The Return of a Great Red Corn Variety

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It is a great pleasure to welcome back a wonderful-tasting red corn from Italy: “Floriani Red Flint.” The remarkable taste of polenta and grits made from this heirloom corn prompted me to bring it back to the United States and work to make it available to home gardeners. (At their most basic, polenta and grits are simply coarsely ground cornmeal.) Cornmeal made from Floriani Red Flint has a rich, warm and complex taste. And it makes a polenta of unusual distinction. “Floriani” polenta is rich in flavor in part because it is traditionally made from whole cornmeal — polenta integrale — rather than the degermed corn typically found in commercial polenta, grits, and cornmeal.

I’ve named this corn ‘Floriani Red Flint’ after my Italian friends who grow it and are generously sharing their seeds. This corn was taken to Italy from North America hundreds of years ago, where it was changed through centuries of selection by Alpine farmers who ate it themselves (rather than using corn mainly as animal feed, which has been the case with most corn in the United States in the last 150 years). Now it comes back to us, identified by botanists as Zea rostrato spin rosso della Valsugana. It was the staple polenta corn of people living in the Valsugana Valley near the city of Trento, but is now only grown by enthusiasts, such as my friend’s father, Silvano Floriani.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS invited several seed companies to trial ‘Floriani Red Flint’ in 2008, and two companies, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and FEDCO, are now offering it in their catalogs.

Starke Round Barn Historic Site offers Floriani corn for grinding. 

We hope you will welcome this wandering relation back by growing it in your garden. In our trials so far, ‘Floriani’ has grown well in the South, the Midwest, and in California.

‘Floriani Red Flint’ is not the only neglected heirloom corn deserving attention. Even as our modern diet has become distorted by cheap corn syrup and other highly processed corn products, we are at risk of losing heirloom corns with unique flavor and nutrition. Over the next few years, MOTHER EARTH NEWS will be working with me and other heirloom corn experts to highlight distinctive varieties and promote a revival of this nutritious, easy-to-grow-and-preserve garden crop as an essential element in our sustainable kitchens.

For recipes, see Corn Pancakes a la Floriani and How to Make Grits, aka Polenta, from ‘Floriani Red Flint’ Corn.