In this first of of two essays, contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm gives us an idea of what it takes to selectively breed a new type of corn. As you read it, note that when he says "sixth iteration," it's a farmer's shorthand for six years, since each crop takes a full year to reveal its characteristics. It starts with a "Hm, that's interesting" oddball variation on an ear of corn, kernels of which are planted out in the field the next year, more selections are made and planted the year after that, etc., etc. And that's not accounting for failures or other problems encountered on the way. Stately, slow (and at times frustrating) for sure.
We will approach this market* with a measured, restrained pace, tent assembled to provide shelter from the rain. Consistent with the notation in the title, the market's 10 a.m. opening will be ushered in with the Robert Gray Panache choir singing peaceful songs of the season.
We will bring our gift packs of preserves to this market and the next. This year, the $25 gift box includes raspberry, purple raspberry, loganberry and green gage. Always a good idea to hold a few boxes in reserve for those moments when a gracious reciprocation is needed.
Anthony evaluating an ear of corn.
This week we will have corn from the sixth iteration of the "Peace, No War" art project. Descended from a chance ear with purple kernels, we have been reselecting the corn for ever darker kernels, and some ears are so densely pigmented they approach a matt black. In the Spanish area of Meiro (Galicia), they grow a similar corn and it is called millo corvo. The key to a flavorful grain corn in Oregon is to move ripening time into September when we have the sun and heat to produce a quality kernel. The original ripened in late October, and did not have the quality we wanted. It is a matter of nudging the corn earlier, and now a substantial proportion is ripe just past mid September.
The beautiful purple-red stalks of Peace Not War.
The purple/black corn results from the layering of a deep blue aleurone under a red skin (pericarp). The dominant pigments are water soluble anthocyanins, and like the related pigments in red wine, they confer a slight astringency to the grain. Peace, No War is a flour corn, so it is much lower in protein than our other sorts, with a lighter texture as a result. Cornmeal cookies are a holiday favorite, and you can now have three different types. The purple flour corn produces the lightest version of the cookies. The anthocyanins in many plants, including our peaceful corn and the purple sweet potatoes, are pH indicators. With the acid in the lime juice and zest, as well as the use of baking powder, the color of these cookies is a lovely lavender-pink.
Ears are saved for further evaluation.
If the cornmeal is used with alkaline ingredients such as baking soda, the pigments turn a dark blue-black. You see it happen if you put a bit of purple cornmeal, moistened with water, in a bowl with some baking soda. Add some vinegar and the dark mix turns pink. A few years ago, our friend Vonda came to us quite perplexed. She made a sweet potato pancake recipe and they turned green. As it turned out, she used a mix of purple and yellow fleshed sweet potatoes, and the recipe used baking soda. At the proportions she used, the mix turned bright green. The yellow pigments are carotenoids and are unaffected by pH. With the right recipe, you could probably turn out a green cornmeal cookie or cornbread for St. Patrick's day using a mix of the Peace, No War and Roy's Calais Flint meal.
* Hillsdale Farmers' Market, Dec. 6, 2015