Funny 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.
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.
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.
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.