Painted Mountain corn

We’ve posted about this beautiful and cold-starting variety of corn previously, but harvest season is upon us and Painted Mountain is too lovely not to share once more. This corn has been long in the making, the work of Dave Christensen of Montana. Descended from over 70 varieties of corn saved & raised by homesteaders and Native Americans in harsh climates, it germinates robustly in colder soils and is harvest-ready much sooner than modern hybrids. It’s edible very young as a boiling ear, but nothing like storebought sweet corn. Even though many seed catalogs tout this as an added plus, it’s really better to buy a few ears specially bred for boiling, and save the Painted Mountain for dry corn.

We harvested ours just this weekend, cutting most of the stalks down for use as pig and horse fodder. The Sweet Meat squash planted in the middle of the corn is left exposed to finish off a little longer. This section (the former hen yard) will be tilled and  planted with a cover crop this fall, then next season will host our potato patch and mini-hoophouses of tomatoes and peppers. In less-humid climates, corn can dry down on the stalk, in the field. But in the Pacific Northwest corn will usually mildew and rot instead of drying. So we bring it indoors, out of the dew and dampness…There are kidney beans drying down on a rack in the background to the left, and crates of onions ready for storage to the right. The husks are pulled back, but left attached to the cob, then bundled in groups of a bout 10 ears, 5 on each side. The husks are twisted together slightly, then tied around the middle with jute twine. Each bundle is a bit heavy, so there are only 3 bundles per string. This makes it easier to lift up to the rafters and also to get a running count of the total harvested. String of corn ready to hang. Below is another view showing how it’s tied. Painted Mountain corn is pretty enough to grow for decoration, but we use it as animal feed and to make masa for tamales and tortillas. For human use it needs to be nixtamalized with a lime solution. We recently made tamales with last year’s corn, and you can read about that here. The lime used for turning flour corn into tamale and tortilla dough is usually sold as “pickling lime”. Some grocery stores carry it in their canning supply section, Mexican grocery stores should have it (also known as ‘cal’) and it’s available online too.Pickling lime might come in handy if you’re planning to go to battle Celtic-style.

Diodorus Siculus, writing between 60 and 30 BC, says:

The Gauls are tall of body with rippling muscles and white of skin and their hair is blond, and not only naturally so for they also make it their practice by artificial means to increase the distinguishing colour which nature has given it. For they are always washing their hair in limewater and they pull it back from the forehead to the nape of the neck, with the result that their appearance is like that of Satyrs and Pans since the treatment of their hair makes it so heavy and coarse that it differs in no respect from the mane of horses.


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