On humble hominy

End of harvest soup, salad, half cornmeal biscuit, local wine:  my idea of a decent worknight meal

Would that I had a real tractor.  I might just bust up some sod and grow some grains here.  Of course, had I a tractor with tiller attachment I would need a thresher too.  I am not there yet, I guess…and probably never will be, knowing how rough our clay soils are.

Two roadblocks in the Eat Local Challenge involve two big food groups:  grains and dairy.  Granted, you might be able to do without dairy altogether for a month’s challenge, but what about grains?  The staff of life?  Many people have therefore excused flour for their Challenge.  But flour isn’t the only way one can eat grains.

What about corn?

Most everyone has access to corn.  (You can grow your own even.  Corn is pretty easy to grow, and as long as you can keep the corn borers and pesky raccoons away…)  I made posole, or hominy, recently and it was fairly easy, though a bit time-intensive.  What I love about grains is that a little bit of corn puffs up to a lot of hominy. Four cups of kernels made nearly 7 cups of the stuff.  I froze what we couldn’t eat for future meals.  I also plan to throw some in the food processor and make us some mmm-mmm grits; I could dry it and grind it further and bang I have some masa flour for yummy tasty tortillas and sopes and tamale filling.  In other words, the humble corn kernel is very versatile.

Nixtamalizing (note the word “tamal,” as in tamale) is the process of chemically separating the corn shell  from the edible part through an alkali soaking.  This soaking has the added benefit of releasing niacin (B3) from the corn in a readily digestible form.  Pellagra is what occurs when folks eat lots of corn that hasn’t been so treated.  Nixtamalizing also gives the corn that nice lime-y, corn-y taste: think fresh corn tortillas on a hot griddle and you probably know what I mean.

Rinse and sort four cups of dry corn kernels (I used yellow dent corn from my corn/buckwheat source), then soak overnight in water to cover.  Set in a nonreactive (enameled, pottery or stainless steel) deep pot with 1/3 cup of baking soda and more water to cover and begin boiling.  I used my ancient Crock Pot for this.  What you’re going to do is remove the pericarp and tip cap (tough shell and shell attachment to the cob) by soaking the kernels in an alkaline solution to loosen the hulls.  The typical alkali used is lye.  Lye scares the hell out of me personally, though Mrs. Wages’ makes a pickling lime that is a bit less scary.  I couldn’t find any in time so I resorted to the more time-intensive but easier-found box of baking soda.  (Next time, I will try lye.  The baking soda kind of dissolved the hulls.  I do need to get over my fear though first.)

Boil, rinse, boil, rinse:  eventually you will find that the kernels are poofing up and the hulls are coming off.  (The alkali is only in the first go-round of boiling.)   While rinsing in the sink in a colander set in a deeper bowl, I scrub and pinch off the hulls.  They float, and with a bit of work you can figure out the easiest way to separate them.  Note, this process does take time, so…prepare yourself mentally for what the task is at hand.  Separating the little floating boogers of pericarp is kind of annoying.

The reward was yummy though.  I made a nice soup with the winding-down tomatoes, peppers, onions, celery and garlic, and scraps of a pork picnic (basically the “arm ham” or bicep of a pig) that we roasted in a low barbecue all day, then separated the somewhat stringy tasty meat for future meals…lots of future meals as it turned out; that “picnic” was 4lbs, bone-in.  The hominy is destined for another spin with Thursday’s meal:  nice, buttery grits as the side dish.  It’ll show up in a couple other forms too.

8 responses to “On humble hominy

  1. Hi,

    you may not need a tractor to grow grains. google Masanobu Fukuoka, and if possible read his books, ‘The One Straw Revolution’ and ‘The Natural Way of Farming’. Unfortunately he passed away about a month ago, but until this year he was growing two crops a year, rice and barley for the most part, using a natural no till method that consistently produced yields as high or higher than other farmers in his area of japan. all you need is straw, seed, clay, and ideally a few ducks which will have free run of the fields at certain times of the year. he also grew vegetables in a semi-wild state under the fruit trees in his orchards. all in all a very inspiring individual. best wishes.

    Dave Dickson

  2. Awesome. I adore hominy. We used to eat the canned variety when I was little and grits are a current staple of my life.

    I’ve always been curious about how it’s made so this is very helpful. I’m thinking about growing a little corn next year, so maybe I can turn it into hominy! Thanks!

  3. I faced my fear of lye a couple of years ago when I cured some green olives. Water is your friend.
    Congratulations. Such a great accomplishment.

  4. I like hominy and grew up eating it in soups and stews. But I am very fortunate to have THE Bob’s Red Mill a mere 25 minutes from me….just south of Portland. How lucky can a gal get eh? I go about every 6mths and stock up.

    You know, I see this blog turning into a paying gig for you someday. Perhaps with a grassroots group wanting nothing more than to educate the American people. It has always been so well written and always leaves us wanting more! Just a thought…


  5. Thank you, Dave. I’m familiar with Mr. Fukuoka, and have read his One Straw Revolution. I think with me the whole grain-growing thing is just much further down the list of what I wish to accomplish around here. That, and I know myself well enough that something would inevitably get between me and peak harvest and most likely I would miss an important window: I am, at best, a very part-time farmer.

    You’re welcome, Taylor! Yeah, it’s fun to experiment, I think.

    CC: green olives! SO not Michigan fare! (But I do keep thinking I should try to get a sweet bay to grow in one of the greenhouses.) But fascinating. Will try lye next.

    Lucky you Kathy, living in broad shadow of The Bob’s. I would stock up too! But I do thank you for the compliment: we of course have been scratching our heads here about this economic muddle we find ourselves in, and dang, getting paid to do what anyone actually LIKES to do is great work if you can get it. I have been really resistant to the idea of ads on the blog: sure, it would keep me in chickenfeed money but it’s against my principles. But hey, getting paid for just writing? Sounds good to me!

  6. I bought a pound of dried red corn at a bodega one time, and I have no clue what to do with it. It just looks like giant flattish red popcorn kernels. Do I need to process it with the alkali method, or is it pre-nixtamalized?

  7. It’s seven am and my stomach is growling as I look at that delicious soup. That’s my idea of the perfect meal. Simple, hearty and warm.
    I’m really enjoying your eating local posts… learning a lot from you as always!

  8. Slow cooked pork and hominy grits, send me advance word next time and I’ll be there for dinner.

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