-European tradition of preparing small grains for bread and gruel by using a millstone.

Preparing popcorn 

Popcorn kernels explode best when they have exactly 13.5 percent moisture content by weight. When the kernel moisture strays from the optimum, popping expansion is impaired. Storing corn at 75 percent relative humidity achieves the perfect moisture content. If this precise instruction seems overly technical and leaves you with a sinking feeling that you will never have perfect popcorn, join the crowd. For years we crossed our fingers, hoping the kernels would be close to optimum. Mostly the corn popped well, but occasionally the proportion of unpopped kernels was too high. For the gardener and market farmer, controlling storage humidity at such a distinct level is nearly impossible without a bunch of fancy equipment and measuring devices.

Note that I said “nearly.” Among the yellowing bulletins I received from Calendula Books was a reprint of a 1946 article, “Conditioning Popcorn to the Proper Moisture Content for Best Popping,” written by S. T. Dexter. At first I presumed this would have the same information given in every other publication on popcorn with some industrial scale recommendations. I skimmed the cover and was about to move on when an incongruous discussion about dry cigars and soggy soda crackers caught my eye. Reading farther, the author revealed the key to proper moisture content in the kernel. Dexter noted that a saturated salt solution would bring the kernels to exactly 13.5 percent moisture by weight in just a few days.

Dexter’s technique is exquisitely simple. Prepare a saturated salt solution by adding salt to water until no more salt will dissolve. To do this, add salt and water to a jar and shake. Some salt crystals may remain at the base of the jar. If not, add more salt until no more will dissolve.You then have a saturated salt solution. Place your popcorn in a dry mason jar with a paper towel or cloth wet with the salt solution; the paper or cloth should be soaked but not dripping. Seal the jar, and in a few days the kernels will be reconditioned. If you have a sack of old, stale popcorn, it is worth trying to recondition it with this technique before consigning it to the chicken coop.

When popping the corn, use oil with a high smoking point, such as grape seed, coconut, or canola oil. Use enough oil to cover the base of the pan. Add two or three kernels and put the pan on the stove. When the kernels pop, the oil is hot enough to add about a quarter of a cup of kernels. Cover the pan and shake it to keep the kernels moving. A spatter screen instead of a lid will allow the moisture in the corn to escape from the pan, producing more tender popcorn. The moisture from popping toughens the flakes, so transfer the popcorn to a bowl or colander as soon it has popped.

Alkaline steeping of corn  

Tortillas and tamales are made from whole kernels of dry grain corn that have been steeped in a hot alkaline solution, left to soak in the solution as it cools, and then washed the next day. The process is called nixtamalization, and the treated kernels are called nixtamal. The nixtamal is ground wet to make masa, the wet flour used to make tamales and tortillas. Corn does not contain gluten, the family of proteins that create the strong dough used to make yeast breads. Nonetheless, the steeping partially gelatinizes the starches and the wet grinding breaks the corn down into very fine particles, which adhere to one another through surface tension. The masa makes a weak, paste-like dough that, with skilled hands, can be molded into tortillas. These are cooked rapidly on a very hot clay surface called a comal. Whole nixtamal is also cooked until the kernels are tender, at which point it is once again called maíz, or corn. Masa and the whole treated kernels are also available in a dry form.

In Mexico and Central America, slacked or hydrated lime, or cal in Spanish, is used to make the alkaline solution. This form of lime ismade from limestone (calcium carbonate) that is put into a limekilnand baked at 1520°F (825°C). The result is quicklime (calcium oxide),which is then exposed to water, or slacked, to form calcium hydroxideor cal. Slacked lime is ground into a dry powder. Archeologists haveunearthed limekilns in the settlements of both the Olmec and the Maya,early Central American civilizations. The lime was also used for mortar and plaster.

