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All About ‘Bloody Butcher’ Corn, Part 2: Harvesting, Drying, Shelling, and Grinding

By Susan Tipton-Fox, The Mushroom Hut @ Fox Farms/Micro Dairy

Tags: corn, heirloom corn, heirloom gardening, harvesting, drying, food preservation, staple crops, North Carolina, Susan Tipton Fox,

When fully dry, ‘Bloody Butcher’ corn ranges from light reds, red, burgundy to almost black.

Read Part 1: Planting and Pest Control

Read Part 3: Storing, Packaging, and Selling (with Recipes)

Harvesting and Drying ‘Bloody Butcher’ Corn

‘Bloody Butcher’ usually takes 110 days for full maturity. You can actually eat this corn fresh in the milk stage if you want. You can use it to roast or for stews — it’s just not sweet like hybrid sweet corn.

If you want to dry the corn for use, there are a couple of methods we use here in the mountains. There is the method of letting the corn dry standing in the field. This method is best if you don’t have a lot of storage/drying space. The fault to this method is that, if it is unusually wet, the corn can hold water in the shucks/husks and it can mold and you can lose some of your harvest. When the corn is drying in the field, you can notice the ears that are upright slowly turning downwards. This is to signal that those ears are dry. Nature is amazing. You can go ahead and start collecting those ears for processing.

When gathering ears for hanging, make sure the ears are ready. The ears should be full and the silks should be dark and dry. The kernels should already be reddish in color. When fully dry, this corn is the most beautiful color! It ranges from light reds, red, burgundy to almost black. Take the corn and pull the shucks/husks back from the corn. You will see the colored silks on the corn. I collect this to use in crafts. I use the silks as “hair” for my cornhusk dolls. I put it somewhere to dry thoroughly before storing.

Some people use these corn silks for medicinal purposes. They are used as a diuretic. After pulling the shucks away from the ear of corn, check to see if the corn needs the ends to be cleaned up. By this, I mean to cut away ravages made by worms. You want the ear to be clean and free of worms and mess before tying together for hanging up.

We use recycled bailing twine to tie our corn together. You can take 3-5 ears, depending on size, and tie the twine around the “shuck ends” and make secure.  If your twine is long enough lengths you can tie another 3-5 ears at the end of that.  Just leave enough to tie to pole or beams where you will be hanging your corn to air-dry.  Make sure the corn will have some protection from the weather.  An old barn, open porches and the like will serve as a good place to hang the corn.

Shelling Corn

You will know the corn is ready to hand-shell when the kernels will come away from the cob easily. Also, ‘Bloody Butcher’ corn is a “dent” corn and you will see the dents in the kernels as it dries.

We have farm tours/visits and we have people come out when the corn is hanging. It’s a beautiful sight and a little nostalgic of days gone by. You can also bring it inside to dry if you have space. It needs to be a warm place without moisture — you don’t want it sprouting. As the kernels dry, the kernels can start dropping off.

To avoid sprouting, dry ‘Bloody Butcher’ corn in a warm place without moisture.

A lot of people prefer to use a corn sheller for shelling the corn when it is ready. We prefer to hand-shell so we can examine the cobs and also “grade out” the corn at this time. It just depends on how you want to handle this next step. 

If we notice any mold or insect activity on the cobs, we remove any usable seed and put into animal feed or “seed” corn. We only use the best kernels for human use. Be forewarned: If you are hand-shelling for the first time, this can make your fingers sore!

Preparing Corn for Grinding

You can buy small corn grinders (electric) for small-batch grinding. We purchased one at Pleasant Hill Grains for $125.00. Ours is electric and will grind 5 pounds at a time. After shelling the corn, we put the corn into a baking sheet or casserole pan and put into a warm oven at about 200 degrees for about 10 minutes. This will remove any excess moisture that is left in the corn and will also bring out more of a bold corn taste when grinding. Always allow the corn to cool before grinding.

After grinding the corn in the grinder, allow to cool again before packaging. We are one of the smallest producers of hand-made, start-to-finish cornmeal in our state. We have to abide by the same state laws as any other cornmeal producer.

Read Part 3: Storing, Packaging, and Selling (with Recipes)

Susan Tipton-Fox is a presenter at the 2016 MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Asheville, North Carolina, on April 9-10, 2016. With more than 150 workshops, there is no shortage of informative demonstrations and lectures to educate and entertain. Go to the FAIR's page for more details and reserve your passes. Find Susan on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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