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How To Dry Corn and Grind it Into Corn Meal

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA/TOA555
Last year, for the first time, I discovered the joy of drying and grinding my own corn for winter use. This simple, non-energy-consuming method of preservation was long practiced by the Indians.

Last year, for the first time, I discovered the joy of
drying and grinding my own corn for winter use. This
simple, non-energy-consuming method of preservation was
long practiced by the Indians and in many cases was the key
to their survival during periods of crop failure. Certainly
the practice deserves a revival . . . and what better place
to start than in our own organic gardens? Even the smallest
corn patch is likely to have enough over-mature ears left
on the stalks at the end of the season to warrant a little
experimentation.

How To Dry Corn and Grind it Into Corn Meal

The fact is, though, that my own discovery of dried corn
came about through sheer laziness. By late summer of last
year-when the last buttery mouthful of kernels had been
chomped off the last tender cob, and I was rapidly growing
weary of freezing corn every day — I was dismayed to
see that many maturing and overripe ears remained on our
garden’s cornstalks. What’s more, they positively
challenged me to do something with them.

Well, I did: I just let them hang there to grow bigger and
fatter and tougher. Then, before the first heavy frost, I
made a last trip up and down the rows and snapped off
enough ears to fill my wheelbarrow. Some were left to feed
the birds and other hungry creatures once the snows fell .
. . and come spring, any scant remains would be tilled back
into the soil to complete the cycle, with nary a grain gone
to waste.

The next step was to pull back the husks from my harvest
and spread the ears on clean newspaper in the garage where
they could continue drying out of the weather for a few
more weeks. I then brought the corn into a dry room in the
house, and forgot about it until winter was well
established and life had settled down to a gentler pace.

It’s my good fortune to have a Thoreau-like father-in-law
who possesses a marvelous hand-cranked corn sheller of a
long forgotten vintage. Thanks to him, I was able to
complete the shelling process in just a few exhilarating
minutes of cranking, clanking, and whirring. The ears were
dropped one by one into the machine’s opening, where
spinning wheels quickly separated kernels from cob. The
dried corn pinged into a metal tub, and the stripped ears
came flying out their special hole to fall in a heap on the
floor . . . from which they, were removed to their final
resting place in the kindling box by the Franklin stove.

If you should come by the use of such a sheller, the only
necessary precaution — other than keeping your hands
out of the works while the wheels are spinning — is to
be sure your corn is perfectly dry. Otherwise the machine
will jam and you’ll have the tedious task of picking
smashed, gummy kernels out of its insides and out of the
bucket. (Hand-cranked corn shellers are available for
$29.95 from Sears and other suppliers, including MOTHER EARTH NEWS
General Store, Flat Rock, N.C. — MOTHER).

In the absence of a sheller, it’s not a difficult job to
remove the kernels by hand (provided they’re really dry).
You’ll find that your thumbs do most of the work, and may
sprout blisters if you’re overly zealous in your task.

Once shelled, it’s a good idea to cover your corn with
cheese-cloth — to keep out dust — and let it dry
further. An occasional stirring every couple of days for a
week or so should dispel moisture and prevent the growth of
a gray, furry mold. (If you live in a damp climate, you may
then want to transfer the kernels to airtight
containers. — MOTHER.)

And then for the grinding and eating!

To grind your corn you’ll need any one of the several types
of gain mills that are on the market. Mine is a
hand-cranked, cast-iron Corona made in Colombia, South
America and available for around $20.00 from MOTHER EARTH NEWS
General Store or Smithfield Implement Company, Smithfield, Utah.

One cup of kernels yields about 1-1/4 cups of meal, and you
should get a satisfactory consistency in two to three
grindings . . . depending on how you set your mill. A fine
setting will do the job in two passes, but you’ll have to
work a lot harder. If you choose a coarser grind to save
your strength, the corn will require an extra trip through
the machine. It’s up to you to decide which you can spare
more of . . . time or energy. Since I’ve already told you
I’m lazy, you won’t be surprised to learn that I grind
three times at decreasing levels of coarseness. At least
it’s a way to exercise your arm and have something besides
sore muscles to show for the effort!

