Landrace Gardening: Growing Popcorn

| 8/23/2013 10:12:00 AM

landrace popcornLandrace popcorn requires care to preserve and enhance its ability to pop. I imported and planted three popcorns in recent years that had lost their ability to pop well because they had not been maintained in a manner that preserved their popability. In today’s blog I’ll write about my method of selecting for great popping ability. In next week’s blog I’ll write about how to prepare homegrown popcorn for popping.

In the 2009 growing season, I crossed a highly inbred popcorn with a genetically-diverse landrace of non-popping decorative corn. Since that time I have been selecting among the offspring to obtain a genetically-diverse localized landrace of popcorn that tastes great and pops completely. Last week’s post contained a photo showing how well it grows for me.

There are two kinds of starch in popcorn. Clear-looking transparent starch is required for great popping. If the starch is white or milky looking it doesn’t pop well.

Very small kernels don’t produce much volume of popped corn and tend to have a crunchy unpalatable tip. Very large kernels tend to produce old-maids instead of popping. My crossed plants produced many different sizes of kernels. After years of selecting for best popping ability, the kernel size matches very closely to the plain old yellow popcorn sold in the grocery store. They have converged into mid-sized kernels that weigh about 0.18 grams and are about 6 millimeters in diameter.

If the seed coat of the popcorn kernels cracks while drying, then the cracks allow steam to escape so the kernel will not pop. A 20 power jeweler’s loupe can facilitate seeing fine details.

popcorn pressure vesselThe best popping corn has smooth kernels that form a great pressure chamber to hold the steam inside until it ruptures. Kernels with abrupt edges or that are flat from being squished together form weak pressure chambers that lead to poor popping. This difference is demonstrated in the photo containing two kernels of corn. The kernel on the left has an abrupt edge around the germ, and it is squished flat. Kernels like that don’t pop well. The kernel on the right has a round top, and the germ is imperceptible. Kernels like that pop well. Round kernels (which are called pearl) pop better than pointed kernels (which are called rice).

2/2/2014 3:31:15 PM

The last few weeks I have been popping 30 to 50 batches of corn per day looking for cobs that pop nearly perfectly to use for next year's seed. I am using a different method of popping that I have found works more reliably for me than what I posted in this article. It is easier, uses less seed, and I don't have to worry about burning batches! My current method is: Remove 20 kernels of corn from the cob. Pop them in peanut oil in an electric frying pan set at 375 degrees F. Count how many kernels pop. Near perfect popping has become my most important criteria for selecting corn for planting next year. Of course I am tasting each cob to select for great tasting popcorn. Mmmm. Mmmm. Mmmm. It'll be nice to get this project done so that I can have room in my belly for other types of food.

8/25/2013 1:32:50 PM

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