Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Tales of Four Sweet Corn Varieties

Sure you can grow all the super sweet enhanced hybrids you want but I'd like to share with you four tales of some unusual sweet corns.

Multi-colored corn is associated with jack-o-lanterns and scarecrows. But I found 'Rainbow Inca' which is a strong performing sweet corn with a heck of a story. Dr. Alan Kapular was breeding sweet corn in the mecca of sweet corn breeding, Oregon (not). He started by selecting 12 ears from his commune vegetable garden -- I told you this was Oregon. The parents included flour corns, native American and heirloom sweet corns.

The next Spring he planted the offspring of the twelve. One twist of fate helped the program. Moles invaded the plot on numerous occasions, so he kept replanting which allowed both early and later maturing plants to breed together. In his breeding program he selected for sweet corn with large, crinkled and flat kernels of all colors. The kernels are larger than any other sweet corn. The genetic variability displayed by the many colors reflects the many sources in its parentage.

Inca corn tended to be over twelve feet, so he also selected for around eight foot tall so they were earlier enough to be dependable. He also selected for ears to be lower on the plants so he could reach them. Lower ears are bigger so selecting for lower ears automatically bred for higher yields. 'Rainbow Inca' makes a great young corn for roasting and wonderful as a tortilla or in soups. This variety is only available at Seeds of Change.

As the name implies, Golden Bantam sweet corn comes to harvest on plants no more that 5' tall. According to the people at Millington Seed Company, Golden Bantam was originally grown by a Massachusetts farmer named William Chambers. A friend named E.L. McCoy found two quarts of Golden Bantam upon Chambers death and sold them to Burpee declaring they now owned "the sweetest and richest corn ever grown".

According to Burpee, who introduced the variety in 1902, this corn made yellow corn popular since prior to that date people only wanted white corn which signified refinement and quality. Prior to this introduction, yellow corn was stereotyped as fit only for animal feed. So you know this variety had an impact on the market since it tore apart the white corn perception of refinement while exploding the perception of yellow corn as only a product only fit to feed animals. This variety became very popular due to its ability to sprout in cool soil which helped it claim to be one of the earliest bearing sweet corns. Golden Bantam is available at several sources. I'd spend my money with a company dedicated to saving heirlooms as opposed to the corporate driven Burpee.

Stowell's Evergreen Sweet Corn is the oldest sweet corn in production predating 1848. It was originally bred by Nathaniel Newman Stowell of Massachusetts. It was a cross between Northern Sugar Corn and Menomony Soft Corn. After years of refining he sold two ears for $4.00 to a "friend" for private use. The "friend" turned around and sold it for $20,000 and it appeared in catalogs in 1849. (I'm skeptical of the $20,000 number. Seems incredulous for that time period but I found the same number from another source). Some people consider it is still the leading white variety for home gardens and market growers.

The people at Cherry Gal Seeds say forget about all the sugar enhanced varieties. If you're a home gardener, just pick and throw it in a pot and the taste rivals the SE varieties.

Let's make a huge jump from 1902 to recent times. 'Ruby Queen' Sweet Corn is really red from the ear to the plate. The red gene is a dominant over all others and it comes from red dent corn. Dent corn is primarily used for livestock due to its high starch content.

What sets this variety apart is it can be harvested at two different stages of development. At the blush red stage you get the maximum sugar enhanced flavor (SE) . Wait for it to develop all the way so it can deliver its rich, old-fashioned corn flavor. I'd love to see the red tassels and stalks in autumn displays. Burpee suggests steaming or microwaving Ruby Queen to keep the dark red coloring. Burpee also is marketing this variety as an exclusive but I found two other companies offering it. I've seen them do this kind of thing before. I'd expect more from the industry leader.


Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings said...

Patrick, I grow corn every year and what the raccoons don't get, I eat. Hey, your email address is coming up on my blog as undeliverable so you're not seeing my response to your comments on there. I just wanted you to know.~~Dee

donna said...

Hi Patrick. Thanks for visiting Mamma Mia Days. I'm short on time right now but I'll be back to check out your blog some more. I don't know a darn thing about corn except when it comes to eating it.

Glad to have found your blog. Had to google around to locate it. Couldn't reach it via your comment on my blog.


Dee/reddirtramblings said...

Now, you're making me want to grow even more corn. I'm trying a couple of varieties this year. One is Peaches 'N Cream. I can't remember the other, but it's from Southern Seed Exchange. I don't always grown corn because of the horrible raccoons. However, this year, I have this wonderful dog who doesn't want anything in her yard except people.~~Dee