Happy Friday Grow Appalachians! Holly the happy HQer…and I guess it’s been a little while. Is it really mid-August? I’m kind of just at a loss here. And also holding out for a bit of a cool-down. By the way, in case you missed it, our Summer Feeding program served 13,878 meals this summer! That is almost the entire population of Berea, Kentucky. YEAH! No words…other than incredible! 

In last week’s newsletter, we focused on all things corn, and we’re piggybacking on that for the blog this week…except we’re taking it one step further and looking at heirloom corn.

In case you need a brief recap, an heirloom vegetable is a vegetable that has been grown from seed saved the previous year by the same crop. This is known as seed-saving, and many of our partner sites are incorporating that into their individual Grow Appalachia programs. Which is pretty rad. Heirlooms are also open-pollinated, not hybrids, and are more readily chosen because of their flavor and overall quality. In addition, heirloom vegetables often have quirky and colorful histories as to how they came about. More on that a little later.

Unlike heirloom beans or heirloom tomatoes, heirloom corn doesn’t appear to have had a lot of love thrown its way over the years. With many heirloom vegetable seeds, if properly stored they can last for 3-5 years, whereas with corn, it is only guaranteed for the next growing season (1 year). Heirloom corn is also difficult to preserve, relying strictly on human pollination and intervention. Other means of pollination greatly reduce the quality and flavor of heirloom corn, so it’s best to plant heirloom corn in blocks or squares 5-6 feet wide. Pole beans can be planted in between rows. Below are a few varieties of heirloom corn that you can try:

  1. Bloody Butcher Corn: Kind of a gruesome name, yes, but its name comes from the blood red color of the kernels. Originally from Virginia, Bloody Butcher corn is grown for grinding purposes and is usually not consumed fresh. Some other heirloom grinding varieties are blue and white. Our partner site in Laurel County experimented with the corn a few years ago: check out the blog post!
  2. Country Gentleman Corn: A shoepeg variety, which has small white kernels that grow irregularly versus in rows, Country Gentleman corn reaches maturity in 90 days and is popular among heirloom connoisseurs and gardeners alike. Country Gentleman originally comes from Connecticut, taking grower Frank Woodruff many years of selective breeding before arriving at the variety and characteristics known today.
  3. Golden Bantam Corn: First introduced in 1902 by W. Atlee Burpee (Yes, the same Burpee of Burpee seeds), Golden Bantam is a variety that, according to reviews, freezes well straight on the cob. History of the corn also mentions that it has a remarkably sweet flavor.
  4. Luther Hill Sweet Corn: One of the parental lines of the popular hybrid variety Silver Queen (the featured veggie in last week’s newsletter), Luther Hill corn was derived in the early 1900’s by Rutgers University horticulturist Luther Hill. The variety today has become adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions and climates, including around here and even as far north as Ontario!
  5. Black Mexican Sweet Corn: Dating back to as late as the mid 1870’s, Black Mexican corn, also referred to as “Black Aztec”, “Black Sugar”, or “Mexican Sweet”, can be enjoyed in two different maturities. When the kernels are still lightly colored, the corn can be harvested and then consumed as sweet corn. If the corn is allowed to mature further, resulting in the kernels becoming black or bluish-black in color, the corn can be dried, ground, and used for cornmeal.
  6. Stowell’s Evergreen Corn: The story goes that in the early 1800’s, gardener Nathan Newman Stowell spent many years refining this type of corn. After selling it to a friend and promising it was only for personal use, that friend went on to sell the seed to a commercial seed company! (Good friend there, eh?) This variety of corn can be enjoyed fresh, frozen, or canned.
  7. Oaxacan Green Corn: Originally from the Zapotec Indians of southern Mexico, it was used by them to make green flour tamales. Ears of this variety can grow up to 10 inches and the kernels are a beautiful shade of green. Flour or meal is produced the best from Oaxacan once the kernels are dried.
  8. Glass Gem Corn: With kernels that bear a striking resemblance to its namesake, Glass Gem corn is a good variety to try for popping, but it can also be used dried and ground for meal or flour. Many growers also use it as an ornamental corn (I mean…it is GORGEOUS). The story goes is that a half-Cherokee farmer in Oklahoma named Carl Barnes began growing different varieties of corn that traced back to his Native American heritage, as a way to reconnect with that heritage.  Glass Gem is one of those varieties.

From Burpee’s website, an ad from the 1900’s


Country Gentleman corn (From Rare Seeds website)


Popcorn grown a few years ago at GH17


Photo courtesy of Native Seeds

Time To Eat

Whether you’re an avid corn grower or just starting out, it might be good to know what to do with it once you harvest those fresh ears! The most well-known way of preparing corn is boiling it for a few minutes, then eating it with some butter and salt spread on. I tend to put a little bit of sugar in the water when I cook it, just to add a little extra sweetness. However, in researching for this particular section I did a little digging into other methods of preparing corn, and the first I came up with was, in the water, adding  2 tablespoons of sugar (ok!!) and 1 tablespoon of…lemon juice! Yes, you’re reading that correctly! I came across another method: cooking the corn in water with a cup of milk and a stick of butter added. Now we’re talking! Definitely a few methods to add to my plain ol’ sugar water method! 

With any fresh vegetables, you can also roast them. I’ve roasted corn in this way. It’s pretty fantastic, albeit not 100% healthy, but still fantastic.. I also read that you can soak the still-husked ears in salt water and then roast them in the oven that way- no need for added salt!  A lot of folks also grill corn on the cob (yum!), but after coming across so many recipes that provided numerous mixed reviews, I came across this article.  The article examines several grilling methods, and concludes that the “winning” method is peeling back part of the husk, but not removing it entirely, and then replacing it after removing the silks. The exposed corn can be rubbed with butter or other herbs and spices before replacing the husk. Sounds like a winner to me!

If you want to expand your corn horizons beyond simply eating it off the husk, you need only use your imagination, really! Doing just a quick Google search on “fresh corn recipes” gave me at least half a dozen articles: 25 Fresh Corn Recipes, 50 Fresh Corn Recipes, 30 Fresh Corn Recipes…wow! In doing a search for “heirloom sweet corn recipes”, however, the results become much more scarce. A lot of the varieties mentioned above are suitable for grinding into flour or meal, which is how I came across polenta. Polenta is an Italian corn porridge that is made with cornmeal. It’s a side dish that makes a hearty side to meats, or as an addition to other dishes and sauces. The recipe I’ve linked to calls for water, but you can use chicken stock in substitution. (Basic Polenta Recipe). Any type of cornmeal is fine as well.  Of course, there’s also cornbread, of which I am always seeking a good recipe, so if you have one, please let me know!

Here is a recipe for fresh corn and tomato salad- make use of those heirloom tomatoes too! YUMMY!! (Ok, I’m getting hungry…)


We want to know: What are your favorite corn varieties to grow? Are you passionate for popcorn, crazy for corn on the cob, or carried away with cornmeal? Do you have any heirloom vegetable stories that you would like to share? Let us know in the comments or on social media, and until next time, happy “corn”ing around!


Resources/Further Reading:

Advantages of Heirlooms to Hybrids from Mother Earth News

Heirloom Vegetables from Clemson Extension

A History of Heirloom Corn

Sustainable Seed Company: Where some of the little historical tidbits came from

Grow Appalachia HQ blog about heirlooms