Gardening Articles: Health :: Cooking
by Carol Deppe
Every elementary school student knows that Native Americans told the Pilgrims about corn and showed them how to grow it. Then, as now, corn was an essential crop and valued for its versatility. From cornflakes to corn syrup to popcorn to ethanol, the plant is woven into our modern culture as much as it was into ancient ones. This article is about another type of corn, one that is unknown to most Americans: parching corn.
What is Parching Corn?
The word parching is from Old English and means to make dry, the way your throat feels on a hot, dry day. Parching corn means not only to cook the kernels gently until they expand and soften, but in this case, it also refers to the corn varieties best suited to this treatment.
Parching corn is similar to popcorn, in that kernels pop loudly when heated. But these two types are different in almost every other way, including flavor. True parching corns are varieties of flour corns, and their kernels are soft and dry when mature. When heated, they expand only slightly, and the seed coat usually splits. Popcorns are flint corns. Their hard, brittle mature kernels explode furiously when heated, expanding in volume.
Parching corns are much sweeter and more flavorful than popcorn and don't need added oil or salt to enhance their flavor. Their sweetness and flavor develop as you chew, so munch them thoroughly. Finally, you can prepare parching corn easily in a microwave oven, then store it in a sealed container for about four months.
The Best Parching Corns
Although any flour corn can be parched, not all parch well, and most don't taste very good. White flour corns all taste bland, and yellow ones usually have a disagreeable aftertaste. Black varieties taste pretty-well, foul. All the great-tasting parching varieties are red or purple or have streaks or spots in those colors. ('Parching Black Cherry', which appears black, is actually a very dark purple.)
The eight varieties described here represent three different flavor classes. The purple ones all have flavors similar to each other but totally different from the reds, which form another class. 'Parching Black Cherry' is in the third class.
Not all red or purple flour corns are great parching corns, however. The best ones become sweet as you eat them, have tender skins, and offer delicious flavors. In addition, they parch quickly and uniformly and resist burning. Native Americans still grow these red and purple varieties specifically for parching.
The Most Versatile Corns
Parching corns may be the single most versatile type of corn. At the milk stage before kernels are mature and dry, they are as sweet as standard sweet corns, and they're very flavorful to eat from the cob or as a side dish. The ears are as beautiful as any ornamental corn, and children love both their brightly colored kernels and their flavors. You can parch dry kernels, or grind them unparched to make an excellent corn flour.