Gardening Articles: Health :: Cooking

Parching Corn (page 4 of 5)

by Carol Deppe

Preparing and Enjoying Parching Corn

The traditional method is simply to heat kernels in a heavy skillet over low heat. Don't use oil. Stir the kernels with a spatula as they cook. Traditional parching takes about 5 minutes. Hold a lid or grease screen above the pan to keep the kernels from jumping out. Or, instead of using a spatula, you can cover the pan and stir the corn by shaking the pan on the burner, as with popcorn. If you don't pay close attention, the kernels will burn. Stop the cooking when the popping mostly, but not completely, ceases.

Microwave Parching

Put about 1/4 cup of plain dry kernels in a single layer in the center of a microwave turntable; cover with a paper plate. Much more or less than 1/4 cup of kernels microwaves poorly. If the oven doesn't have a removable turntable, put the corn in the center of a thin plate and cover with a paper plate. Don't use a heavy covered bowl; it absorbs too many microwaves. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. As with stovetop parching, stop the cooking when most (but not all) of the popping is over, 1 to 2 minutes depending upon variety, moisture content, oven size, and power. Most varieties produce a delicious aroma just as they finish parching.

Uncooked kernels of parching corn don't have to be separated from the cooked batch; they're soft and tasty even when raw.

Parching Corn: My Route to a New Crop

My passion for parching corn began in the fall of 1995 with Alan Kapuler, an enthusiastic plant explorer as well as research director for Seeds of Change. He had grown seven Hopi flour corns that season, and bags of brightly colored ears were stacked all over his living room, seed room, and greenhouse.

"Here, try this one," he said, carrying a cast-iron skillet full of toasted corn over to me. "Some of the varieties are pretty awful fixed this way, but my family really likes this one."

As I looked at the red-and-white-striped kernels, I thought of corn nuts, that hard, tooth-cracking snack food. I took a few kernels, but with low expectations. Surprisingly, the kernels were soft. As I chewed them, they became sweeter, then developed a delicious nutty, rich flavor, unlike anything I'd ever eaten.

I took some corn home and worked out ways to parch it in a microwave. As I ate the delicious treat, I realized this type of corn could become a major grain staple in my diet.

I went to my own collection of corn seeds and began parching samples of many varieties. I soon discovered that the best parching corns were all soft, or flour, corns. Some flint corns, when parched, produced something similar to corn nuts. Other flint corns only partially popped and parched, or didn't cook completely when parched; they were inedible. But all the flour corns parched to make soft, edible kernels. Among flour corns, some parched much more quickly and uniformly than others, and flavors ranged from wonderful to terrible.

My next step was to call the seed companies that had the best selections of flour corns, various members of Seed Savers Exchange, and Mark Millard, curator of the country's biggest corn collection, the USD collection in Ames, Iowa. No one knew much about which varieties would be best for parching, but everyone was eager to help. I soon had samples of about 200 different flour corns to evaluate. Among them I found eight truly superb varieties. However, only three were available commercially.

In the spring of 1996, I located potential corn growers, supervised growing of seed corn, and collaborated with seed companies to add the new varieties to their catalogs.

Now it's up to you to try parching corn. Taste it, and see if you agree with me about this crop's potential.

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