White Eagle Cherokee Corn
Y’all, all I remember from last year’s decision to grow grain corn (and popcorn, which is another post) is that . . . it was just so pretty in the seed catalog. Yup. I’m weak like that. But then, BAM. A field of beautiful Cherokee White Eagle looming over me and I had no idea what to do with it. It had sounded great in theory: I would just grind it and make cornbread. Uh-huh. And that would have worked just fine, iffin I hadn’t researched the process. You see, I would be losing all of the available vitamins in that corn—which is why so much of our cornmeal is fortified—if I had gone down that road. It would have just (ahem) passed right through me. Why go to all that damn trouble growing it if I was going to just flush it down the . . . river?
And so, I began my little journey research a process called nixtamalization. (Say that fast three times.) The process has a long and delicious history; the most thorough article I could find is HERE, so give it a read. It seemed, at first, to be downright intimidating—but I’m a tenacious old broad, so I forged on and made my very first masa! Full disclosure: I learned my original process from Alton Brown’s recipe. There are other recipes online, including the original/native process of using hardwood ash instead of lime. Research away!
NIXTAMAL (to make Masa)
Two Cups Dried Corn
Six Cups Water (filtered)
Two Tablespoons Slaked Lime
Rinse your corn in a colander under cold water, running your hands through to loosen any particles, and set aside to drain. Pour the water into (at least a four quart) NON-REACTIVE pot and mix in the lime. (Warning: do not ignore this rule. You are working with lime and don’t want to find out the hard way what can happen otherwise.) Pour in corn and stir gently while pot comes to a boil. Note: make absolutely certain that it takes somewhere between 30 and 40 minutes to come to that boil! This process is critical. I assure this by gradually turning up the heat to medium high.
Once boiling, remove from heat and cover—let sit overnight at room temperature. The next day, rinse thoroughly in lukewarm water. (It may take you multiple rinses.) This step is important: rub the corn with your fingers as the water runs over it, gently removing the little clear-ish hull from the corn. Now, here’s where Alton and I differ: he states to do this for a few minutes, then let soak in water a few minutes, then do it again until most of these hulls are gone. I reckon I’m impatient—I just keep rinsing and rinsing in small batches over a colander, rubbing the hulls off and then taking the clear corn and place it in a large bowl. This way I can be sure that the hulls are gone! After I’ve done the whole batch, then I let them soak for about ten minutes and skim the top of the water.
Now then. This gorgeous nixtamal (that’s what y’all have now) needs to completely drain! Water will only get in the way of the next step. Leave it alone, go have some coffee, and don’t even bother with it for a few hours.
Next, we make masa! You can do this the old-fashioned way with a corn grinder (I have THIS ONE), or you can try a food processor if it can grind into fine particles. Either way, you want to grind your corn down very fine for the best texture that will hold together later. You will need to mix in at least a teaspoon of salt—more if you would like—but also pour one or two tablespoons of water in as you go if it starts to be too stiff to mix. If too crumbly, add just a tiny bit more water. (If for any reason you get the dough too loose, you can always add corn masa flour to the mix. Amazon sells a fabulous collection.) Now then: once your masa can form a ball, you can make tortillas! I’m not going to get into that process here—believe me, it’s an art form—but what I enjoyed making most were tamales and . . . cornbread.
Y’all. This changed the game for me. As a Southerner, cornbread was one of the first foods that ever went in my mouth. It’s a staple, for crying out loud. And I’m not ashamed to say that I had never truly tasted corn until my geode-blue cornbread. It’s as if Selu, the Great Corn Mother, made me dinner that night: the earthy, corny, sweet depth of this bread is more soul-satisfying than anything I have ever eaten. It came from the corn I grew myself (Cherokee White Eagle), so there were no nasty additives. The nixtamalization made Vitamin B3 completely available—which, alone is a reason to nixatamalize your corn!
As to the recipe: I had to wing it and didn’t write it down . . . yet. Nothing online helped, as all masa cornbread recipes utilized the dried version, and this masa has moisture still. What I do remember is that I lowered the buttermilk in lieu of that issue and baked it lower and longer. If y’all want that recipe, you won’t have to wait long because:
Here we go!
2019’s Cherokee White Eagle
The work is laborious, but totally worth every bit of sweat and waiting. Corn takes a while to dry, so y’all come back for an update in October when the harvest comes in!