Friday, September 30, 2011

The Last Corn Post, or I Have Sweet Corn in October and You Don't

I may have mentioned in a previous post that I only bought corn from Hauser Farms in Camp Verde once this summer. It came to my attention through the grapevine or something that Hauser's was planting Roundup Ready Corn, brought to you by The Satanic Monsanto Corporation of the World. When I found out it was true, I decided Hauser's could take a flying jump before I'd ever again grace their cash box with my money.

I hadn't grown sweet corn since forever because Hauser's corn was so good, and so reasonably priced there was no profit in spending all the water and time and angst over growing my own. Not anymore.

This year, on a sort of lark, I decided very late at the end of July to plant some sweet corn in a little plot next to the giant Red Corn That Isn't Red Anymore. That plot had steadfastly refused to produce any beans and was just sitting there. I'd always heard that you could get two corn crops in a season around here but never really thought much about it.

A trip to the nursery here in Cornville yielded empty seed racks and puzzled looks on the faces of the guys at the nursery. "Nobody buys corn seed in July, it's too hot". A bit later in WalMart I found a rack gathering dust that was full of jumbo bags of Golden Bantam Late Season Heirloom Hybrid corn. Late season,...hmmmm....It was dirt cheap and clearly not a single pack had been sold and the little spinny rack the packs were displayed on had been gradually relegated to a dusty corner in the garden center.

So into the ground it went a day or two later. Must have been around the 29th of July or so as Josh was in the canyon and I planted by myself. It came right up and flourished. You can see it about half grown in the foreground of the picture I took of the red corn in the post below.

Today I started picking. It's been so long since I grew corn that I'd forgotten how to know when to pick so I've been peeking the last few days. You can carefully peel back just enough husk to get a look and not hurt the ear much. I strip off a piece of green husk and tie it around the end of the ear after I've looked if it's not ready. Keeps the ear tip from drying out before the rest of the ear is ready.

A little reading turns up that this variety goes way back to the beginning of the 20th century and predates all the modern super sweet hybrids. Personally, I like my corn to taste like corn. The modern stuff tastes like it's had sugar dumped on it to the point where you can't taste the corn, or maybe there's nothing to taste besides sugar. The modern corn also, to me, has no "tooth", there's no body, no substance. I'll take it crisp but a bit chewy thank you very much, and hint the sweetness to me will you? I don't need to be slapped in the face with it.

Anyhow, there's a lotta corn out there in the 6 little rows I planted. Looks like it's going to come on in nice stages of eight to twelve ears at a time over the next week or so. Perfect. I'll be planting this again. The photo here was taken today, right after I brought in the first ten ears. Katie and I immediately steamed up two of them and sat down at 9 in the morning and chowed them down, making all sorts of Homer Simpson eating sounds. All you people lamenting the end of sweet corn season, eat your hearts out!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Willie Nelson, Two Beers You Won't Get To Taste and Kate Hikes the Canyon

  As I've said before, there is no better time than right now in the history of this country to be a beer fan. New beers come out daily. Two that I've had the pleasure of trying lately are in very short supply and unless you've got a beer store on the mega scale of BevMo or a dedicated specialty store like Plaza Liquors nearby, you're unlikely to get your hands on them. It's worth trying. Really it is.

  The first is New Belgium Brewery's Lips of Faith Dunkel Weiss. "Weiss" is German for wheat. Most beers are brewed almost entirely from barley malt. Wheat beers contain some barley but a majority of malted wheat. The Belgians probably have the oldest tradition and widest variety of wheat beers. Some are made using indigenous wild yeasts that float around in the air in their ancient breweries. The vast majority of wheat beers are pale and cloudy with residual yeast. They're very refreshing, low alcohol and often served with lemon. Great summer beers for lots of folks. NB's Dunkel Weiss is a different animal. Dunkel is the German term designating a dark beer. In this case, REAL dark. This wheat gets it's darkness from the addition of dark roasted barley malt along with the wheat. The yeasts use give off a lot of fruity flavors. Dark fruits and clove flavors come through with a distinct black pepper finish. It only comes in 24 oz. bottles and checks in at 9% ABV. Share one with somebody if you can find it.

  Alaskan Brewing Company has been making tasty brews for 25 years. One of their beers was voted Best Beer in the U.S. some years back in a big competition. In celebration of their quarter century mark, they've introduced a limited edition big bottle of a very special brew called Perseverance Ale. This is a Russian Imperial Stout and thank goodness it's in short supply. Imperial stouts are strong, dark and on the malty side, just the way I like them. The brew is made with Fireweed honey and Alaskan Birch Syrup. The syrup adds a tartness that is unique. It's produced in Wasila, across the bridge to nowhere. It's real nice to now have something pleasant come to mind when Wasila is mentioned, but I digress. This stout pours dark and chewy, with a lasting head and many layers of flavor. It also clocks in at 9% ABV. I happen to know where the last two bottles of this stuff in the Verde Valley are, and as soon as I post this I'm going to go and snag them. My go to beer store was only able to get a dozen.

