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.
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
If you are caught in frost with plants out, you
also can salvage by spraying plants with cold water, before morning sun
Damaged plants turn black.