Posts tagged ‘History’

May 22, 2013

Roy’s Calais Flint Corn – planting history in the garden

It seems like everybody out here in Western Illinois who has a garden grows sweet corn. Of course, there is much city grown sweet corn, but since gardens in the country are larger than their city counterparts and there is more room to grow corn, it is a more common crop in country gardens. Also, regular field corn (or dent corn) is so common out here that it is not given much thought. It is just part of the landscape. But besides sweet corn and field corn there are other kinds of corn. Popcorn comes to mind but what about pod corn or waxy corn? Have you heard of flour corn or shoepeg corn or amylomaize, developed for its starch content?

High Amylose                                      Shoepeg

Electron micrographs of native high amylose starch, ×3000                                   Shoepeg Corn

The Journal of Nutrition                                                                                               General Mills

Most of the corn grown in the United States is dent corn, 85% of which is genetically modified. There are old heirloom varieties and varieties still grown in remote valleys of countries like Mexico and Bolivia that may hold the key in their genes that will revive the world corn crop in the event of a calamity, such as disease or pest that the current corn varieties have no defense against.  These varieties are usually very hardy and can be, through saving the seeds of the best specimens, be acclimated to most growing areas.  I myself have always wanted to grow an heirloom corn variety that I can grind myself for cornbread such as a flint corn. After some research I have found one heirloom variety of corn that do all of the above so this year I will try,  Roy’s Calais Flint Corn.

According to the website of Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste:

Roy’s Calais flint corn is an open-pollinated flint corn originally cultivated by the western Abenaki (Sokoki) people in     Vermont, and subsequently grown and maintained by pioneer farmers, including Roy and Ruth Fair of North Calais, VT. In 1996 Tom Stearns obtained the seed from local farmers like Mike and Doug Guy, who had received the corn and seed-saving information from Roy Fair.

ark-prod-royscalais_flint_corn-02                                             Roy

Roy’s Calais Flint Corn

Slow Food USA, Ark of Taste

Roy’s Calais Flint Corn is also a variety that has come to the rescue once during a past calamity. According to legend, it was one of the few varieties of corn planted in Vermont in 1816 that produced a reliable crop during what was known as the “Year without a Summer”. There were food shortages that year due to the eruption of Mount Tambora in what is today Indonesia. This eruption sent a huge cloud of ash into the atmosphere and crops worldwide were lost that year. Having come from a colder region where most corn varieties do not do well, Roy’s Calais Flint Corn has the genetics for a shorter and colder growing season.  Since I am busy in the spring I am not able to get all of my crops planted in time for the length of their growing season. With its shorter growing season (90-95 days) Roy’s Calais Flint Corn is a variety that I can put off planting until later. It is also said that it makes excellent cornbread and polenta. I will try this variety this year and if it turns out to be one that I like I will save the seeds for the future.


Polenta with Wilted Escarole and Olive Oil Fried Eggs

Brigitte Derel of the High Mowing Organic Seed Company wrote a terrific narrative about  Roy’s Calais Flint Corn This is where I first became interested in this variety and where I first became informed about its interesting history.

Roy’s Calais Flint Corn is available from:

High Mowing Organic Seeds

Fedco Seeds

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