Swags of dried corn are one sign of Fall’s arrival here in New England. However, it was only after a visit to the Good Life Center that I realized that dried corn represented something more than the ornamental. Located in Harborside, Maine, the center is the final hand-built home of Helen and Scott Nearing, and is actively maintained by stewards as an example of sustainable living. We entered the stone building through the kitchen, where that season’s harvest of corn was drying in the rafters, hung in bundles. Nearby, a hand-operated grinder resided on the counter — the corn was to be the caretaker’s source of flour for the coming year.
Since then, I’ve learned of other ways of using dried corn. Before I can try recipes such as Old-Fashioned Creamy Corn or Baked Dried Corn Casserole with Dried Peppers, though, I need to build up my stock first. An alternate way of preserving corn is through oven-drying. The procedure may seem time-consuming, but went faster than anticipated. The bulk of the drying happened when left in the oven overnight. As noted in the following recipe from Market Chefs:
“This preserve proves its worth during the long gray winter months. The bright corn flavor that emerges from the re-hydrated corn brings warm reminders of summer like no frozen or canned corn ever could. Stir soaked dried corn into polenta for a buttery corn flavor. Add a couple of spoonfuls to stew or winter squash soup. It can also be used to make the most amazing vegetarian stock to use in soups, vegetable ragouts, and even risotto.”
• 8 cups fresh corn cut from the cob (about 12 ears)
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1½ teaspoon sugar (optional)
• ¼ cup heavy cream
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large saucepan or shallow pot. Cook over medium-low heat, stir often, until the cream is absorbed.
2. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Divide the corn between 2 or 3 large sheetpans or jellyroll pans (baking dishes will work as well, but it may take a bit longer for the corn to dehydrate). I used one large shallow baking pan.
3. Bake in the oven, stirring every 15 minutes, for 1 hour. Stirring will keep the kernels from sticking together, and opening the oven door will allow steam to escape.
4. Leaving the pans in the oven, turn off the heat and allow the oven to cool. When the oven is cold, turn the oven back on to 200 degrees and repeat the cooking and stirring for 1 more hour. Repeat this procedure until the corn is completely dehydrated. It’s fine to leave the corn in the oven to cool overnight and resume drying in the morning. The corn kernels should end up half their original size and they will be a deep golden color.
5. Store the dried corn in sealed jars.
To reconstitute: Use 2 cups of water for each cup of corn. In a saucepan, bring the water and corn to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to moderate and simmer, partially covered, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the corn is tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
Notes: Variations of this recipe are available at Mother Earth News and Straight from the Farm. A dozen ears yields about 3 to 4 cups of dried corn but, as we discovered, will depend on how much gets snacked on before making its way into storage.