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Celt's Garden - Mother Corn and More Hot Sauce

It's time to get the garlic in. For the organized, the cover crop of summer buckwheat is already grown, tilled in, and broken down and the garlic patch is ready to go. For harried folks with day jobs, me for example, it's a rush to get the summer garden pulled out to make room for garlic. Planting garlic comes on the heads, to protect the cloves until planting time. When you pop the cloves off the head, take care not to injure the base plate at the bottom. The clove's roots will grow from the base plate. Plant medium sized to large cloves, 8" apart in all directions. Plan on weeding your garlic over the winter, as perennial weeds will pioneer the open soil and bring back temperate rain forest. Of course, that happens everywhere in the garden.

There are six main types of corn: sweet, dent, flint, flour, popcorn and waxy. Sweet corn is popular in home gardens, for the incomparable taste of fresh corn on the cob. Heritage sweet corns lose their sugar soon after picking. The traditional recipe for garden fresh corn on the cob is to put the water on to boil and go out and pick the corn. Heirloom open pollinated sweet corns such as Golden Bantam and Stowell's Evergreen are regaining popularity after losing almost all the market to hybrids. Victory Seeds in Oregon has reintroduced Sunshine, a short season sweet corn that vanished from the market in 1992.

Open-pollinated sweet corn is one of those things that gardeners have to grow if they want to eat it. Even organic market gardeners grow hybrids, and for a good reason. The supersweet gene is recessive. Hybrid sweet corn is produced by growing two tightly inbred lines, then interplanting rows of the two varieties. The plants from one variety are detassled to obtain the desired cross. Supersweet corn will keep its sweetness while the corn is picked, transported and sits around the cook's kitchen for a couple of days.

Detassling on a large scale is labor intensive. Corn breeders were delighted to find a male sterile corn in Texas. It was just the thing for breeding hybrid corn. In 1970, 80% of the U.S. corn market had Texas male-sterile heritage, setting up the whole country perfectly for the Southern corn leaf blight epidemic.

Those of us whose own genetic heritage passed through the Irish potato famine in the 1840's may retain deep family traditions of prejudice against widespread monocultures of anything: one corn lineage, one potato variety, giant waving fields of genetically identical oilseeds. If you haven't already heard the story from Granny, Michael Pollen wrote eloquently about the Lumper potato and the consequences in "the Botany of Desire".

Corn is wind pollinated and it suffers from inbreeding depression if it is grown from too few parent plants, but don't let that stop you from saving your seed. To save seed from an open pollinated sweet corn, let a few of the best ears mature and dry out on the stalk. Then husk the cob and let it dry some more inside. Seed corn can be stored on the cleaned cob or husked and stored as kernels to save space. If you swap some of your seeds, or save some of your purchased seed for the following year, you can manage inbreeding depression. This turns out to be old-timer advice: keep back some of your seed corn each time and plant out with seeds from more than one year. As for your neighbors, if they are growing hybrid sweet corn, it's recessive and your heritage corn will tend to dominate the seed.

More later on growing your own tortillas.

Here's a seasonal hot sauce recipe:

Sweet and Hot

1 lb hot peppers, red or mixed red and green
1 lb cooking apples, such as Granny Smith or the old apple tree in your neighbor's backyard
4 lbs any combination tomatillos and red and green tomatoes
1 lb onions
2 heads garlic
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar

Spice bag:
2 inches of cinnamon stick, broken into smaller pieces
Whole tumeric, 1/2 long dried piece, smash into smaller pieces
1 star anise
1 teaspoon each of whole seeds: fennel seed, black pepper, coriander, allspice, mustard seed
tie into a piece of old handkerchief, doubled cheesecloth or those cute little premade muslin bags sewn by twelve year olds in China

Be careful removing the stems and seeds of the hot peppers. Wash your hands, knife and cutting board with soap frequently and use aloe or a burn gel with lidocaine if your hands sting. Clean and cut up the fruit, onions and garlic and put it in a four quart jam pot or crockpot with the vinegar and peppers. Cook down on very low until it's all mushy. Mash everything up with an immersion mixer (called the Vroom in my house), blender, or potato stomper. Add the sugar and the spice bag and cook on very low 4-5 hours. Best to check on it and stir every now and then, as the sugar makes it stick to the bottom.

By now, it should have reduced to about two quarts of sweet, dense sauce. Scald pint jars and lids and process 10 minutes in a steam or water bath canner. See previous post Jam Session for detailed canning instructions.

Originally a homemade version of the dipping sauce for Asian dishes like fried wonton, this hot sauce is wonderful on cottage fries, burgers, rice, beans and tortillas, or just your eggs in the morning.

I bought hot peppers from Dona Flora at the Farmer's Market to pad out my meager harvest. She recommends Cyclon, Bulgarian Carrot, Serrano, Jalapeno, the big Cayennes and a tiny C. frutescens that turns purple when ripe for the Northwest Corner. I passed on the Habaneros and used a mix of Polish Cyclon (very hot), Cayenne (hot), and Jalapeno (mild), with Hungarian Hot Wax peppers from my garden, to make the hot sauce. The small Serranos and C. frutescens will be pickled. (See previous post Reverse Engineering Hot Sauce for pickled pepper directions.) They are too small to mess with otherwise.

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Comment by Celt M. Schira on October 8, 2010 at 1:08pm
Heather, always nice to find out that somebody out there is reading this.. thank you, I will do another post on the other corns soon. I am elbow deep in engineering calculations today. Regards, Celt
Comment by Heather K on October 8, 2010 at 12:56pm
Corn-Maize (botanically species 'mays' & family 'Poaceae') – a native american super grass and a sacred plant with an interdependent relationship with humans who cultivate & interbreed for seed..

Can you share more info on the differences of use & nourishment & storage length between these types: dent, flint, flour, popcorn & waxy?

Also can either of you share critter protective drying tips for those who are drying corn outside of their homes in a shed or outbuilding? I've a farmer friend who lost much of heirloom corn seed to the mice soon after he hung from the rafters to dry.

So great to read anything either of you write!
Comment by Celt M. Schira on October 8, 2010 at 12:36pm
Thank you. The neighbor with the F1 cross supersweet corn isn't worried about saving seed anyway, since it doesn't come true.

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