  In other news, Willie Nelson played the Stargazer Pavillion at Cliff Castle Casino last Friday. Josh came down from Flag and we went and had a big old time. He played all his hits and a lot of new stuff for an hour and a half to a packed house. The guy is 79 years old and has a concert schedule that I'd bet would put the typical superstar rocker in rehab in no time. My kid is no music snob, and will listen to almost anything that's well done. He enjoyed it I think. I know I did. Here's a shot of him playing that Josh took.

  Katie wanted to see Willy, but she was finishing the last leg of what seems to be becoming a semi-annual Grand Canyon hike. This time she and a group of friends did the plush route, hiking down to Phantom Ranch and staying two nights in a cabin there before hiking back out. They had a lot of rain and some group dynamics issues, but it was, like any Canyon trip, unforgettable and worth every sore muscle. Here's a slide show of some of her photos. For larger versions you can click on the center of the photo and it will take you to my Picasa album where you can watch the full sized slide show. Cheers and happy fall!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Red Corn Resolution

  Let's see, this is supposed to be a beverage blog, so how to be on topic..... got it. Bourbon is made from corn. It's corn whiskey. There, it's all connected now. The corn below however, is not whiskey corn. Whiskey corn is the same corn they feed to cattle and hogs.

  Some time back I wrote about planting our friends' red New Mexico corn they grew a long time ago down on the Verde. Well, it came up and grew with great gusto. Some of the stalks were close to 15 feet tall. People driving by slowed down to gawk at it. One guy even pulled over.

  "Hey what kinda corn izzat innyhow?"
  "It's red grinding corn".
  "Izzit sweet?"
  "Well then what's it taste like innyhow 'fit ain't sweet?"
  " tastes like corn."
  "Oh, well innyhow it shore is purty!! You gonna feed it to them goats?"
  "No. I'm going to grind it and make cornbread"
  "Ooooh Corrrrrnnnnnbreeeuuud, now I like me sum cornbread!"

  Just having it out there made us feel good whether it actually made any corn or not.  The picture above is from earlier in the summer when it was only about 7 or 8 feet tall and hadn't begun to tassle yet. Here's another picture of it standing tall behind the bantam sweet corn I planted just a few weeks ago as an experiment. I took that shot just a few days ago. It was finished at that point, dried silks and leaves beginning to dry.

  This wasn't a big plot of corn mind you. We planted 200 seeds in a plot about 12 or 14 x 25 or so. Yesterday Josh came down from NAU and we harvested it. I wasn't planning to pick it so soon but after picking a few test ears I could see it was ready and I was worried about mildew with the high humidity we've had and are still having, so down it came.
  I'm pleased to report that it produced splendidly. We had ZERO worm damage. It's nicely productive and most plants produced two ears with many reaching full maturity. We haven't counted, but we picked I'm sure well over 200 ears. It's drying inside now on a really inconvenient rack in the living room, until I can figure out some raccoon proof place to keep it. Last year's puny blue corn harvest provided the party snacks for a club of raccoons that invaded our neighbor's barn where it was drying. Not going to happen this year no. 
  Truth be told though, it's not red corn anymore. John and Susun grew a variety of grinding corns that summer back in 91, and it appears they all got together and pollinated each other! We can see traces of the Hopi White, Yellow and Chin Stripe corn that were neighbors to the Red. We don't care really and aren't terribly anal about seed purity, although we know we probably should be. Heck, every year I can't resist planting more than one variety of heirloom squash and then save the seeds. Sometimes the next year's plantings are edible and sometimes they're not. I think that old monk Gregor Mendel would have loved to see the outcome this year. Much more interesting than the silly Sweet Peas or whatever it was he was experimenting with. 
This one is worth clicking on for the larger version
  This picture is of some of the exemplary ears we saved to look at for a while before they're ground. Now Kate has to take it all up to Moencopi when it's dry and run it through the sheller and grind it and we'll be baking cornbread for John and Susun's return in November. 
  There is the barest hint of fall in the air. The morning light is softer, the air the tiniest bit crisp. When the sun gets up a bit higher it doesn't slap you in the face. The does have begun their morning fights, pushing and shoving and bloodying each other in the annual fall ritual of pecking order determination for the boyfriend who this fall won't appear. The poor girls are gonna be date-less all winter.It's been hideously hot this summer and unbearably humid. For once I'm kinda looking forward to fall, if not winter.