I’ll contend that there’s also no better complement to a meal than cornbread. I don’t plan to go into the quick bread versus stone-ground cornbread debate here, but let’s agree that using cornmeal from the store is not your best option. You’ll notice that most cornmeal is made from ground maize corn, most of which is genetically modified and probably missing most of its vitamins and minerals because it’s refined or degerminated.
Originally, corn was stone ground, which required the mill to process the corn between two large stones. Images of the old grist mills along large creeks and small tributaries should immediately spring to mind. In this traditional stone ground process, the cornmeal retained some of the shell of the kernel and all of the germ, which resulted in a much more nutritious—though a lot more perishable—product. With shelf life a major issue for our western society, stone-ground grain today is usually ground between steel wheels to help isolate the endosperm from the germ, pericarp and tip cap.
Corn Anatomy 101
Before going any further, it’s important to understand the parts of corn and, thereby, the terminology used on the back of a box of cornmeal you might buy. There are four parts to a kernel of corn:
- Endosperm: the majority of the corn kernel that’s mostly starch
- Germ: the living part of the kernel, anchored in the center and surrounded by the endosperm
- Pericarp: the outer shell of the kernel protecting the endosperm and germ
- Tip Cap: the only area of the kernel not covered by the pericarp and the attachment point of the kernel to the cob
In the grocery store, when trying to purchase cornmeal, you will notice many labels using the term degerminated. This simply means the germ has been removed and you’re purchasing the ground endosperm, or starch of the kernel. We have to remember that this happens because cornmeal is by-and-large a secondary product to the production of corn oil and it increases the shelf life of the cornmeal.
Why Home-Ground Cornmeal Is Great
When you grind your own popcorn, you get a far fresher product with better nutritional value that hasn’t been genetically altered. Additionally, the beauty of grinding corn, as opposed to other grains, is you don’t have to worry with discarding the pericarp. That just means you don’t have to do any sifting of the flour.
The process of grinding your popcorn is fairly straightforward if you have the right equipment. You’ll want to determine what type of grain mill is best for you, and you can find a small grain mill online from $50 to $500. Whatever mill, grinder or blender you decide to use, work in small batches to get a consistency in your cornmeal. Cornmeal is generally offered in three choices of textures: fine, medium and coarse. You’ll have to determine what texture you most prefer. A fine ground corn flour, for example, is usually associated with baking pastries or breads.
If you are thinking this all sounds great, but you didn’t grow any popcorn, you can easily pick up some popcorn at the grocery store and grind it. Some of the products on the market will use advertising to make you think their product is the only non-GMO product, but remember, all popcorn is non-GMO. You will find the price by the ounce of popcorn and cornmeal pretty comparable.
After grinding your popcorn, you can proceed along with the glorious task of making some cornbread. Here is our favorite recipe:
Recipe: Stone-Ground Cornbread
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 egg
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 3 T. melted lard or shortening (Heat in your baking pan/cast iron skillet in the oven til melted and hot. Bacon grease is another great option.)
Mix cornmeal, salt and baking soda. In a separate bowl, beat egg and combine with buttermilk. Add wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir until just combined. Melt lard or shortening in a baking pan or cast iron skillet in the oven. Remove from the oven, and pour the batter into the hot pan. Bake at 400 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes.