Country Moon

Red Flint is More Than Chicken Feed

Country MoonFunny how a story unfolds sometimes. I have often said that everyone has a story, and in everything there is a story. Such is the case with Red Flint corn and how Robert Hamilton of Churubusco, Indiana is developing a business around this heritage corn that is both good for him and the consumer.

I met Robert at the Indiana State Corn Husking Competition that I attended a little over a month ago. Throughout the day they made the participants aware of the publications and radio stations that would be covering the event that day, including the fact that I would be writing a blog for GRIT Magazine online about the day’s events.

About halfway through the day, Robert sought me out and told me that he had something for me since I was associated with GRIT. I couldn’t imagine what he had, but he ran back to his truck and brought me a plate of corn muffins. I was puzzled as to why he wanted me to try them. So he explained:

“This all started when I saw an article in the July/August 2013 edition of GRIT Magazine on Red Flint corn. It piqued my interest in the variety,” he starts.

A year later, as events would have it, his daughter and grandkids moved in with him, and they had dairy goats. He remembered the article and did some more research on the Internet, finding that Red Flint had high nutritional value. So he planted somewhere around a quarter of an acre and began grinding the cornmeal for the goats.

“It wasn’t long before I discovered that, not only was it good for animals, but also for human consumption.” He smiles as he remembers grinding the first 400 pounds for chicken feed at approximately $5.00 per bushel. “Not that I don’t like the chickens and the goats,” he says with a laugh, “but it is much more profitable to grind it for human consumption.”

After tasting his corn muffin — a black-walnut, cranberry, corn muffin, to be exact — I agree. It was delicious, and also good for me since the cornmeal is all-natural with no additives. Thus began his business, Mill Stream, LLC, which is run by Robert and his family.

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Robert is no stranger to the food industry. He attended culinary art school and cooked professionally for a while, so he has always had an interest in food. Like most people, he just had to find his niche when it came to which food path to follow. “You have to believe in what you are doing or it doesn’t work,” he says.

Even though you may not recognize it, most people are familiar with the flint group of corn varieties because its more common name is Indian corn. The flint corn cultivars that have a large proportion of kernels with hues outside of the yellow range are primarily used ornamentally. These Indian corn varieties have always been part of the Thanksgiving and fall celebrations. Although they are primarily used as decorations, they can also be popped and eaten as popcorn.

Each kernel of flint corn has a hard outer layer to protect the soft endosperm, thus it is likened to being “hard as flint.” Hence the name. It does not have the dents in each kernel like regular field corn — or dent corn — does. Having a lower water content, it is more resistant to freezing. It was the only Vermont crop to survive New England’s infamous "Year Without a Summer" of 1816.

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The Florian Red Flint, or Red Flint, has been called the “perfect staple crop” by MOTHER EARTH NEWS. It is a rare, open-pollinated corn variety from the Italian Alps with unforgettable flavor. The hulls are red, but the meal is a deep yellow with hints of pink. It is physically beautiful with a rich, complex flavor. So, naturally, cornmeal made from it has a rich, distinct taste and texture.

Robert categorizes cornmeal in a culinary world by itself. It is used in a wide range of baked goods including muffins, pancakes, waffles, polenta, grits, scrapple, and hominy. “Cornmeal is such a commodity that's rarely fresh in the stores and consumers don't have a wide selection of different varieties,” he explains.

Another thing that prompted him to mill his own is that it is nearly impossible to buy whole kernels to grind. When people do purchase cornmeal in the markets, more often than not the packages do not list which variety was used in the milling.

“I really believe there is a strong market out there for this product, and that’s why my family and myself started this business. Corn can be grown anywhere in the continental United States and is easy for anyone to harvest, store, and process into cornmeal, yet very few are involved in it.”

It is a good time for him to start this venture, as consumers are becoming more savvy about what they buy and the quality of their food. “They want to know what they’re eating, what is in their food and, like the saying goes, ‘less is more.’ People don’t want all the additives and preservatives in what they eat anymore.”

Robert’s goal is to sell his cornmeal wholesale. A local bakery is going to incorporate some of the cornmeal in its baked goods, and a health food store in Ft. Wayne will soon have it on its shelves.

“I would really like to find a couple of artisan bakers who will use it in their recipes. It could be a win/win relationship, as the cornmeal and the artisan’s baked goods would both be promoted,” Robert explains.

