Friday, January 22, 2010

Farm Bulletin: Perfect Hominy

Most of us think of popcorn when we think of dried corn kernels, but Anthony Boutard reminds us there is another delicious use for them. You can find his Amish and Calais Flint corn at the Ayers Creek Farm booth at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday, January 24, from 10 am till 2 pm.

Hominy is corn that is steeped in an alkaline solution overnight, and then washed and cooked gently until the kernels "bloom." The midwestern tribes made hominy from the lye of wood ash. That practice was adopted by the early settlers. "Spanish hominy" was made by using hydrated lime instead of lye. Hydrated lime, or cal in Spanish, is used to make nixtamal, which is ground to made tortillas and tamales. Food grade hydrated lime is readily available in stores selling to the Latino community. Our Amish Butter popcorn (left and right, below) makes a very good white hominy. Roy's Calais Flint (top photo) makes a fine yellow hominy.

Here is how to make Spanish hominy. But be very careful with the hydrated lime, as it is very caustic and should be kept well away from children and careless adults.

In an enamel pot, add two tablespoons of hydrated lime per pound of corn, then add water to cover the kernels by an inch or so. Heat the pan to a bare simmer, don't boil, and let it cook for 40 minutes to an hour. The solution will turn a lurid yellow and the fragrance of corn will fill the kitchen. Take the pan off the heat and let the mixture steep overnight at room temperature or on the back stoop. The next day, strain off the lime and liquid into the compost bucket. Rinse the kernels vigorously several times until they are clean. The outer skin of the kernel, the pericarp, will wash away. The orange and white kernels look just like candy corn.

If you have a slow cooker, you can use it to cook the hominy. Refill the pot with the corn and fresh water. Cover the kernels well as they will absorb a good deal of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the kernels split open as little flowers. The hominy is now ready to use in a pozole or soup.

Making hominy is messy and, though the preparation is simple and not a lot of work, it is hardly fast food. In the early 19th century, urban living quarters were rudimentary and many people lived in boarding houses without their own kitchen. From Philadelphia to Portland, and south to New Orleans, hominy vendors plied the streets of cities, along with pepper pot (tripe stew) and other prepared food vendors.

Tripe is a dish best prepared far from where it will be consumed, as the intestinal fragrance lingers in the house. Prepared hominy and tripe were cheap and nourishing food for working people. The same combination, hominy and tripe, is found in the Mexican menudos. We are a house divided on the matter of tripe, but find satisfying harmony in hominy.

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