Thursday, August 25, 2016


I made cornbread from popcorn processed in an electric coffee mill and the result was spectacular. The corn flavor goes BANG! I AM CORN!

Even though half of it is regular flour. And even though the other half is jalapeño. And even thought the other half is cheese. The cornbread had a lot of strong flavors included and still corn flavor comes through loud and clear and upfront.

The entire pan of cornbread disappeared in a flash. And the people who ate it all agreed that it is the best cornbread they've ever tasted. At least that's what they told me.

Since my cornbread was gone, the next day I made another batch, this time I used proper cornmeal. It had been kept in the freezer to save its flavor from dissipating into the air. I used the same ingredients and the same method and produced the most insipid cornbread to suffer. Without thinking any further, in disgust I knew immediately what I must do. I threw away the entire package that had only been used that one time. Begone! Who needs that stuff around taking valuable freezer space when there is always popcorn around to grind?

Cornmeal is milled from field corn. And that is the key difference.

But popcorn sure is hard on the coffee mill. I blew out three of the cheap ones. My fourth coffee mill comes from a French Canadian company and it's manufactured in China. It works very well. I dropped the plastic top that locks in before the machine can run and it cracked. With each use the crack becomes larger like windshield damage expands distressingly until the windshield is replaced. Finding a replacement part is well nigh impossible and not worth the trouble and aggravation to everyone including the people that I annoy. So I've been looking at the manual types. Turns out they are 1/4 the cost and most use a ceramic burr much better than a blade that causes the motor to heat, and by my abuse makes the blade loosen so that the motor cannot spin it. But the manual ones do take an awful lot of grinding.

That's okay, I'm not using that much at all.

This is the type thing that I use to grind pepper. I like a lot of pepper, no messing around with a pepper grinder that takes twenty grinds for six tiny black dots on an egg. Putting pepper seeds into a manual crank grinder intended for coffee dumps all the pepper my heart can desire all at once with one crank. But mine is from Turkey and made of brass and intended as much for decoration. Modern manual coffee grinders are rather nice. They get great reviews on Amazon.

Now, for popcorn you'll need about 1/2 a cup of ground corn and that will require a good deal of grinding. But what the heck.

At the $10.00 price point you can buy four for the price I paid for the electric grinder. A slight upgrade from the previous three that I burned out by grinding corn. Those were all $20.00, and well worth the cost if you stick to coffee beans. But I don't.

And now that the clear plastic cap proved so difficult to replace. My next one will be the manual type. I don't drink coffee and I use the grinder for other things.

Chefs use the electric grinders for spice seeds. They keep two, one for coffee and another for spice. But that is ridiculous. You can process a piece of bread and clean out the remnant spices and use one machine for both. And what's the matter with exotic flavors tinting your coffee for a variation? But now that the manual grinders are so inexpensive you can have three, one for coffee, another for spices and a third for grain. But honestly that's taking things too far and for no good reason.

Recommendation: Forget about buying cornmeal. That stuff is for pigs and for cows. And I am not kidding either. Mill popcorn instead for noticably improved flavor. Even non-foodies will notice the difference.

Having said all that, a bit of history might be interesting for you.

When the Spanish conquered Central America they took back with them the treasures of food unknown to Europe and to the East. This is a tremendous boon for mankind. The tomatoes that Italians made famous were unknown until then. Paprika that Hungarians make from smoked chiles was not even imagined. Chocolate that Swiss greatly improved (by mistake of leaving the conching machine running all night, and by adding a lot of sugar) was unknown. Contact with the Americas opened a new world of cuisine. Potatoes, became staple, and tomatoes, and squashes and chile peppers. All these wonderful things changed the world for the better.

Although they took back with them chocolate and vanilla, both new to the world, they did not take with them knowledge of how vanilla orchids are pollinated. It requires a specific bee. They grew vanilla orchids on plantations but got nowhere with them until a slave on one of the islands discovered the flowers must be pollinated by hand. That might be a romantic fantasy. A rival history has a high ranking Spanish visitor observing a bee pollinate an orchard plant growing on the porch of the house where he was staying. Moreover each plant must be revisited repeatedly when the plants are in bloom as the vanilla orchid flowers bloom for only one night and in sequence along a stem. The plants for vanilla production are exceedingly labor intensive.

So valuable today that Mexican vanilla bean farmers actually brand each vanilla bean as they grow with a number by laser dot printing. The beans look like string green beans as they are growing. After harvest the beans are spread out on a canvas to dry in the sun, wrapped up into a bundle and put away for the night. Then spread out again the next day. Back and forth in this manner for months before the are ready for soaking and extraction by soaking in alcohol. The steps involved in real vanilla extract are ridiculously involved and long drawn. The high price that you pay for real vanilla extract is actually quite a good bargain. Further, the terroir of vanilla is so pronounced that various types that originate from the same genotype are now considered to be different species. Vanilla grown in Madagascar is longer than Tahiti vanilla is shorter and more floral, and Mexican vanilla is fatter, biggest and stronger.

Huffington Post has a great article including very good photographs.

The first European who brashly smoked a cigar in public back in Europe was jumped by a mob and beaten to death for being a devil with smoke coming out of his mouth.

The Spaniards took corn back with them but failed to take the knowledge of processing the dry kernels with lye. The natives used ashes from fires to loosen and remove the corn kernel pericarp, the hard outer shell of the kernel. Removing the outer surface makes nutrients available that pass through the body without it. As corn increased in importance in native North American diet, increased cases of scoliosis appeared without understanding the cause. These incidents of curvature of the spine are seen in the burial remains of native American of the period.

The process of soaking the corn overnight in lye is called nixtamalization. You will notice the word tamal in there.

The man in the video below says that he buys field corn very cheaply to prepare his own masa and he swears by the results. Imagine if he'd use popcorn instead. I am certain by my own experience the flavor would be greatly improved by using dry popcorn instead.

If only he had a rolling pin and a second piece of plastic. And eventually he will discover a tortilla press if he hasn't already. 

I guess the Nicaragua type corn tortillas are thicker than the ones we are used to. The press can produce very thin tortillas that cook in seconds each side. They cook as fast as you can press the next one between two pieces of plastic. With no water to lubricate as he shows. Just a single spray of oil for the whole batch.

After the tortillas are fried they can be stacked like a tower and sliced through all at once as a pizza and then the triangular pieces shallow fried in oil until they stop bubbling for crispy tortilla chips with fresh flavor unparalleled. 

When you make your own tortilla chips from regular commercial masa harina, (masa powder) it behaves like Play Doh just as he shows in the video. It's fun! And if you would make your own from popcorn instead of field corn then the flavor will be improved even more. 

My point here is prepared cornmeal and prepared masa are fine consumer products, convenient and they work very well. But upgrading your grain and doing this yourself on the spot each time will improve your results by a magnitude of order. And results are worth the effort. You have vastly improved flavor and you're prevented from overeating as we tend to do by the food being just too convenient. 


Methadras said...

I do not like corn tortillas other than turned into chips. Flour tortillas are my go to.

chickelit said...

Does this post makes sense to AllenS?

Sixty Grit said...

I have not had any cornbread this century, but reading that post caused me to have a hankerin' for some.