Thursday, September 22, 2011
What a North Carolina Farmer and His Wife Say About Cornmeal
The following are two posts from my friend Eric and his wife Melissa at the Milk and Honey Farm.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2011
Southern heritage staple
We want to draw your attention this week to one of our most special and at the same time most basic products, our Southern heritage staple. Do you want to break away from the standard corporate food/agriculture system? Do you want to resist the take-over of our farmland and our food supply by GMO's (genetically modified organisms) and everything that goes along with them? Do you want to help build a comprehensive local food system, independent of pesticides and non-renewable chemical fertilizers? You should try our cornmeal and grits and make them regular staples in local kitchens again! If we can recover that foundation, imagine what further steps our local food system could take! If local agriculture is going to expand into grains and field crops (and all the animal products that depend on them), it's all going to have to start with the same grain that was most practical for our great-grandparents. Cornmeal isn't just for cornbread and grits aren't just for breakfast!
Besides basic cornbread, we use cornmeal in a number of recipes including some of our regular favorites - okra fritters and cornmeal spoonbread. We also make a basic cornmeal pancake. Eric likes the cornmeal pancakes best unsweetened, topped simply with butter. Of course, cornmeal is great for breading all sorts of things, from to vegetables to poultry to fish. Hush puppies are another southern classic worth remembering. Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina has several cornmeal and grits recipes on its website well worth checking out: http://www.ansonmills.com/recipes-corn.htm
Grits are, of course, a great breakfast staple, whether with eggs or cheese or country ham... For expanding beyond breakfast, shrimp and grits are the classic low country combination, but one of our favorite ways to eat grits is to make an extra large batch for breakfast and pour the leftovers into a greased bread loaf pan and refrigerate until gelled...then we'll slice the grits about a half inch thick and fry in butter until the surface is crispy. It makes a great starch to go alongside most any meat and vegetables. It's certainly different from rice, but it roughly fills that niche for us in a local, homegrown way. Polenta is just the fancy name for grits. We also use cornmeal for a crust in casseroles that we'll top with things like black beans, chicken, tomatoes, cheese, peppers...
If you'd like to read the specifics about where our corn came from and what we do with it, see our blog entry http://themilkandhoneyfarm.blogspot.com/2011/05/stone-ground-heirloom-white-cornmeal.html
We've optimistically planted more than double the 'Floyd' corn this year than we've ever grown before (and convinced a neighbor to organically grow even more.) We'll be hand harvesting it all fairly soon. It's another heirloom white corn very similar to the 'hickory king' that we're selling now, but an interesting thing about 'Floyd' corn is its recessive trait that leads to a small percentage of ears that are entirely dark red. If you'd like to help out in this year's harvest, let us know! If you have any custom grinding requests, or if you'd like whole kernel corn to grind yourself or to make nixtamal with for tortillas, we're happy to accommodate with a little extra advance notice. (By the way, we're looking for a mentor to show us how to best make nixtamal/tortillas starting with whole kernel corn.) If you have any questions about differences in using homegrown cornmeal or grits like we're offering, please ask.
We're excited to be able to offer what nowadays is a very unique product. There are some historic mills that still grind corn, but we only know of one other farmer in all of North Carolina (in Old Fort) that's grinding locally grown heirloom corn (we hope there are more!). We believe it's important to preserve these heirlooms not just to maintain non-genetically modified options, but also because these varieties weren't bred to depend on high rates of conventional fertilizer, on chemical control of weeds, diseases, and insects, and on combine harvesting. That means they're all around suitable to local use on small farms and to communities deciding how to grow their own food. If you share our desire to restore a comprehensive local agriculture that doesn't depend on non-renewable chemical fertilizers and pesticides and genetically modified crops, consider making our corn a staple in your kitchen. There's a lot to enjoy.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2011
Corn Bread Variations
Buttermilk Corn Bread
2 cups cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon bacon fat or butter
Preheat oven to 375. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Pour in the buttermilk and honey and beat in the eggs. Melt the fat in a cast-iron skillet. Pour in the batter and bake in the skillet for 20 to 25 minutes, until risen and browned.
Cakey Corn Bread
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup milk
¼ cup butter or lard
Mix together the dry ingredients. Add honey, eggs, milk, and fat. Beat until just smooth. Pour into greased 9x9x2 pan. Bake at 425 for 20 to 25 minutes.
Corn Griddle Cakes
Melt a couple tablespoons of fat in a cast-iron skillet. Mix cornmeal and a bit of salt with enough honey and water to make a sloppy batter. Spoon into hot fat and cook on one side until solid enough to flip. Cook on other side until done.