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A corn kernel has three main parts: the outer pericarp, the
starchy endosperm on the inside and a bit of germ, which is the
embryonic corn plant. Flint corns are mostly endosperm which can
contain 14-15% moisture by weight. Flint corns, also have a
pericarp which is thick and tough. When the kernel is heated to
300°F the water (and some oils) in the endosperm are unable to
escape the kernel as steam because of the "enamel"hard pericarp of the
popcorn varieties. The pericarp holds until the steam reaches
about 350 degrees. There is quite a bit of pressure that builds
and eventually the pericarp explodes and the intense pressure literally
expands the starch and proteins of the endosperm as an airy foam.
Keeping the steam inside until the whole thing blasts apart in one
super-heated POP is what distinguishes popcorn from other flint
corns. Some very specialized breeding today centers on getting
the pericarp to disintegrate in the explosion. Often it forms two
chewy hulls attached to the corn ball. Japanese Hulless is an old
open pollinated variety which is used in this kind of breeding
work. Another concern is the drying and storage of the corn so
that just the right amount of moisture is contained in the endosperm
for the kernel to reach it's expansion potential. Drying the cobs
for a few weeks in a sheltered area at normal room temperature will
probably do it. Then seal the kernels in a jar and store in a
cool place. No dessicant please.
Long Island Seed's new "Autumn Delight"
Autumn Delight is a popcorn in progress like many of our breeding
developments and like most all of them it depends on the work of so
many others starting with the original Americans. Popcorn was
grown by the Indians of Mexico and the Southwest thousands of years ago
and it was distributed all the way north to the Dakotas and New England
through pre Columbian trade routes where it became adapted to the
growing conditions and needs of each tribe. There are
descriptions of the preparation of popcorn brought to the first
Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It wasn't just a
snackfood but used in the making of native fermented beverages and a
variety of cooked foods like stews. Mostly lost, are the
ceremonial uses of distinct corns maintained for color or kernel
shape. Corn was an important cultural element and the natives
caring for their tribal corns did a better job of preserving the
diversity and gene pool of maiz than we have since the advent of the
Popping corn is a type of flint corn. Flint corns are sold at
farmstands as decorative Indian Corns with their multicolored
kernels. They are also favored corns in the northeast because
they have a tough pericarp that prevents the corn from molding in damp
conditions. Flour and Sweet Corn is much more difficult to store
unless conditions are very dry. Natives could secure their stash
of flint corn in underground storage caches without the same concern
about their grain rotting. Often the flint corn would be ground
into a very hard meal. Not all flint corn will pop like popcorn
does and so; as decorative as the bundle of Indian Corn you hang
on the door, it's just not going to do much in your corn popper.
Grind it up for an authentic corn meal and make some fried bread or
hush puppies. Most people don't though.
That's a shame I thought.
And so for the last few years I've been planting really good quality
popcorn. Those that have good to excellent expansion ratio.
To these I introduce "Indian Corn" genetics. There are colorful
little popcorn cobs that you see bunched up for decorations like Cutie
Pops. We worked with those for a while. Very nice color
spectrum but very very small popcorn kernels. My interest is in a
larger good quality popcorn with nice large decorative ears. Hang
it up like bunched Indian Corn, take it off the door after Thanksgiving
dinner; then pop it, maybe in a covered frying pan over a crackling
wood fire (do I digress?) for a traditional snack. I appreciate
the work of Southern Seed Exchange, Harris Seeds and J.L. Hudson,
Seedsman as I use some of their cultivars to produce the subdued Earth
tones I like in "Autumn Delight".
Almost always something surprises me as I work through one project afer
another and I'm a bit puzzled where it came from. Such is this
mid-sized popcorn. One plant in the entire field produced these
three multicolored cobs. Good looking and good popping but what
startled me were the very attractive purple husks. I've seen this
trait in some Indian Corns and Sweet Corns. For a while I was
interested in breeding the genetics of foliage corns into my
popcorns. I'm wondering if this harkens to those generally
unsuccessful breeding experiments! One of the decisions I will
have to make next year is whether to isolate this from the others or
allow more crossing with my main popcorn project, "Autumn Delight" in
order to develop a percentage of purple husks in the mix.