How do you keep red corn red?
By saving the reddest seed.
Floriani red flint corn comes from Trentino, Italy and is sometimes called that. But even before that, the heirloom was grown by Native Americans who bred it for its beautiful color and to withstand cold climes. Italian farmers continued to cultivate it for use in polenta, and you’ll find that its flavor goes hand in hand with that of bold, rustic Italian ragus and braises.
In the late summer, farmer Fritz Durst brought in his red flint corn harvest for our yummy, luscious, floral-scentered Floriani Polenta Integrale, and, as we and a band of cornlovers found out, harvesting is a labor of love! Yes, there’s machinery involved, but there’s also a good amount of walking in the field with pebbles in our shoes, wandering around the towering plants, in search of the best seed for next year.
Our seed for Floriani Red Flint corn is hand-selected because other kinds of corn can pollinate it through the air, creating color gradations within the crop. In order to preserve the variety’s flavor and red color for next year, Community Grains and friends joined the farmers in the fields.
It was easy to lose sight of each other through the dense field of corn, as we went from plant to plant, like bees inspecting flowers, looking for ears that were plump and deep red. In those went into a burlap sack.
Many hands made for light work, and after an hour or so, we had enough that we deemed good, so we gathered around the corn sheller. Fritz Durst’s corn-sheller is a vintage beauty that quickly removed the kernels from the cobs. We all gathered around — it was fun to turn the sheller’s crank, and we all got a turn as we dreamt about how we’d use our polenta and listen to Fritz tell stories about working on the farm.
The rest of the field was harvested by machine — something like a massive riding mower, whose massive blades needed to be adjusted in height to account for the plants that had fallen while they grew. Aided by GPS, the harvester ran in long straight lines — the driver needn’t worry much about the steering — and collected data about the field, like areas where the planting was denser, and where it was more sparse. It would be the rest of the day, and then some, for the rest of the harvest to be brought in.
Thanks to Sacramento Food Co-op, Josey Baker Bread, Los Cilantros, Don Bugito, Market Hall Bakery, Outerlands, and friends for coming out to help save seed for next year’s polenta, and to Town Kitchen for providing lunch! We had a blast at the harvest.