Fedco, a Maine-based seed company, wrote this glowing description of Red Flint corn in its catalog: “Stop the presses! Fabulous flavor is why we stuck Floriana Red Flint corn into the catalog at the last possible moment. It’s medium- to deep-red, pointed kernels are easy to shell. They grind into a fine, pinkish meal that bakes with an appealing spongy texture. Floriana’s richly, sweet, delicious, corny taste beat the competition silly in our pancake and cornbread muffin bake-off.”

Wow! With a testimony like that and the exquisite flavor of the cornmeal muffin that I tried, I would bet that Red Flint corn is soon to be a household name. I can hardly wait to try the meal in my grandmother’s cornbread recipe.

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Robert has his state miller’s certificate and, although he sells his cornmeal wholesale, it can also be purchased retail. Anyone wishing to purchase some ground meal may contact him either by calling or texting 260-443-5369.

Blessed Be the Chaos

Country MoonWith the exception of a few, most people look forward to the holidays. It’s a time to re-connect with family and friends, follow the unwritten law that it's OK to eat foods that are forbidden the rest of the year, and generally wind the year down to a slower pace.

Did say slower pace? In recent years, it seems like the opposite is true; stress levels seem to soar during the holidays. Did you know that more suicides occur during this than any other time of the year?

First of all, there's the getting together for the holiday itself. I remember as a kid that there was never any questioning the date or time — on Thanksgiving and Christmas, we always went to Grandma’s house. Period. As an adult, I don’t understand how that worked year after year, because it left no margin for getting together with the other side of the family.

Today, that seems to be the "war" with most all families, mine included. Trying to find a day that the extended family can get together is the next thing to impossible. Unfortunately, this is mainly true because of broken relationships. Not only do you have to consider present family members, but also the ex’s, which can include the in-laws and sometimes the out-laws. Ugh!

Perhaps this is why the holidays are strung out so far. If they can’t get everyone together on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, many families opt to celebrate the weekend before or after, or sometimes two weeks before or after.

No wonder retailers start bombarding us with Christmas before Halloween ever flies away on its broomstick. I used to pick up all the ingredients for the holiday fruitcake between Christmas and New Year’s. Then, the stores started setting the candied fruits out around Thanksgiving. Now I need to get it before Halloween if I want any at all.

The same goes for the media. Hallmark Movie Channel started playing their Christmas movies two days before Halloween this year. We started hearing holiday commercials about that same time, also. I even heard a couple of Christmas carols already. How sad it is to commercialize one of the most beautiful and important holidays of all. By the time the actual day arrives, we are too tired of hearing about it to actually enjoy it!

OK, I got a little off track. Back to finding that one day that suits everyone to get together. So you finally find a day that works, but what about the time? Again, I'm dating myself, but I remember when hardly any businesses were open on Sundays, and only a few on Saturdays. Now you can hardly find any that are not open seven days a week. So because of work schedules, some people want to eat early (at noon), some late, some for breakfast, and some want to come for dessert in the evening. The web becomes more tangled as we go.

However, suppose that you actually find that magical day AND time for the holiday get-together. Now there's the issue of mixing modern technology with the family dinner. After going through all the stress of finally getting everyone together for the holiday, isn’t the main agenda just to enjoy being around family and friends? Even so, how many people bring their cell phone to the Thanksgiving dinner table? And how many sneak a peek to see if they got a text or missed call? After all, you have to check because it just might be from Aunt So-and-So who hasn’t shown up yet. You don’t have to answer, you know who you are. I am taking the fifth on this one, too. What if this year we just enjoyed being with the people that we are with? After all, we worked so hard to be with them.

If I seem to be sarcastic, I sincerely don’t mean to be. We are all in this together, caught up in this fast-paced world that we live in. We have created this stressful time of year for ourselves. We have commercialized a season that was meant to be just the opposite — a season of love, tradition, and joyous fellowship. Instead of sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying the beauty of the season, we try to cram more and more into it each year. Ironically, the more joyous that we try to make it, the less joy we feel.

For this reason, I decided to go back to the basics this year (at least partially). Instead of trying to buy the biggest, newest, and best gift for some people on my list, I am making gifts. It is not because I am against shopping, but rather because I want to get back into what the season is all about. I want to give for the sheer joy of giving, not because I feel obligated. Giving from the heart is what it is all about.

