From Grains to Tortillas: Eden Hall’s Corn Workshop

Back in the early Spring 2015, several of the Eden Hall graduate assistants/associates daydreamed about growing dent corn or field corn, a dried corn that can be ground into cornmeal or tortillas.  We also became excited over the idea of growing colorful, heirloom varieties of popcorn.  Last week, all of our corn dreams became a reality as we held the first Eden Hall Corn Workshop.

We demonstrated how the yellow field corn can be turned into masa and then into tortillas.  Masa means dough in Spanish and is typically made into tortillas, tamales, or pupusas (thicker, more dense corn tortillas).  The first step in the masa making process was to shell the corn off of the corncobs using the Matthews Family Farm antique corn sheller.

IMG_7902 After shelling the corn, we checked the moisture content and winnowed away (shook off/sifted) the rest of the chaff and organic debris to make sure it was ready for the processing steps to follow.  Then, we weighed it and split it up, leaving plenty of corn to just turn into cornmeal for baking.

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Next, we started the nixtamalization process.  Nixtamalization is a century’s old maize processing technique in which grain is cooked and soaked in an alkaline solution and then hulled and cleaned. Our corn was prepared with a lime powdered solution, often referred to as Cal or Calcium Hydroxide.  This process makes the corn easier to mill, increases nutritional value, and encourages the flavor and aroma to be released. The alkalinity also facilitates the dissolution of cellulose (glue-like components) in the corn, allowing it to form into a ready-to-use dough. For this recipe, we used 6 lbs. of dent corn, dissolved 6 tablespoons of lime into 1.5 cups of water, and then poured 6 quarts of distilled water over the top of the corn.  Then we let it boil, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

The boiling of the corn in the Cal solution brought the aroma of my Grandmother’s tamale making days into the room.  This made me feel even more proud to be working with the corn that we grew in Eden Hall’s ELSAMA field.

After hulling and cleaning the corn by rinsing it several times, it was time to mill! We used the food processor to turn the corn into a nice, sticky masa, adding some of the remaining liquid, also known as nejayote, from the boiling process, if needed to help bind the mixture.  IMG_7917

Then, the tortilla pressing began!  Scooping a heaping tablespoon, rolling it into a ball, and then placing it onto the wax paper, we pressed the masa into thin, even tortillas.  We cooked them up with Eden Hall veggies and enjoyed what the corn offered us!


We then hand milled the rest of the dried corn into cornmeal.  And of course, we popped some of our popcorn while we made tortillas!

I am very grateful to have been part of this grains to tortilla process because I was able to explore, with my fellow food studies students, what the actual process of making corn food products is like.  We learned about how much care it takes from the field to the mill to the cast iron skillet!  I hope to continue to learn more about the diversity of corn varieties and their different usages by growing heirloom varieties at Eden Hall.

Green Tomatoes

On the Eden Hall Farm this fall, we had an abundance of green tomatoes! We wrapped many of the tomatoes in newspaper and put them in boxes in the Mueller House to ripen, and they’ll be sold to dining services on campus as they’re ready. All of the Graduate Assistants and Associates got to take home and experiment with the bounty of green tomatoes. I had never cooked with them before, so naturally I made fried green tomatoes first. I also made a green tomato lemon jam and fermented some of them to turn into a fermented salsa.


Green tomato jam, raw ingredients


Finished product!

Green Tomato and Lemon Jam Recipe:

Modified from Cork and Spoon and NYT Cooking

2 lemons, zest and juice

About 4 lbs green tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced

2 cups sugar

2 inch piece ginger, minced

Seeds from 4-6 cardamom pods

Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, cover and let sit in the refrigerator overnight. When ready to cook, transfer to a large pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, and simmer for approximately 50 minutes, or until jam coats the back of a spoon. Pour into jars and store in the refrigerator. This jam is great just on toast, but it’s even better as a chutney with curries.


Green tomatoes fermenting with crushed garlic cloves and mustard seeds (EH butternut squash in the background)

Mycelium Moving through the Student Garden!

The Eden Hall campus farm doesn’t only provide us students with resources through our weekly harvests, our demonstration garden, and all of the student-based, community work embedded into our agro-ecosystem.  It also provides us with a space to create meaningful and innovative research projects that enhance our learning experience and truly allow us to explore new sustainable agriculture techniques that we are passionate about.

Last spring semester, in the harsh cold of the winter, I began dreaming of the green colors of spring and the fresh harvests ahead of us. As I looked through seed catalogs in my growing sustainably lab, I thought more about how extending our growing season may not be limited to fruits and vegetables.  Thinking back to a conference session about mushroom growing in greenhouses or hoop houses, I decided this would be my research topic for our semester long project.  Meanwhile, the undergraduate mycology club began writing up a research plan for a similar project. After meeting as a team, we decided on different garden beds in the student garden to begin the project.  This is a perfect example of how this space and the support of the farm staff and faculty fosters creativity and exploration for us as we learn about sustainable agriculture through hands on experiences.