Steeping the grain in an alkaline solution makes it more digestible and, most important, more nutritious. In untreated corn, the niacin (vitamin B3) it contains is bound to a large molecule that does not break down in our gut. The alkaline treatment splits off this molecule, making the niacin available in the human digestive tract. In addition, corn steeped in slacked lime has a higher calcium content than raw corn, especially important in the pre-Columbian culture without any dairy animals providing this essential mineral in the form of milk and cheese.

As a farmer who works with the grain, I suspect the tradition of alkaline steeping evolved from the practice of dusting the kernels with wood ash or slacked lime to protect them in storage. Various insects, especially weevils and mealworms, attack corn kernels, as do rodents. In many places, the seed corn ears were hung near the fire so that they would build up a protective layer of creosote, making them unpalatable. Storing the kernels with a dusting of wood ash or lime helps to ward off pest attacks, and may also mask the aroma of the grain from insects and rodents. Lime is still used in this manner in Mexico.

The North American variant of nixtamal, hominy, is produced commercially using lye instead of slacked lime in the alkaline steeping process. Originally, lye extracted from wood ash was used, contributing calcium, potassium and trace minerals to the corn. The use of wood ash in the preparation of corn was well established in pre-Columbian North America, especially where limestone was unavailable. There were several methods of incorporating the lye into corn’s preparation. As mentioned earlier, the Hopi people of the Southwest used ground blue corn mixed with small amounts of willow wood ash to prepare piki, a thin, crepe-like, blue bread. The Iroquois mixed wood ash with corn and pounded them together, forming a meal, which they then cooked. The Hidatsa and other tribes of the Great Plains steeped the whole kernels in a lye solution made from hardwood ashes, then rinsed the lye and hulls from kernels. Early European settlers adopted the practice of steeping corn in lye made from wood ash.

Modern hominy made from food-grade lye lacks the mineral contribution from the wood ash, but still makes the niacin available. Industrial food-grade lye is sodium hydroxide, and the hominy prepared from it is high in sodium. Its flavor has the bite of soda, and it lacks the rich corn chip fragrance of corn steeped in slacked lime.

In years past, fresh hominy was a wholesome, cheap food available from street vendors in cities across our country. In his musings on food, James Beard recalled the hominy man of Portland, Oregon, and his distinctive call. From the first quarter of the nineteenth century through the early twentieth century, the call of the hominy man was part of the urban street cacophony from Portland to New Orleans to Philadelphia. The tinny, monotonous rendition of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” coming from ice cream vans is the last vestige of this type of street vending.

Hominy is cooked and used whole or dried and coarsely ground to make hominy grits. It has remained a traditional food of the South. The porridge made from ground hominy is called grits, hominy, or hominy grits, depending on the county where it is served. Where hominy refers to the porridge, “big hominy” is often used to identify the whole kernel form. For the most part, Southern hominy, either big or grits, is made from a white corn variety with a large kernel, such as Hickory King or Boone County White.

The alkaline steeping and wet milling of corn for table use remain distinctly American practices. Although corn has spread across the globe, the preparation of nixtamal and hominy has stayed in the Americas.

Preparing nixtamal  

Nixtamal is easy to prepare in the home kitchen. Any type of corn can be made into nixtamal. We use both Roy’s Calais Flint and Amish Butter with excellent results. We have also made it from dent and flour corn. Flint corn and popcorn have a bit more “chew” to the kernels, and I think the flavor from the higher oil and protein content of those types of corn stands up better to the lime. Mexican markets have the cal (Spanish for “lime”) in stock, often in a small 2-ounce (55-g) package, which is all you need for a recipe. Slack lime is also sold for pickling during the summer pickling season. It is caustic and should be handled with caution, especially around children.

In an enamel or stainless steel pan, combine about 1.5 pounds (675 g) of corn kernels with 2 heaping tablespoons (25 g) of slack lime and cover with water by about 2 inches (5 cm). Simmer gently for 30 minutes, to soften the pericarp. Do not boil: you don’t want to cook the kernel. Boiling will result in a bitter off-flavor. You will notice that the lime imparts a familiar flavor and fragrance to the corn; many popular snack foods, such as corn chips and corn nuts, use nixtamal as the primary ingredient. Remove from the heat and let the mixture steep overnight at room temperature.