So, guess what? It is nearing Thanksgiving, and my projects are not as far along as I would like them to be. Yes, that is causing stress, but it is good stress, if that makes any sense. When you create something with your hands, no matter how simple, you can feel all the love that goes into it. Getting deals on Black Friday  doesn’t give me that same warm and fuzzy feeling.

So this year, even though I know I can’t change media or change the world, in my world I can try and celebrate what the season should be. As I sit around the Thanksgiving table, I want to try and appreciate each and every face that is there, because we never know when that face will become a memory.

For this very reason, my family will all fall prey to another year of frantic stress, trying to make everything come together. I am trying realyl hard to remember that it is OK if every Christmas card doesn’t get mailed the day after Thanksgiving, if I forget the sweet potato casserole, and if the Christmas cookies don’t get baked. I once was told that we have too many friends. I don’t think that is possible, even if it does make our world more hectic. As long as I remember the important stuff, then blessed be the chaos!

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Photo by Fotolia/Michael Flippo

To Each His Own Rock

Country MoonI like rocks. Coming from a country and farm girl, you may think that is an absurd thing to say, especially since I spent an entire summer picking rocks (a lot of which were actually boulders) to clear more farm ground. However, they have always fascinated me. Each one is unique, you can decorate with them, and unlike other landscaping techniques, they'll never need water or any special care.

Each area has its own specific kind of rocks for which it is known, which makes hunting for them just as much fun as having them. Not to be partial, but there are four distinct rock formations that catches my eye.

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First and foremost is the pudding stone. Anyone that has ever visited our yard knows that this was Jim’s favorite. He spent days driving the backroads and talking to farmers in pursuit of the elusive pudding stone. He even went so far as to ask that one be put on an estate auction and bought it! Another he got free, but paid $250 to have it hauled here. Now that is the love of a rock!

Pudding stones can be found here in southwest Michigan, although the hot spot in the state for them is on Drummond Island. The island itself is known as the “gem of the Huron, and at her center is the Pudding stone.” The glaciers pushed them down through eastern Michigan and along the north shores of Lake Huron.

They are so named because they look like big globs of pudding, predominantly pink in color, with bands of smaller stones distributed throughout the larger rock. They are conglomerates of quartzite and pebbles of jasper, and their size ranges from as small as a pebble to as large as a dump truck. The British settlers that were stationed on Drummond Island believed that they looked like boiled sweet pudding with berries, hence their name.

Pudding stones found their beginnings about a billion years ago, when great amounts of sediment from the erosion of other rocks were deposited in large bodies of water. Different hues of red jasper pebbles were deposited in small portions over an east/west band about 50 miles in size that lays mainly in Ontario, but trickled down to smaller areas of the Upper Peninsula. These pebbles became embedded in the sediment. Some of these smaller pebbles have even been gold and sapphire.

Our pudding stones range in color from black to white, grey, pink, and everything in between. In my neck of the woods, finding a pudding stone is like finding a gemstone.

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Geodes are another favorite of ours. They may be ordinary and drab on the surface, but they're full of crystallized minerals on the inside which makes them irresistible whether you are a rock fanatic or not.

Geodes usually see their beginnings when a cavity forms in a rock which can happen in several ways. They are most common in igneous rocks, which are created by cooling lava. In most instances, a bubble of carbon dioxide and water vapor forms in the lava, like bubbles in a carbonated beverage. As the rock cools and gas dissolves, a cavity is formed. They are also formed in sedimentary rock like limestone and sandstone when minerals like coral, fossils, and pieces of wood begin to dissolve and, over time, leave a shell waiting to be filled. Groundwater seeps through the porous rocks, and additional mineral layers are deposited in the hollow interior. Over thousands of years, these layers of minerals build crystals that eventually fill the space inside. Large geodes can take 1,000,000 years to form.

Although geodes can be found anywhere, the hot spots are in the Midwest states of southern Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, and Iowa. Many times they are in streams, since running water is needed for their formation. People in the area hunt these like treasure and sell them in gift shops and the like. We gave in and bought a few while we were in southern Indiana, as we tried our hand at looking for them to no avail. Part of the reason for this is that they look like ordinary round or oval rocks with lumpy surfaces. The only way to find out if they are the real gems is to break them open.

