Heirloom Hopi Corn
In March, 2013, I visited the Ashe County, North Carolina, annual seed swap. In exchange for my grandmothers’ pea, bean and pumpkin seeds, I received several varieties of heirloom seeds for my garden. The seed swap is a great way for gardeners to access different plants, network with others and pass a few pleasant hours. There is no admission charge and attendees are not required to bring seeds. In exchange for taking seeds, gardeners pledge to grow them and return the following year with more seeds to share with others.
I had heard of Hopi Blue corn, but had never seen it until I met a woman at the seed swap who brought seeds to share. Impressed with the beautiful color and kernel size, I scooped some seeds into an envelope and engaged in an informative conversation about growing heirloom corn. The Hopi Corn grower and I commiserated about attacks from crows, raccoons and other pests, but we agreed heirloom corn is worth the extra effort to protect it from invaders. I thanked the seed saver and looked forward to planting her seeds at Heart & Sole Gardens.
My almanac designated May 15, 2013, as a perfect day for planting above-ground crops, so I planted two short rows of Hopi corn. As I dropped each of the 64 seeds, I said a silent prayer that they would be productive. After covering the seeds, Richard and I stuck plastic pinwheels, children’s toys that twirl with the breeze, throughout each of the rows. I hoped the whirling wheels would discourage crows from eating my seedlings.
On May 23rd, I noted 63 small corn plants growing in the rows and there was no sign of crow attack, even though I often spied the hungry birds as they flew over the farm, loudly cawing. When the corn grew in height and no longer appealed to crows, I removed the pinwheels and saved them for another crop.
By mid-July, the Hopi corn was growing beautifully, even though most other crops suffered from too much rain. Our western North Carolina farm was drenched for weeks and thick mud threatened to pull me to the ground as I slowly made my way along rows of rotting plants, many of which suffered from blights. On July 29th, I pulled five ears of corn and I was surprised to see the shucked cobs were not blue at all; the kernels ranged in color from white to creamy yellow. Even though I use no chemicals in my gardens, the Hopi corn was free of earworms and other pests and the silks just fell away from the cobs.
I briefly cooked four ears in boiling, lightly salted water and Richard and I, along with our son, Clark, declared those Hopi corn ears to be the best we had ever tasted. Clark, who is a classically-trained chef, cut the kernels from the last ear to add to a dish he created. Early in the day, Clark foraged wild chanterelle mushrooms and he tossed those, along with steamed clams from the NC coast, pasta and fresh arugula from the farm, in a large skillet and added the Hopi corn kernels at the last moment. Richard and I agreed it was one of the best meals we ever had. In order to preserve some of that fresh taste, I pulled another five ears the following day and blanched and cut off the kernels and then stored the yield in my freezer.
By the middle of August, the Hopi corn was mature. I pulled sixteen ears that did not develop, but they were perfect for pickling, so I packed them in a large Mason jar, along with some spicy hot heirloom peppers and a large clove of fresh farm garlic and filled the jar with pickling solution. I stored the jar in the refrigerator and looked forward to enjoying those baby ears during the winter.
Of the remaining, mature ears, I left some shucks intact and tied butcher’s twine around the base. In order to protect the corn from pests as it dried, I hung twenty-four ears from a curtain rod in an upstairs bedroom and I suspended the remaining twenty-nine ears from my dining room curtain rod. Of the eighty Hopi corn ears I harvested, I only discarded one that was too dry for fresh eating, too mature for pickling and not mature enough for drying, but a squirrel thoroughly enjoyed eating it from my compost bucket!
After the corn dried for over two months, I purchased a small grinder and ground some of the kernels. The cornbread I made from the meal was a lovely lavender color and the Hopi blueberry mini muffins were beautiful. And taste? Absolutely delicious.
Sixty-four seeds yielded eighty ears of Hopi Blue corn, with only a single ear to discard. Although another heirloom corn crop, Pencil Dent corn, also produced abundantly, for beauty, flavor and versatility, Hopi Blue is my favorite.
To view a brief video about removing dry kernels from Hopi Blue corn ears, visit:
Hopi Blue Corn Mini Muffins
1 cup finely ground Hopi Blue cornmeal
½ tsp. sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp vegetable oil
½ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon sour cream
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and allow to rest while preparing blueberry mixture.
¼ cup frozen blueberries (do not thaw)
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tsp flour
Melt butter in glass container, add sugar and flour and stir to combine. Add frozen blueberries and stir quickly. Butter mixture will adhere to frozen berries.
Spray mini-muffin pan with baking spray. Place a few coated berries in each muffin cup. Top with enough cornmeal mixture to fill each cup a little more than half full.
Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until golden. Immediately remove muffins to a plate and serve warm.