"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

THE GARDEN GOURMET--May 2008

Like many garden vegetables, and fruits, there are many applications for corn in cooking. Used as a culinary element, it is consumed in many ways, especially as a highly popular “roasting ears,” the mid-summer table fare.
 
This, incidentally, probably is the derivation of the country form’s common name, “Ros-neers, alias roasting ears.”
 
Corn is used for cooking in many ways, but an unusual method, almost forgotten in this modern day, is parching field corn. Exposing it to medium heat on stovetop--or even in an oven--to dry it thoroughly, or perhaps even burn slightly. This renders it very crisp, about the crisp equivalent of most peanut brittles.
 
This more or less makes crunching parched corn with your teeth a risky business for tooth damage, but still very tasty. It is very risky to dental wellness, probably about the chewing equivalent of “old maids,” those popcorn grains that are very tasty, even if they swell instead of pop. My grandmother referred to the unpopped grains of popcorn as “old maids,” but I am sure she didn’t coin the phrase.
 
Parched field corn was, of course, a snack-time fare that could be made very cheaply in those post-depression days when money was scarce, along with hickory nuts, walnuts and a few other edibles that could be collected in the fall for winter use.
 
Still, the post-depression era was by no means the beginning of parched corn. It is said to date back beyond pioneer days, and that it was a staple of American Indians. It also is said that the American Indians used it as food on hunting trips if wild game was scarce, and that hunters and settlers could live on it for weeks with no other foods, except water. 
 
Be that as it was, at a much later date my grandmother often made parched field corn on the old wood-burning kitchen stove with an iron skillet, a smattering of hog lard, and a little salt. She would use just enough corn to cover the bottom of the pre-heated skillet to assure that all grains were subjected to even heat. She stirred the corn often, and considered it done when grains turned brown, or were slightly burned. At times a few grains would partially pop.
 
To clense the shelled corn of husks and other unwanted particles she would simply pour a bit of corn into a saucer and blow away the unwanted items.
 
The trick to parching corn seems to be in using just enough cooking agent to cover the bottom of the skillet. I now use olive oil (any cooking oil will work); about as much as a quarter, more if needed to cover the bottom of the skillet. I spread the cooking oil with paper towel.
 
Parched corn needs no refrigeration, and can be carried to the field, or elsewhere, in a plastic bag secured at the top with a bread-sack “twistem.”  I carried a small bag of parched corn on my hunting jaunts for many years, often pondering whether wild critters could hear me crunching it. I would not eat it when in hot pursuit of game. Then, one day, (before the squirrel season opened as I watched a mother squirrel and her young at fairly close range) I put them to the test by chomping lightly. I thought they could hear it, but that the strange sound was not enough to spook them. Subsequent tests with birds and animals tended to reveal similar results. Later, as I became more and more silver-toothed, I changed my field snacks to Snickers bars. Now I use apples.
 
Still, parched corm is a delightful snack, if your teeth and fillings will stand the grind. 
 
My grandmother turned out yet another great version of parched corn, but this employed past-the-prime sweet corn (roasting ears) that is slightly over-the-hill and has gotten tough.
 
My grandmother would first soak the brown-silk ears in a salt water solution, dry them in the shucks thoroughly, rip off the shucks and silks, rub them with bacon fyings or butter, and roast them to a light brown. 
 
I would pick off the grains and eat them. Occasionally, the grains were a bit waxy, but always tasty. This, of course, was a summer-time snack, but I think they could be frozen for winter either before or after they are baked. I would like to try it.
                                                 



 
WET GROUND TEST--When is the earth dry enough for gardening and when is it not? A good question, one I had put to Tom Waite, a Boone County dairy farmer (jerseys), who doubles in brass as host of my gardening efforts. Being a farmer, Tom gives me space for my garden.
 
Recently, as we stood in my garden plot, both frustrated by wet weather, and chomping at the bit to till the soil, I jammed a spade into the earth, turned the soil over, and asked Tom if there is a way to tell whether it is dry enough for gardening. 
 
Tom picked up a handful of wet soil, made a ball of it in the palm of his hand, and punched the ball with index finger of his other hand.
 
The first joint of his finger his finger made an indentation. The earth remained a ball.
 
“If it’s dry enough, the ball will crumble,” he said, almost dryly enough to be a Jebez Stone, with or without a whitlow on his thumb.


 
THWARTING COLD--We’ve had our share of cold, and wet weather this spring, and we may have more. But one doesn’t have to delay the start of a garden because low temperatures are a threat to plants--which it certainly is.
 
I am told that tomatoes and peppers are most adversely affected by cold among plants above the earth plants. But, if you are caught in the lurch with you’re plants out, a cover of newspaper or plastic may pull your plants through. Keep them off the plant and remove them early the next morning. Same with flowers.
 
Still another way to ward off low temps is subterranean gardening. Plant such seeds as radishes, peas and others first. The low temps can’t touch underground seeds unless a hard freeze comes. They still mature earlier.
 
If you are caught in frost with plants out, you also can salvage by spraying plants with cold water, before morning sun hits them.
 
Damaged plants turn black.


 
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All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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