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A few weeks ago, we spent the better part of a day looking for agates at Whitefish Point on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Agates are semi-precious, variegated gemstones. They develop when empty pockets inside a host rock fill in molecule by molecule, layer by layer, as microscopic quartz crystals self-organize to form concentric bands or other patterns. Color and arrangement are influenced by changes in air pressure, temperature, and mineral content that occur during formation.

Unlike other gemstones, each agate is unique, and even slabs cut from the same rock will vary in color and design. For thousands of years people have believed that agates have metaphysical properties to enhance life and cure disorders. This includes such powers as preventing insomnia, protection from disease, and promoting good agricultural crops.

The pristine waters of Lake Superior always wash up an interesting array of rocks, and its shoreline usually yields a good share of agates. We came home with a 5-gallon bucket of beauties, but no agates. This just means another trip back for us!

You can’t live in Michigan without feeling a connection to the Petoskey stone. They are fossilized corals that lived in the warm shallow seas that covered Michigan 350 million years ago. Sheets of glacier ice plucked the stones from the bedrock, ground off the rough edges, and deposited them around the city of Petoskey. The dry rocks resemble ordinary limestone but, when polished, the distinctive mottled pattern of the 6-sided coral fossils emerges.

Legend and history are combined in the Petoskey stone. The stone is named after the city of Petoskey, and the city is named after the Ottawa Indian chief, Pet-O-Sega. In 1965, the Petoskey stone was named the state rock of Michigan.

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Not a native of Michigan, but rather of Missouri, the rose rock has earned a place in my heart since Phyllis Batten graciously shared one of hers with me last week. They are sought after and prized worldwide because of their beautiful, rose-like appearance.

Rose rocks are crystal clusters of gypsum or barite, which include abundant sand grain. The petals are flattened crystals fanning open in radiating, flattened-crystal clusters. They are only found in a few rare places around the world, and most in The States come from Oklahoma. An old Cherokee legend says that the rocks represent the blood of braves and the tears of the maidens who made the devastating “Trail of Tears” journey in the 1800’s to Oklahoma.

To me, rocks represent history and continuity, even though each one is unique and individual. I like the way they look and the way they feel. They are a source of permanence. I guess once a rock hound, always a rock hound. Besides, rocks give us the perfect excuse to go on excursions in search of that one special one that is just waiting to become the next addition to our yard.

A Chocolatier Pours Artistic Sweets

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Well, I couldn’t resist. I just wrote about that flavor we all love — chocolate — and then I had the pleasure of meeting a chocolatier. Contrary to what I believed, a chocolatier does not make chocolate. Chocolate makers create chocolate from cacao beans, and a chocolatier is a person who makes confectionary from chocolate.

Ghyslain Maurais, along with his wife Susan, owns Ghyslain Chocolatier Artisan Center in Union City, Indiana. Although the business encompasses a wide scope of delectables, it is best known for its artistic chocolates. Ghyslain smiles. “Everyone likes chocolate; we sell everywhere.”

Even so, I wondered why he located in a small town on the Indiana/Ohio border. Born in Quebec, it didn’t take him long to find his culinary passion while working in that field to fund his architectural education. He entered the Institute de Tourisme et d’Hotelerie du Quebec and has since worked in some of the finest hotels and restaurants in North America and Europe. He held the position of executive chef for the Quebec Delegation in New York and London.

So, how did all of that lead to this quiet town in the country? His smile broadened. “Because this is where I met my wife. She loves horses, and this is her home, and she wanted to stay.”

That was 20 years ago, when he took a chef’s position in Versailles, Ohio some 20 miles from here. A company there specialized in medical supplies and was basically French, and they wanted a good French restaurant in the area for when the executives came from France. However, not many other people in the rural area wanted fancy French cuisine, so it didn’t do very well. That is when Ghyslain switched paths and decided to develop a new dream: a chocolate boutique.

He is definitely an artist, and artists express themselves in different ways. His is chocolate. His signature creations feature vibrant, hand-brushed color that distinguishes them from most others. Only about a dozen companies nationwide specialize in hand-painted confections.

The designs are painted with cocoa butter. He has signature sculptures that he does, as well as custom designs. His chocolate comes to him by the palette-load. He then melts the chocolate to a certain temperature and pours it into molds. When the chocolate cools, it shrinks, and it can be removed easily from the molds and hand -painted. The day I visited, his artisans were working on miniature chocolate football helmets being painted for the Colts’ football game that weekend.

