Monday, August 19, 2013

CSA, Week 16

Corn is Complicated

Corn is biologically tricky to grow and look good. Corn is in thousands of foods, drinks, cosmetics, and plastics. Genetic modification of corn is the norm, not the exception. Corn is the most commonly used grain for beef, dairy, pork, and poultry. Sweet corn is not the same as cow corn. There are lots of misconceptions about corn, so we will try to clear up some popular thoughts. 

Corn is an annual grass plant with its ancestral roots, as maize, in Mexico. It is known to be one of the earliest plants domesticated by the native population, and by extension, the beginning of agriculture in this hemisphere. Seeds from the best plants would be saved for the next crop. By selecting for ear size, kernel size, and how easily it could be ground for meal, they discovered if you grow two different kinds next to each other, the resulting crop was better than either one by itself. This is now known as cross pollination, which creates hybrid vigor. The tassel at the top, which is the male part of the flower, sheds millions of pollen grains when the plant reaches sexual maturity. These tiny particles can be airborne for miles. The female portion of the flower is the ear with silks that extend into the air to catch the falling pollen. Each silk is actually a tube that must catch a pollen grain, then migrate it thru the tube to fertilize the zygote, thus forming a kernel. Each kernel has its own silk. If these silks are damaged by insects or weather conditions, a kernel will not be formed. When they do, the birds, skunks, and raccoons consider it one of their favorite foods. Even though we plant 20,000 to 30,000 seeds per acre, all these factors influence the ultimate quality of the crop.

Virtually all the corn you see when traveling is grown for livestock feed or ethanol. One must marvel at the efficiency of the industry, but the politics of the insidious environmental impact are sordid. Beyond the fertilizer and pesticide laden soil particles carried from the field that have contributed to the hypoxia dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, is the genetic manipulation that spreads itself around in those pollen grains. Somehow, someone has figured out how to spray an herbicide that kills every species of plant in the field, except the corn, protected by genetic modification. They have also figured out where the genes for a particular trait are on the chromosome. This gives them the ability to alter the DNA for commercial purposes. At one point, a gene was inserted in the genetic material of many species of plants so farmers and gardeners could not harvest and save the seeds for future crops. This became known as the terminator gene, which subsequently did not receive a patent due to public outcry over the potential harm to small, poor farmers, especially in developing countries where seed saving is a ritual from the beginning of their culture, and a necessity. The genetically altered plants are the intellectual property of the company that developed such plants, therefore all the ensuing offspring belong to them. Because of pollen drift, this intellectual property may move across the landscape, infecting the corn crop of unsuspecting farmers growing non-GMO corn. In some cases these farmers have been sued for stealing this intellectual property. Absolutely no GMOs are allowed in Certified Organic foods. Organic corn farmers must have a physical separation from a neighbor’s GMO corn crop, and must also have a pollination date buffer to prevent cross pollination and infection of the organic crop. Something is not quite right about organic farmers having to shrink their production to preserve it, while the commercial grower can plant right up to the edge of the property boundary.

Now, sweet corn. As the Native American people were growing corn for dry grain, there is evidence they may have begun to eat the kernels while still soft, possibly because of the need for sustenance during long dry summers. This led them to purposely cross-pollinate different types and select certain varieties for sweetness and taste. Many years later, there are now thousands of commercially available varieties for farmers and gardeners to choose from to grow. The varieties may be yellow, white, or bi-color and range from traditional open-pollinated heirloom varieties, to hybrids developed through cross-pollination, to genetically modified organisms. Generally the varieties are classified by their days to maturity after planting and other attributes that may be associated with them. For example, we select varieties that tolerate cold conditions for early planting, others for later plantings. Many people ask for Silver Queen, a white variety known for size and sweetness, grown in home gardens for generations. With improved breeding techniques, varieties have been developed known as supersweet, which means the sugar in the kernel does not convert to starch as rapidly after picking compared to varieties like Silver Queen. The conversion of sugar to starch is a protection mechanism as the goal of the plant is to make a viable seed, not feed us. 

