Farmers' Kitchen—Singing River Farm’s Flint Corn Cornbread
By: Laurel Green and Steve Crofter
As farmers, we try to hold a perspective that we are only the current stewards of land that has been, and will be, cared for by a continuum of people for millennia before and after us. Growing flint corn and saving its seed each year helps us maintain that perspective. The variety we cultivate here at Singing River Farm is Roy’s Calais Abenaki flint corn. The name itself reminds us of the history of the humans that have tended this cultivar—European-heritage Vermont farmers like Roy and Ruth Fair of North Calais, as well as the countless individuals of the Sokoki band of the western Abenaki that have lived here for thousands of years and continue to live in this region.
Kernels of corn have a hard outer layer covering the softer flour endosperm within. Flint corns have a higher proportion of that hard “flinty” layer than do flour corns or dent corns. This characteristic contributes to the hardiness of flint corn. Because the flint layer contains less moisture than the flour layer, flint corn lasts longer in storage and can better withstand freezing. According to legend, Abenaki flint corn was the only variety to survive in Vermont in 1816, the year without a summer, and we imagine more than one Vermonter kept starvation at bay by relying on it as a major food source.
The corn we grow is beautiful as well as hardy. The kernels come in two colors: a golden yellow and a deep maroon. The colors are not mixed on individual ears, but rather each ear is either fully yellow or red. The red comes from a recessive gene, so approximately one-third of the ears have that color. We sort out the red ears and grind their kernels separately for the aesthetic enjoyment. But because the red color is only in the pericarp, the thin paper-like covering of the kernels, the difference between our yellow and red cornmeal is quite subtle, and small red flecks are the only distinguishing feature.
Grinding the cornmeal is hard work, but satisfying. We have a hand-powered Diamant mill, a massive cast-iron tool made in Poland with old-world quality built in. Although it’s heavy to move, we have hauled it to farmers’ markets and it’s an attraction that many people, especially children, can’t resist. To watch corn go from ears, to a handful of kernels, to fresh cornmeal in a matter of minutes is a minor miracle, and the sense of awe is enhanced by the effort of arm muscles.
Laurel Green and Steve Crofter live at Singing River Farm, which overlooks Sokoki Falls at Brockways Mills in Rockingham, VT. Laurel supplies much of their annual carbohydrate needs through growing flint corn, dried beans, and winter squash, and sells field-grown pansies and specialty cut flowers. Steve focuses on giant pumpkins and the farm’s social justice goals, including providing a safe haven for asylum seekers through the Community Asylum Seekers Project. Look for Singing River Farm on Facebook.