Naturally, holidays are his busiest times. Valentine’s Day is big, but Christmas is his busiest season. For Christmas he has 30 different sculptures, including Santa’s sleigh, Santa In the Chimney, the Eiffel Tower, and more. “Every year, people look for unique gifts, something out of the ordinary. We get a lot of repeat orders, because they can choose something different each time they order,” he explains.

Looking through his designs, I can’t imagine actually biting into one — although it is hard to resist. “They are just too pretty to eat!” I tell him. He agrees, but recommends that they are consumed within two weeks of purchase because of the fresh cream, fruit purees, and flavors that are used in them.

For his custom orders, one person does all the hand-painting. Lindsey Lea started working there to help put herself through school, and she liked it so well that she stayed. She free-hand paints all the chocolate creations for which he does not have molds. “She is a good artist, but more importantly, she is good with color. Being able to match colors is so important,” Ghyslain stresses.

I wondered, with all the diversity, if his customers had a favorite. “Hands down,” he laughs, “it is the hand-painted turtles. For some reason, all customers love these.” But, with twelve different varieties from which to choose, his turtles aren’t just turtles. Each is filled with his own butter caramel, painted with vibrantly colored cocoa butter, with each color representing a different toasted nut tucked under the turtle’s shell.

Is there a saying that goes, “Once a chef, always a chef?” For Ghyslain, this is so true. Not only does his establishment produce exquisite chocolates, but he also has a bread and pastry shop which produces baguettes, European pastries, traditional gelato, cakes, cheesecakes, and other items. Many of these go to his shops and bistros but are also available for sale at his facility, and he sells wholesale and does specialty orders. He has several bistros in Louisville, Kentucky.

It is a family affair. Susan is in charge of marketing, and altogether they have 60 employees between the Union City and Louisville locations. “We have people coming and going here at all different times,” he explains. “You can’t paint the chocolate until it is molded and cooled, you can’t package for shipping until are products are made, so employees work at different times according to what job they are doing.”

He has three delivery trucks on the road every week. However, with the delicate nature of the contents, each is only on the road for 5 hours for each run. This enables him to deliver as far north as Chicago, as far south as Nashville, as far east as Indianapolis and as far west as Pittsburg.

He offers tours through his facility so that people can see how fine chocolate is made. Folks on the tour are invited to see if they can taste the difference between commercial chocolate and fine gourmet chocolate. They can watch hand-painted cheesecakes being prepared and savor the bread and pastries straight from the oven.

They can even schedule a “make your own chocolate tour.” Now, this peeked my interest! What it consists of is making an edible chocolate tulip cup, filling it with chocolate mousse, decorating it, and devouring it. I especially like the devouring part!

Ghyslain laughs at that. “Most artists want their creations preserved for posterity. I hope mine is not; they wouldn’t taste very good!”

It is good to see someone pursue a life interest that they truly enjoy. Such is the case with Ghyslain. In his own words, “When you take time to stop and taste the chocolate, life is good!”

Benefits of Chocolate Are Too Good to Be True

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Chocolate beans being ground into Chocolate David LeBovitz

Chocolate has to be the world’s favorite food. Just the mere thought of it can bring a smile to your face and be a great picker-upper. Chocolate can make you glad, sad, mad, and everything in between — what other food can toy with so many of our emotions?

It is probably one of the most versatile foods we have. It can obviously entice your taste buds with its melt-in-your-mouth flavor, it comes in liquid in the form of rich hot chocolate or chocolate liqueur, even the smell of it invites a warm and fuzzy feeling. Folks have gone so far as to include it with their other comfort foods; you can buy chocolate-covered bacon and drink chocolate wine. (I think this might be the place to draw the line.)

So, what's behind this lure of chocolate? Actually, it is all in your head — literally. Eating chocolate stimulates part of the brain called the neostriatum and its production of enhephalin, a natural, opium-like substance. These chemicals surge when eating palatable foods, increasing the desire to eat more, thus the reason for our cravings. Ahh, the guilt is lifted the next time I reach for a piece of that sweet confection.

Actually, this is exactly what nutritionists are now telling us: that consumption of chocolate treats is something we do not have to feel guilty about because it is actually good for us, as long as it is the right kind and in moderation.

All chocolate comes from the cacao tree's pods, which grow straight out of the tree trunk. One tree can produce 2000 pods per year.

