I like corn. And now I love grinding corn and making homemade cornmeal. I like the way the corn plant looks – its seemingly endless variety – and, yes, I’ll admit it. I like the flavor of really fresh and really tasty cornmeal. I had the opportunity to procure some freshly ground cornmeal a few years ago – my wife and I were visiting Mount Vernon and checked out George Washington’s grist mill and distillery just a few miles away, and I picked up a sack of the stuff right from the mill. When we got home and made cornbread and pizza crust with the fresh-ground cornmeal, I was amazed at how much cornier the flavor was than with my favorite store brand. Later that year, friend and colleague Cheryl Long offered us several sacks of freshly ground meal from Floriana corn, a remarkably tasty variety. We’ve cooked with a combination of Floriana cornmeal and cornmeal we make from two among our own favorite varieties, Bloody Butcher and Mandan Bride. These corns are all open-pollinated and are either true flour corns or flints.
Up until just a few years ago, I had only grown sweet corn for the table. I grew the old heirloom flour corns to maintain a connection with my ancestors and because I thought they were beautiful. Now that has all changed.
We no longer grow sweet corn in the garden or the field, choosing instead to devote the space to the heirloom flour varieties we love. And I’m happy to report that it is entirely possible to grow sufficient flour corn in narrow rows on a 30-by-40-foot patch to supply all the meal a cornmeal-loving family of two will need in a year, and then some.
The best way to store it is on the cob or shelled into rodent- and insect-proof containers stored in a cool, dry, dark place.
Homemade cornmeal is easy to make if you can source some nice and hopefully open-pollinated corn and have access to a home-sized mill. I’ve used our old C.S. Bell No. 2 mill for grinding corn for making coarse meal for the chickens; it’s also possible to make fine cornmeal with that mill using multiple passes. I’ve tried a few other very small mills too, but my favorite so far is our GrainMaker.
The handcrafted GrainMaker delivers finished cornmeal (from coarse to fine) in a single pass. You also can use it to make other kinds of flours (pancakes made with homemade wheat flour are like nothing you’ve ever tasted!), and it also will produce nut butters. Grinding corn for meal with any hand mill is definitely a workout, which makes foods prepared with hand-ground meal extra heart healthy (check out Page 60 for information on the GrainMaker and other worthy home mills).
Once you have your homemade cornmeal or flour prepared, simply turn the pages to discover a world of wonderful ways to convert it into delicious and nutritious food.