FOOD 101: Glass Gem Corn, Heirloom Corn
The harvesting and drying of certain corn varieties is a harbinger of the fall season: When you start seeing dried “Indian corn” for sale, it’s time to hang some on the front door and pull out your sweaters.
Growing up, we always had Indian corn on the door (and a pumpkin next to the door). The colors of the kernels were beautiful, but its place in the corn beauty pageant has been taken by Glass Gem Corn.
Glass Gem is a variety of conventional Indian corn whose kernels on the cob shine like beautifully-colored glass beads. They get darker when dried, and pop into white kernels like other flint corn (see the different forms of ground corn).
This versatile corn can be “dried for decoration, popped for popcorn, cooked into hominy, or ground to a beautiful cornmeal,” says Kate P., whose instructions for growing glass gem corn is an impetus for anyone who wants to try it.
The corn needs to be planted in the spring, in a sunny place protected from wind. You can buy the seeds here for just $5.00.
The seedlings will begin to appear in two weeks. Mark your 2020 calendar to order the seeds in March.
These particular seeds were bred from a number of native varieties by Carl “White Eagle” Barnes (1928-2016), the famous Cherokee corn collector who devoted his life to collecting, preserving and sharing many native corn varieties.
As a youth, Carl Barnes of Oklahoma began to seek out his Cherokee roots, the knowledge of his ancestors and Native American traditions.
His studies included the ceremonies surrounding the planting, harvest and honoring of the seeds.
In the course of growing some of the older corn varieties still being farmed at that time, Carl began to notice ancestral traits that began to reappear in his crops.
As he isolated and studied the corn kernels, he found that many of them matched up with old corn varieties that had been lost to various Native American tribes, particularly those who had been forcibly relocated during the 1800s to what is now Oklahoma.
By breeding for these traits, Barnes developed a range of different heritage corns and was able to re-introduce specific corn types to the elders of those tribes.
Corn is a vital element of Native American cultures. Corn is part of their cultural and spiritual identities. Corn represents their bloodline, their language, and their sense of who they were and are [source].
Carl went on to acquire and exchange other ancestral corn seeds from people he had befriended around the country.
He met fellow corn revival enthusiast, Greg Schoen of New Mexico, who began to interbreed his own local Native American corns with Barnes’ rainbow corn varieties.
In 2008, Schoen dispersed the first Glass Gem corn seeds into the world. Beyond the U.S., they were sent to India, Israel, Kenya, Mexico, and to whomever was interested in growing them.
By 2012 a photo of Glass Gem corn went viral, and the market for Glass Gem corn seeds skyrocketed. Sold for a very modest price, this beautiful corn is now grown all over the world [source].