These pods are harvested and allowed to ferment, which changes the bitter flavor of in the beans into something more chocolatey. The seeds are then ground into a thick paste called chocolate liquor which, unlike other liquors, does not contain any alcohol. Then sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, and milk are added in varying proportions. It is these proportions of added ingredients that determine which kind of chocolate is produced, whether it is unsweetened, bittersweet, semi-sweet, sweet, milk, or white.

It is the dark or semi-sweet chocolate that is being touted as good-for-you. Apples may have to share their spotlight, with the old adage being changed to “a dark chocolate a day keeps the doctor away.” Some of the health benefits of eating this sweet confection are:

1. It can help lower blood pressure in people with moderately high numbers, and also increase blood flow.

2. It can help reduce the buildup of plaque in the arteries, thus lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease by a maximum of 50 percent.

3. It is chock-full of antioxidants, which help protect the body from the effects of aging, and also it is showing promise in possibly preventing such diseases as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cataracts, and macular degeneration, to name a few. A serving of blueberries contain 32 antioxidants, while cocoa beans contain a whopping 621 of these protective molecules.

4. Besides the antioxidants, dark chocolate contains many other healthy nutrients. A 10-ounce chunk has 2 grams of fiber, 1.4 grams of protein, and is a decent source of iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese.

5. Eating chocolate actually makes you feel good. The small amount of caffeine it contains can provide a mental boost, and the chemical phenylethylamine boosts endorphins — the feel-good chemicals in the brain. The effect is similar to falling in love. No wonder chocolate has often been called “the love drug.”

6. Besides making you feel better, chocolate just might make you look better. Antioxidants and mood boosters reduce feelings of stress and also release stress hormones. This reduction could make your skin look better, because stress hormones break down collagen in the skin, making wrinkles more prominent. The flavanols in chocolate help make the skin healthier by improving blood flow to the skin, giving it a healthy glow and protecting against sun damage.

7. By increasing blood flow to the brain, chocolate can be called a brain food.

8. It is actually good for blood sugar levels. It contains flavonoids, which can help reduce insulin resistance which, in turn, can help prevent diabetes.

9. Are you ready for this one? The mineral theobromine in chocolate strengthens tooth enamel. Next time you visit your dentist, this could make for an interesting conversation, eating sweets to keep your teeth healthy!

Of course, like everything else, the key to keeping dark chocolate healthy is to be mindful of the amount of consumption. An ounce per day is the general guideline, otherwise you invite the risk of obesity. This also depends on the individual. Some people are natural chocoholics. They eat chocolate everyday, lots of chocolate everyday, and do not gain weight. As a matter of fact, some gain weight when they give up chocolate. That has to be the eighth wonder of the world!

For any of you chocoholics, if you ever get the chance you will want to visit Hershey Chocolate World located in Hershey, Pennsylvania, home of the largest chocolate manufacturer in the United States — The Hershey Company. This is probably the only place in the world where everyone lives and breathes chocolate. Being only a little over an hour from Jim’s hometown, we drove through there a couple years ago. The town even smelled like chocolate.

We have always known that chocolate chip cookies will pretty much get you through any life event. Now we have permission to eat chocolate for our health. So, what’s not to love? Eat on chocolate lover! (Just be sure it’s the dark).

And don't forget that the word cacao is a Greek word meaning “food of the gods.” Imagine that! 

It's A Husking!

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I have a new title, Michigan’s Senior Women’s Corn Husking Winner! Now, that statement probably got your attention. It certainly piqued mine when I noted Clay Geyer’s article in the August/September issue of Farm & Ranch Living about the Indiana State Corn Husking Contest that was held in Bremen, Indiana on October 1st. Clay is the president of the organization, and basically works all year to promote this one day event.

I never knew there was such a contest, but the mention of it certainly brought back sweet memories of when my family would husk out the corners of the fields and a couple of rows of corn around the perimeter of the fields so that Dad could get his picker in without knocking down corn. It was a lot of work, usually from dawn till dusk for two or three days. Still, it was fun, and since I had so much practice as a kid, I thought I would give it a try this year.

Mark my word, these contestants take the competition seriously. Clay explained the rules: "Each contestant signs up in the category that suits them (young men’s, senior women, youth, golden agers, etc.). You husk corn down one row as fast as you can and throw the husked ears in a horse-drawn wagon that is pulled right alongside where you husk. A person called a 'gleaner' walks behind to collect any ears that you miss, and another person has a stopwatch to mark 20 minutes. Any husk that is left on the ears is later weighed and deducted from the total number of pounds that you husk. Any missed ears are also deducted."