The project used the methods of companion planting, a practice already used in the student garden, with fungi and plants. We examined how mycelium, the rootlike structure of fungi, affects the growth rate of both annual and perennial crops. The growing habits and pH tolerance of plants helped determine which fungi would grow best in each condition. We decided to use blueberries, black currants, and a variety of herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, and borage. We inoculated sectioned areas of mulch around the plants with species of fungi, such as Pleurotus (Oyster), Nameko, and Stropharia mushrooms.

We began with bed preparation and sterilizing the substrate that the fungi would inhabit.  We used different types of mulch, including straw and woodchips. Then we spread each of the bags of spawn into the substrate, managed the irrigation, and monitored them.


Our bag of spawn for inoculation

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Spreading the first layer of straw mulch


Annual bed with separated sections of fungi and control groups

Last week, we witnessed the first flush of the beautiful Stropharia mushrooms, commonly referred to as wine caps.  Deep burgundy caps congregated around the base of herbs.  The group harvested the precious fruits and took them home to prepare various meals. Whether added to a hearty vegetable soup dish or a simple vegetable omelette, the Stropharia bring a deep earthy and slightly nutty flavor into every bite. We are excited to continue to document the fruiting mushrooms and understand more about creating effective polyculture techniques!


Stropharia growing alongside basil crops


Fruiting in the blueberry bed!


Incorporating stropharia into our meals!

(A special thanks to all of the staff, faculty, students, and club members who put in work to make this project successful.)


This summer, Tim Connors, a Chatham Creative Writing student and poet interned with us at Eden Hall. He has shared one of his poems with us that we are delighted to share with you.

Thank you for your hard work with us all summer, Tim!

As a boy of maybe eight, I picked docks and thistle
out of freshly cut, drying grass for silage. No gloves, my hands
raw from piling stone walls with my other American cousin,
after we Americans knocked it over playing tip-the-can with our Irish kin
the night before. Warm bright light fell down gentle like silk between
sunny showers. The smell of lunch, fresh ham and black currant pie,
pulled our hearts towards Nanny’s through our stomachs.
We never questioned that grassy field, the one never felled—
less work for the hands, more time for youth’s flitting feet.
We were more than glad it was left to fallow.
Sixteen and I was coming home for the first time
since I’d been cut open, since my heart had been repaired,
since the growth of scar tissue was cut out and the leaking hole
was patched. My brother and sister were children I remembered,
but didn’t know. Dad’s family, at the time, living in a cottage, in a field,
in a town that’s name I did not know; not too far from Nanny’s, I was told.
Later that summer, I revisited a field we used to play in, down the road from
uncle Oliver’s house, a family plot. The skeleton of my home
had begun to form. The field between the two houses
was barren, unfit to graze this season, left this year to fallow.
Twenty four and I haven’t seen Irish soil in two years now,
missed a trip because my passport slipped my mind
in all the chaos of grad school, surgery, moving, life.
Haven’t seen my family since last summer passed. For two days
and a night, I saw my brother’s loud smile and heard my sister’s coy laugh.
I miss the questions they piled on me like stones, mountainous,
how they picked every detail out of me like weeds,
how they collected my words around them like Christmas card reminders,
how tight they held me the night I left again,
faces wet like the fields as we prepared to grow apart.
I wonder if they’ll remember me rightly or fondly.
I wonder if this distance has led our hearts to fallow.

The Week of Tomatoes!

About a year ago, I started working at Eden Hall and was quickly impressed with the way the farm abounds with beautiful tomatoes of varying shape and color.  After a year of graduate school and working at the Eden Hall campus in different capacities, it is amazing to be part of the tomato harvest again and to utilize these tomatoes all week long.


To kick off the week of tomatoes, several Food Studies students and I worked at the Phipps Conservatory Tomato and Garlic Festival frying up beloved green tomatoes that have become a part of the annual festival.  Fried green tomatoes are a great conversation piece for us to connect to people and tell them more about the Eden Hall Campus and the Falk School of Sustainability.

Later in the week, I made an Eden Hall tomato sauce with ingredients grown or cultivated on campus.  I learned how to identify and harvest chicken of the woods mushrooms that were growing wild on campus.


Chicken of the Woods mushrooms spotted!


The chicken of the woods in all of it’s glory

Later that day, I boiled down Amish paste and several kinds of heirloom tomatoes into a thick, sweet tomato sauce.


Boiling down tomatoes into sauce

Next, I sauteed the chicken of the woods with garlic, red wing onion, and herbs from the farm.


Chicken of the woods, red wing onions, and garlic!

Garnishing it with fresh basil, this simple pasta dish was a great celebration of this week’s harvest!


And, then our farm crew harvested and delivered 100 lbs. of tomatoes to Parkhurst Food Services process and use in Anderson Cafe.  I continue to be impressed by what we are able to produce at Eden Hall Farm and how the produce connects us to each other and others in the community. I am proud to be part of this farm season and look forward to learning so much in the year to come!


Today’s Harvest!