So we plant several varieties with the plan to harvest sweet corn each week we can during the summer for your share. This year, the cold soil gave us poor germination and a poor early crop. If these early varieties get off to a good start, they will pollinate before the silk clipping insects show up that reduce kernel fertilization. We mine the data of variety trials from many University research trials and consult with other market farmers on which varieties perform well for us, and taste great for you. Some people ask for Peaches n Cream, an early bi-color supersweet corn adopted by growers like us. Truthfully, the quality of the corn is dependent on stage of maturity at picking, post-harvest cooling, delay until cooking, and cooking technique, so please don’t get hung up on variety name. When you see kernels not filled out at the tip, that means a few silks were damaged by insects or dry weather at silking, and that area is a very small portion of the ear. It is difficult to keep the earworm out of the end of the ear organically, while commercially raised corns may have numerous pesticides applied to look perfect. 

The corn you see driving down the road is probably not sweet corn, but it may have an impact on sweet corn growing nearby. The sweet corn you get from Elmwood Stock Farm is raised with careful consideration of organic principles when navigating production systems. You can enjoy every kernel for what it is, and likewise for what it is not.

In Your Share

Blackberries or Raspberries – organic
Green Cabbage - organic
Sweet Corn - organic
Garlic – organic
Potatoes – organic
Tomatoes - organic
Okra - organic
Purple Top White Turnips - organic

Recipes to Enjoy

Eggplant Calzone, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing recipe from The Smitten Kitche Cookbook. The calzone reheats well and is good to pack for school or work lunches.

1 T olive oil

1 med. eggplant (approx. ¾ lb.)

¾ lb pizza dough

1 C ricotta

1 C shredded mozzarella

1/3 C finely grated Parmesan

dried oregano to taste

1 egg

snipped fresh basil to taste

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Chop eggplant into ½-inch cubes and toss with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast for 20 – 30 minutes until browned and beginning to crisp.  Let cool slightly.

Mix cheeses, season with salt and oregano, and stir in roasted eggplant.  Divide pizza dough into four portions and roll each portion into a circle approximately 6-8 inches in diameter.  Place ¼ of eggplant mixture on half of circle, fold dough over, then fold edges together and crimp.  

Beat egg with 1tsp water.   Transfer calzones to baking sheet lined with foil and brush with egg wash.  Bake 15 to 20  minutes until puffed and golden.  Serve with spaghetti or pizza sauce.

Bacon, Corn, and Potato Hash, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe  adapted from smitten kitchen dot com

½ lb diced bacon
1 lb potatoes, diced into ¼ to ½ -in cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 medium-large ears corn, kernels cut from cob (2 ½ - 3 C)
1 large handful basil, chopped

Cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon bits with a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings in the pan and transferring the bacon to paper towels to drain.

Increase heat to medium-high, then add your potatoes all at once in a single layer. Sprinkle them with ½ tsp salt and several grinds of black pepper. Cook until browned on all sides.  At this point, you can push aside the potatoes and pour or spoon off all but a small amount of the fat.

Increase the heat a little and add the corn to the skillet. Saute the potatoes and corn together until the corn gets a bit brown but stays fairly crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the drained bacon, and stir the mixture together until it’s evenly warm, about 1 more minute.  Finish with chopped basil.

Tomato Ricotta Tart, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe from Cooking Light.  You can use most any size, shape, or color of tomato.


5.6 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour (about 1 ¼ C)

2 T pine nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

¼ tsp kosher salt

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

¼ C extra-virgin olive oil

3 T ice water

cooking spray


¾ C ricotta cheese

1 large egg, lightly beaten

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ tsp kosher salt

½ C chopped fresh basil, divided

1.5 ounces aged Gruyère cheese, shredded and divided (about 6 T)

1 pound heirloom tomatoes, seeded and cut into ¼ -inch-thick slices

Preheat oven to 450°F.  To prepare crust, weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through pepper) in a food processor; pulse 3 times or until combined. Combine oil and 3 T ice water in a small bowl. With processor on, slowly add oil mixture through food chute, and process until dough is crumbly. Sprinkle dough into a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate coated with cooking spray. Press dough into an even layer in bottom and up sides of dish. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

Combine ricotta, egg, garlic, and ½ tsp salt, stirring with a whisk. Add ¼ C basil and ¼ C Gruyère, stirring to combine. Spread ricotta mixture evenly over crust. Arrange tomato slices in a circular pattern over ricotta mixture, slightly overlapping. Sprinkle tomatoes with remaining 2 T  Gruyère. Bake at 450° for  25 minutes or until filling is set. Let stand 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining ¼ C basil.