Wow! I never knew there would be so much to husking corn! I got there early in the morning for the start of the contest, but noticed that not too many people were anxious to start husking. So, I started talking to some of the seasoned huskers and learned a few inside tricks to this game. Beth Lamb was taking photos of the day’s events for Clay. She clued me in. "You can register all day, and you generally husk in the order that you register. Most people wait until later in the day because the corn is dryer and husks easier."

The field was cut into lands, and each land was numbered. I noted various competitors walking up and down these strips and scoping them out. Clay noticed my curious look and explained, "They are checking to see which land they want to husk in. On some rows, the ears of corn are pretty uniform and are located about the same place on the stalk, and on others there may be an ear closer to the bottom of the stalk and on the next stalk the ear may be in the middle. When they are all about the same height, it takes less time to locate the next ear and makes it go faster."

Some of the guys were using corn husking pegs, which are steel hooks that you wear on your hand to rip open the husk. Clay warned, “They do help, but can also be dangerous. We have had people in previous years rip their hands open with one.”

Everyone has their own style, too. Some will rip and pull and try to get as many ears as possible without worrying too much about getting all the husk off. Others are meticulous and get every little piece of it off. It’s all a matter of personal style.

There had been a lot of rain in the area, and the field was muddy. While contestants waited for the corn to dry, there was no shortage of tales from previous years floating around. Ralph Costello from Plymouth, Indiana told of his younger days when he and his brother went out hunting rabbits. "I didn’t see a one to shoot at, but my brother came back with three even though I didn’t hear any shots." His brother told him he had thrown ears of corn at the cottontails and got his rabbits that way.

Finally, I decided it was time for me to bite the bullet and try my hand at it. I had been told that husking a net weight of 280 to 300 pounds was considered good. That sure sounded like a huge amount of corn to me, and I was seriously hoping that I wouldn’t embarrass myself. So I needed strategy. I decided I would do it just like when I was a kid: start down the row, and while husking one ear I would spot the ear on the next stalk and keep focused.

I remember hearing someone comment while I was husking that I was getting all the husk off. Without missing a beat I shouted back, “Have to, my dad wouldn’t have it any other way!”

When it was all said and done, my net weight was 150.3 pounds. Not too shabby for not being in the fields for over 30 years. I actually came in second in Indiana with another Hoosier gal edging me out with 152 pounds, but since I was from Michigan, I had to be judged in that state. Since Michigan doesn’t have a competition, my winning was pretty cut and dry.

Many small festivals have corn husking contests, and those winners proceed to the state level. Each state may send the top three winners in each of the 12 categories to the national contest. This year the Nationals were held in Goodhue, Minnesota. Last year's participants came from as far as Georgia and Arkansas to compete in the Indiana contest.

Throughout the day, auctioneer Darrell Hartman did live videos and live broadcasts on the scene. Various newspapers, radio stations, and magazines were present. It has become a bigger deal today from when it all started. Corn husking is the oldest method of harvesting corn, and the contests started in 1924 in Polk County, Iowa by Henry Wallace, where 800 spectators watched the first event. Darrell made mention that part of what makes this event so special is that you see families out here. "Kids, grandparents, and moms and dads all participate. It also preserves our past and gives younger generations glimpses of how things were done before the age of computers."

Someone asked if husking and shucking were the same thing. Now, here is where you get varied opinions. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a shuck is the pod and the husk is the dryer, outer covering of seeds or corn. But when it comes down to it, it depends on who you talk to and what part of the country they are from!

Clay has been with the organization for 10 years and admits it takes a lot of work to put these contests together, but it is also very fulfilling. He and his family still pick ear corn in an age when most farmers shell corn. He laughs. "Dad mentioned the other day that the corn was ready, and I told him I was ready, I had the huskers coming!"

I will definitely go back next year and try to better my record. The contest for this year is all wrapped up and in the bag, literally. Aw, shucks!

The Harvest Changes Everything

Country MoonHarvest is the time of year when all things come together. It is the time when one tiny seed planted in the spring matures into a plant that gives back — sometimes a thousand-fold more seed and food than the original seed. Multiply that one plant by a billion to make a field, and those fields feed a nation.

