When people stockpile food they like to stick to the basics; beans, rice, and pasta. The one crop I would like to include to this list is corn. The corn I will be talking about is fresh corn and not the canned corn you can buy all year round. Unlike rice and pasta, many people have the ability to grow more corn if they run out. With beans you have limited ways to prepare it. Corn on the other hand can be used in many different ways. From one ear of corn you can collect enough seeds to grow enough corn to feed a family. Corn is not only a lifeline for the Navajo people but a sacred plant that is part of us. We use every part of the plant as we would an animal. The two varieties of corn that are used are white and blue corn. White corn can be found in your local supermarket in the summers as well as grown at home. Blue corn never sold in super markets and would need to be grown at home. Seeds can be found online and I would suggest Hopi heirloom seeds. I would like to share a few of our traditional recipes and uses of this wonderful plant with everyone who reads.
Possibly one of the most common preservation methods we have is steaming and drying corn. This is a delicacy because of the amount of work involved. As a plus, the corn can last years in storage. White or yellow corn is best used for this method. In order to do this you must first build an oven. Our ovens are usually made out of sandstone blocks arranged into an igloo shape and stand 3 ½ feet high and 4 feet across. The roof is formed by metal pipes that are placed side by side and stacked until they form a corbelled dome. A door and an opening on top will need to be left opened. The door will later be closed off with another large sandstone slab. The roof opening will need a round metal barrel lid that is big enough to cover the opening. The exterior is then covered by 2-3 inches of mud and left to dry. The end result will look somewhat like a Navajo Hogan or pueblo oven. Before starting your fire it is best estimate how much corn will fill your oven. Our oven usually takes 4-5 wheel barrels to fill our oven. Hard wood is burned inside the oven until it becomes coals and is spread out evenly. While the fire burns down get a mud pit ready with mud soaked potato sacs and a gallon of clean water ready. The water will be used to steam the corn. The potatoes sacs are needed to plug holes and seal the doorway once the oven is filled. You will then need to collect and stack your corn. When stacking your corn pile it helps to place the tops with the silk side facing your oven. That way you will be grabbing the top and tossing and flipping it in, so the tops point towards the exit door. This makes it easier to pull out and prevents the bottom and back corn from catching on fire while the rest are being thrown in. Once everything is in place, line the roof with mud around the edge of the opening. This mud will be used to seal up any holes on the roof once the round metal lid is dropped. It is best to have 3 or more people helping out because speed is important if you do not want to burn the corn on the bottom of the oven. Then start to quickly toss the corn into the oven through the door. Seal the door with the stone slab when you cannot toss anymore corn in. Then plug the edges with the potatoes sacs and cover with mud to trap in the steam. Keep filling the oven through the opening on the roof until it is full. Prepare to finish by having one person hold the metal lid at an angle on top so it can be quickly dropped once the gallon of water is dumped into the oven. Quickly dump the water and drop the lid closed. Push the mud onto the lid and the surrounding area to close off all holes where steam may escape. It helps to spot the small openings by dumping some water and wetting the outside if the oven. The corn is left to steam for 10 hours or overnight to cook. The corn will be hot and steam can quickly escape when opening the oven, so use caution. A shovel or hoe can be used to take the corn out safely. The freshly steamed corn can be eaten or dried. To dry simply husk the corn leaving two or three leaves on the ear of corn. Tie the two ears together using the left over leaves and hang to dry. Once dried, the kernels can be taken off the cobs and stored to be used in stews. The following are some recipes:
A simpler alternative to steam corn is dried roasted corn. This can be done by husking fresh corn and roasting it on a wood fire to infuse more flavors into the corn. It is then left out to dry. Once dried it is ready to be stored or to be used in stews
Cornmeal is uncooked dried corn that has been ground into a fine texture. Once in this state it can be prepared different ways such as corn bread or used as a creamer in coffee. If you have a favorite pancake recipe you can substitute the flour for corn meal to have corn pancakes.
Blue corn mush
One popular way of using corn meal is to make a blue corn mush. To make this, start by straining a tablespoon of juniper ash to 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. The ash is there to provide both coloring and vitamins and minerals. Then slowly whisk in 3-4 cups of blue corn meal. Continue stirring until you have a texture similar to running cream of wheat. Eat just as you would cream of wheat.
Blue corn dumplings
Making blue corn dumplings is very similar to blue corn mush. Start by boiling a tablespoon of juniper ash in 3 cups of water. Stir in 6 cups of corn meal and continue to stir until all lumps are removed and corn becomes dough like consistency. Once the corn is cooked remove from the heat and kneed the dough. Shape the dough into little balls and dropped into a stew or boiling water to create dumplings. The dumplings will make its own gravy and add flavoring to the stew and water
Blue corn bread
Blue corn bread is a simple corn bread recipe which resembles a hard flat tortilla. Similar to hardtack once it hardens, it becomes difficult to eat without soaking in liquids. To make blue corn bread boil 3 cups of water with a tablespoon of ash and a tablespoon of salt. Stir in 6 cups of corn meal with a whisk until the cooked corn becomes a dough consistency. Remove from heat and kneed the dough into a flat bread loaf. Place on a skillet and brown on both sides or bake in the oven.
Kneel down bread
Kneel down bread is another delicacy. It requires a lot of fresh corn to have decent size bread. Start by first getting a pit dug in the ground about 3 feet wide and 10 inches deep. Start a fire inside the pit and until the wood becomes coals. The recipe is easy because all it asks for is fresh corn and nothing else. The corn you can buy at a grocery store or pick from your garden if you have one. You start off by cutting the kernels off the cobs. Then grind by hand or with a blender into a mush consistency. If you will be eating the bread right away with no intention to dry, you can add small bits of meat, green chili, or other vegetables to the corn mixture. Rinse the husks that originally wrapped your corn with water and air dry. Place your mush mixture inside a husk and wrap with additional husk as you would with tamales. Remove the coals from the fire pit and place on the side. Place your kneel down bread into the pit and cover with the left over husks. Cover the husks with enough dirt to prevent the husks from catching on fire from the coals. Place the coals on top of the dirt, like you would with a Dutch oven. After baking for an hour you can dig your bread out. To dry your bread simply cut it into small 1/2 inch cubes and dried. The dried kneel down bread can be rehydrated with stews, milk, or other liquids.
Once the ears of corn have been picked the rest of the stalk can he used to feed animals. The cobs themselves can he dried and used as fuel for your fire or pellet stove. I hope you enjoy these recipes and choose to add this wonderful vegetable to your dry storage.