Another labor-saving trick — which also has some
redeeming social value — is to set up the mill for a
day or more in a prominent spot in the kitchen. I find that
no passer-by can resist the urge to toss in a couple of
cups of kernels and try his or her hand at the crank. In
fact, one evening when we had company I wound up with two
quarts of meal without so much as lifting a finger myself.

I believe that tasks of this sort have an excellent
potential for bringing people together in meaningful
endeavor. Certainly it’s more satisfying for a group to
gather in the kitchen around the miff than for one person
to stand alone, stolidly cranking away. The Indians must
have felt likewise, if we’re to believe the history worn
into stone at such places as Coloma, California . . . where
huge boulders with closely spaced grinding holes attest to
the once busy society of women who must have gathered there
to prepare cornmeal and visit together in the autumn sun.

However you go about it, you’ll be repaid for the work of
grinding your own corn by the knowledge that your homemade
product retains the germ of the grain . . . the source of
flavor, aroma, and natural vitamins and minerals.
Commercial cornmeal-from which the germ is removed in
processing -can be enriched to replace the lost food value
. . . but its makers have found no way to replace the scent
and taste.

You’ll discover this for yourself when you first smell a
bowl of freshly ground corn and compare it to the sterile
powder in that box you bought at the store. While you’re
enjoying the fragrance, though, remember that this delight
is brought to you through the courtesy of the
germ — which is also the home of the corn oil — and
be prepared to store the meal under refrigeration or in a
cool root cellar to prevent the oil from turning rancid.
This is a small price to pay for the benefits of a whole
natural food . . . and anyhow, you’ll probably find that
your cornmeal is so good that it won’t sit around unused
for long.

No doubt you’ll want to prepare some favorite dishes with
your homemade product . . . in which case you’ll probably
find it necessary to soak the meal at least four hours
before use. Or, if you prefer to try some recipes that are
already adjusted to the characteristics of dried corn, here
are a few to get you started:

Dried Cornmeal Pancakes Recipe

1 cup cornmeal
1-3/4 cups milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup cooking oil
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup dry milk
1/4 cup wheat germ

Soak the cornmeal in the milk overnight, and add the eggs
and oil the following morning. Sift together the flour,
baking powder, sugar, and salt, combine the mixture with
the dry milk and wheat germ, and stir in the moist
ingredients. Fry the batter on a greased griddle at
moderate temperature. Don’t expect the pancakes to be light
and fluffy! They have substance and flavor and will stay
with you well into lunch hour.

Dried Corn Pudding Recipe

2 cups rich milk
3/4 cup dried cornmeal
3 eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons sugar

Heat the milk to scalding, stir in the cornmeal, and let it
soak 4 hours (or overnight, if this is more convenient).
Combine the other ingredients and mix them with the meal
and milk. Pour the batter into a shallow, greased 1-quart
casserole and bake it uncovered at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 to 60
minutes or until the pudding is set in the center.

Dried Corn Tamale Pie Recipe

3 cups milk
1 cup dried cornmeal
2 cloves garlic
2 medium onions
1 pound ground beef
2 cups frozen kernel corn (or one 16-ounce can)
3 eggs
2 small cans tomato sauce (or 1 small can tomatoes,
drained)
1 small can chopped green chili peppers
2 teaspoons salt
2-1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 medium can pitted ripe olives, drained

Warm the milk, stir in the cornmeal, and let it soak 2 to 3
hours. Brown the garlic, onions, and meat and stir in the
corn, eggs, tomato sauce, chili peppers, and seasonings.
Blend these ingredients well with the cornmeal mixture, and
add the olives. Pour the combination into a large greased
casserole, cover the dish, and bake the tamale pie at
350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour or until it’s set.

Dried corn has many other uses. It can, for example, be
substituted for up to a third of the flour in any bread
recipe (if you mix the dough by a sponge method which will
give the meal a little time to soak and soften). There’s
plenty of scope for experiment . . . and the dishes you
prepare will taste an the better because you grew and
ground the corn yourself.

Published on Sep 1, 1975