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.


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