Backyard Story – Purple Corn

Tomorrow there are several events that have been integrated into the single date of the second day of February for this particular calendar year (a.k.a. 02-02-2020).  First, Super Bowl LIV (check my previous post for a list of tempting snack suggestions), usually scheduled for the first Sunday of February.  Secondly, Groundhog Day, celebrated mostly in Canada and the US, in which different beasts (mostly groundhogs, hence the name, but also including badgers, and even a coati) predict how many more weeks are left before the arrival of spring weather.  Thirdly, Candlemas, a day of purification and – in some Christian calendars – The presentation of the Lord at the Temple, which in Mexico is observed by a service, followed by a meal with tamales, atole, and other corn items.  This has roots in ancient pre-Hispanic rituals of corn offerings for the new growing season, and, as I have mentioned before, the lengthening of daylight periods this time of year always gets me (and many gardeners) in the mood for planning the next season’s crops.

This is a fable of what not to do when choosing seed for planting:

1) Impulse shopping – Last year, I mentioned seeing cobs of dried purple corn in a Hispanic grocer in Toronto:

purple corn

Automatically assuming that they were Mexican, I bought some, thinking that I could either cook them, Mexican style, by hydrating with a calcium hydroxide solution, or plant them and grow fresh purple corn on the cob to eat boiled or roasted.  In that post, I said I would devote some time to follow up on this story.

2) Lack of research on new products – It turned out I could not find food-grade calcium hydroxide in any reasonably small size (1 kg on Amazon was just too much and too expensive for just that small batch of dry corn.)  So, since it was already spring time, I decided to drop the idea of cooking it from dry, but not to renege on planting.

3) Grouping with other seed without checking compatibility – Since it had been four years since the previous corn crop in my garden rotation, I used the same patch where I grew my Three Sisters garden in 2015, this time adding tatume summer squash, and pole beans (corn, squash and beans are the three sister crops) to my purple corn seed.  I sowed in mid-June when the weather was warm enough for these crops, and back in July, I included a photo of this second Three Sisters patch, in an update of  My Backyard Milpa:

20190705_three sisters patch

The corn seemed to be growing very slowly, compared to the strong pole bean stalks and large squash leaves.  It all really went downhill for the corn from there.  By early November, I had harvested most of the beans, both green and dried, and the tatume vines had produced fruit and were dying, but the corn stalks had just developed their tassels (full of pollen), and purple cobs were finally growing, but were tiny (see also close up at the top of this post):

20191101_ purple corn stalk

Lesson to be learned: Just because corn/squash/bean is the Three Sister team, it does not mean all combinations will grow harmoniously.

4) Sowing seed not suited for local growing season length – Cold weather was coming quickly, so I was not sure if the cobs would have time to mature before the first frosts.  Finally, a week later, I had a family emergency and was away for three weeks; needless to say, by the time I came back there had been a couple of snowfalls and hard frosts, and the wild fauna had taken care of all the cobs, so I am not even sure if they had developed any further.  I finally sat down and searched for growing conditions for this variety of corn; it appears like these purple corn stalks can grow up to 4 m. in height, taking between 120 and 150 days (up to five months!) to maturity.  No wonder they were taking so long to grow.

5) Making assumptions about a crop –   More over, I learned that this kind of corn is not even from Mexico, but from South America, particularly Peru, where the kernels are not eaten, but used to prepare a beverage called chicha morada.

This was looking like a complete defeat for my gardener/cook ego but, I had learned five valuable lessons on how to pick (or how not to pick, rather) seed before buying, and, since I had a bunch of dry kernels left, I decided to honour their origin and purpose, and make a batch of Peruvian chicha morada (click here for the recipe I followed).  In a nutshell, with all quantities to taste: Boil corn kernels in lots of water for several hours (photo below, left); once the kernels have popped, remove from the pot (photo below, right):

Add pineapple and green apple chunks, cinnamon sticks, and cloves (photo below, left); bring back to boil and simmer for at least another half hour.  Remove solids and sweeten with brown sugar (photo below, right):

Let cool completely, add some lime juice, and serve cold with ice cubes, apple chunks, and lime slices as garnish:

005 chicha morada
Peruvian Chicha Morada

It reminded me a little of the also corn-based, Mexican beverage tejuino, which I prepared a few posts back.

Now, the recipe said to DISCARD the popped corn kernels! That seemed outrageously wasteful, so, instead, I tried them in a bowl of Mexican pozole (photo below, left), and a few “vasitos” (little cups) of esquites (click on highlighted text for my recipes):

Purple Mexican hominy soup and purple corn kernels with toppings; this worked out not too bad.  I guess “All’s well that Ends Well.”

I am joining Cee’s Flower of the Day (FOTD) Challenge for February 1st, 2020, and Fandango’s February Expressions (FFE) #1.

27 thoughts on “Backyard Story – Purple Corn

  1. Such a shame when you have seeds that you find out are not really right for the area you lived. Here in Tasmania you can get taken with seeds and seedlings being available when it is not the season for them here or the plants seeds are from the mainland.
    Great that you found all your information, and use of all the grain.


      1. I’m in the Midwest and our growing season is not that long either. When we harvested our corn, we got one ear and the squirrels got the rest! Somehow growing corn made me feel like a bonafide vegetable gardener even though I’d planted beans, squash, chard and pumpkins before. : ) R

        Liked by 1 person

  2. That purple corn looked pretty cool. Too bad it took so long to grow. You still did better than I did although I did get some red corn. I’m not sure if I picked them at an age when they will be mature enough to grow. Would it be warm enough to try in March for the purple corn to give them enough time to grow before winter? ARe you going to try again? The drink looks good.


    1. I used up all the corn in the kitchen, because corn seed does not keep for more than a season or two, and because of my crop rotation in the backyard, I have to wait another four years before planting corn again!
      The problem with corn is that it needs consistently warm weather to sprout and thrive, and June is the earliest in my 6B growing region; transplanting also places a toll on shallow rooted corn seedlings, so it is not recommended. The only way to go for me is choosing varieties with short to medium growing times. Live and learn!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t realize you rotated crops. That’s smart. Oh that’s too bad. June is a long time to wait for it to get warm. You must have a very short warm season.


    2. Oh, the drink was fine, but I did not think the result was worth the endless hours of boiling, straining and mixing. It is supposed to be very healthy because of the purple anti-oxidants, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s probably only worth the time if you’re making something else in the kitchen anyways. I’d cheat and just buy it, lol. If you boil something a long time, does it kill the anti-oxidants like boiling kills somevitamins?


      2. Oh, that’s why soup is so great. I did a google search because i was interested to see if some vitamins were killed by heat or just water soluble and found this. Since you cook with tomatoes a lot, I thought you’d like it : “research of cooking process has produced some interesting facts. For example, lycopene is an antioxidant found in watermelon, red bell peppers and tomatoes. Rui Hai Liu, an associate professor of food science at Cornell University, reported in the 2002 issue of the “Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry” that cooking increased lycopene in tomatoes by 35 percent.”


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