The next day, pour off the lime solution into the compost bucket and rinse the kernels vigorously in clean water to get rid of residual lime. Rub the kernels between your fingers as you wash them and the pericarp will slough away, leaving the yellow or white endosperm. Sometimes the pericarp is hard to remove entirely, especially in dark-pigmented flint varieties. If you want “clean” nixtamal that will shed its pericarp, use a white or yellow kernel and stay away from the red and purple types. The pericarp remnants do not affect the flavor or cooking quality of the nixtamal — removing it is purely a visual consideration.

Some cooks recommend dislodging the embryos from the kernels. As far as I can determine, this is an aesthetic call, and certainly not necessary with regard to flavor. In fact, you will discard a good deal of nutritional content in doing so. It is possible that some types of corn have a bitter embryo, and if that is the case, ridding the corn of the embryo makes sense. Taste the corn with and without the embryo and decide for yourself rather than leaving it to the dictates of custom.

Put the kernels in the pan and add enough water to cover them by about 1 inch (2.5 cm). Put the pan on the burner and simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes until soft. Salt the cooking broth to taste. Allow the corn kernels to cool. This recipe will produce about 3 pounds (1.4 kg) of nixtamalized kernels ready to eat.

You can dry the kernels on a screen or in a dehydrator before the final cooking step. When you are ready to use them, cover with water and soak overnight. The next day, cook until soft as described above.

Preparing hominy   

In the Southern United States, hominy is made using food-grade lye as the alkalizing agent. Lye (sodium hydroxide) in its pure state is extremely caustic, much more so than slack lime; it will eat away your skin as a reward for carelessness. The lye comes as dry crystalline beads. In the lutefisk and pretzel belt of the Midwestern United States, foodgrade lye is available at the grocer. In other places, it can be ordered for delivery to your house. When opening the container and measuring it, wear gloves and goggles as a safety precaution. I open the container and measure the lye outdoors so if some does fall to the ground I can hose down the area easily. The unused lye must be stored in a dry, safe place well out of reach of children. There is no need to be fearful, just cautious. Midwestern families regularly prepare lutefisk and pretzels using lye without incident.

To make this form of hominy, we use a large, stainless steel stock pan, 16-quart (15-liter) or larger, the deeper and bigger the better so as to lessen the chance of the lye water splashing on us. A large enameled pan in good condition is acceptable. Never use aluminum or copper pans. Although the lye dissolved in water is less caustic than the crystals, you still don’t want the hot lye water splashing on your skin.

Put 2 cups (900 g) of whole corn kernels and 2 quarts (1.9 l) of water in the pan. Carefully add 1 tablespoon of food-grade lye beads to the pan. Stir and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium and cook at a low boil for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the kernels steep for 20 minutes. Dilute the cooking liquid with plenty of water, then carefully drain off the water solution into the sink. Wash the kernels several times in clean water until the washing water runs clear.

Leave the kernels in clean water for 30 minutes. Drain them and add water to cover by 1 inch (2.5 cm). Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and cook the kernels at a simmer until they are tender, usually 1 to 2 hours, depending on the corn variety.

Hominy made with lye has a sharp soda flavor reminiscent of soda bread. Traditionally it is served as a side dish dressed with some butter and maybe a bit of cream, which softens the flavor. If you are on a sodium-restricted diet, corn prepared with calcium hydroxide, slack lime, is the better choice.

The prepared hominy will store in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days. For longer periods of storage, thoroughly dry the lye-treated kernels after the final soaking and store in the pantry. When you’re ready to use them, soak the kernels overnight and cook until tender. You can also grind the dry kernels as described below for classic hominy grits.

Beautiful Corn is reprinted with permission from Anthony Boutard and published by New Society Publishers, 2012.