It is truly miraculous! Farming is the only occupation where a person invests a year of work and can only reap the benefits during a few short weeks in the fall. To make it even more miraculous, each farmer’s story is different. Two can plant exactly the same variety of seed at exactly the same time and have two completely different yields. It becomes very personal.

This year, I was privileged to take an active part in harvest again after being away from it for over 30 years. Ron let me help him. To be quite honest, there were a few moments when the word “help” did not apply! But I had all but forgotten how fulfilling harvest can be. It’s not just about getting the crop in; it’s about harvesting memories, too.

I had also forgotten how meticulous you have to be, even in the smallest details. I pulled the wagons up from the field for Ron and unloaded into the storage bins. Driving up so that the chute of the wagon is positioned just so over the hopper of the auger is critical. Too far left or right and the grain tends to pile up and go over the sides; too far back and you lose some on the ground. Every kernel is money, so you don’t want to lose any. Laugh if you may, but I had markings on the ground to show where to position my front tire and where to stop. It sure made life a lot easier, and, in this business, time is the name of the game.

I haven’t progressed far enough yet that Ron could “dump on the go” like many farmers do with grain carts. Unbeknownst to me, one time we tried this, and let’s just say it did not go well. Remember what I said about every kernel being precious? Enough said.

So I had to know where to meet him in the field so he could dump. Sounds simple, right? Well, here in Indiana they have waterways, which are strips of land that cut up into the fields to let the excess water run off. This means that combining isn’t as simple as going around through lands or back and forth. Sometimes Ron would need to dump at the far side of the field, sometimes in the middle of the field, and sometimes at the lane. Basically, he needed me at the opposite place of where I was. Yep, not quite so simple!

OK, I can hear some chuckles from some folks now. You may think that I am poking fun at something that seems so elementary. What is hard to grasp until you do it is that every little detail is important when it's crunch time for the farmer.

Now, back to what I said, that “harvest changes everything.” Anyone who is a farmer, is married to a farmer, or knows a farmer will attest to this fact. Harvest is harvest. Period. Unless it is a matter of life or death, nothing else matters during these few short (or long, depending on your view) weeks each fall. That husband, father, brother, or friend changes into someone you don’t recognize. He doesn’t hear half of what you say, if anything; he is a little bit on the edgy side, he doesn’t sleep, only eats on the fly, and has generally no idea what is happening outside of the agricultural community.

I’m just saying that this is how it is; it’s not right nor is it wrong. After all, it is their once-a-year payday. It's hard to fathom how not cut-and-dry this whole business is. Moisture content of the crop and the weather are the two dictating factors that decide when crops are taken in.

Different varieties of corn and soybeans have different maturity traits, so they ripen at different times. How much rain has fallen over the summer, what kind of fertilizer was spread, and type of soil all play a role as to when the crop is ready. Combined with the fact that that a field may not all ripen at the same time all adds to the complexity of harvest.

Each day is different, too. You may have a real good drying day where the moisture content is down and you can run grain from morning to dusk. The next day may seem the same but, if there is more cloud cover or the humidity is up, the grain may pick up too much moisture and become tough.

The days when the sun is shining and yet conditions are not right to harvest are the absolute worst. It brings out all kinds of fidgety and pessimism. There is nothing worse than knowing that you should be in the fields and, at the same time, knowing you should not be.

Farmers in any given area are a pretty close-knit clan. They are constantly keeping tabs on their neighbors to see if they are in the fields or not, how much have they gotten done, are they storing grain, are they loading it out, etc. This brings up a whole other aspect. Grain market reports are scrutinized not daily, but sometimes hourly. Farmers constantly gauge their yield and market price to decide if they should store their grain for sale at a later date, ship it right out of the field and sell, or store it and put it on delayed price. In addition to this mix, they also have to decide if they have enough storage space according to the yield they are getting. For every farmer, every year, this is the gamble.

Yes, farmers definitely have just cause for grumpiness and pessimism at this time of year. It’s a way of life. Yet, it is a rich way of life, for no other vocation lets one get so in tune with the earth. Every farmer knows that the piece of land that he has been entrusted with, the piece that he calls his own, will only be good to him and give back according to how good of caretaker he has been. It’s give and take.

Yes, for a few weeks each fall, harvest changes everything. Not to worry, though, soon everything will be back to normal, and the cycle will start all over again for next year. That’s a farmer’s life.

Combine