Prettiest Popcorn I Ever Did Grow

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you’ve heard me say this before, but I have to say it again: I cannot believe that actual edible food grows right out of the ground! And it’s so cool that even after many years of gardening I still discover new things to try. Vegetables come in so many varieties, colors, shapes, and flavors I’m not sure a person could grow them all in one lifetime. I mean, did you know there are black tomatoes? White eggplant? Purple carrots? Just pick up an heirloom seed catalog and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The options are endless and irresistible!

Glass Gem Corn Close-up

Last spring I was especially enchanted by a photo that was circulating online. There was some question amongst gardening folk as to whether it was real or photoshopped (yes, this happens – I don’t care how cool blue strawberries look, don’t buy seeds from China on Ebay). It turned out to be an heirloom popping corn bred by a man named Carl Barnes to produce an array of gemstone-colored kernels on each cob. It’s a great story and it’s told so well over at Native Seeds that I don’t want to tarnish it with a sloppy condensed version so read their blog post here.

I was enamored with this aptly-named Glass Gem corn but, despite the hullabaloo, I didn’t plan to grow it. For one thing, corn needs to be planted in a 3′ x 3′ block for decent pollination and my sunny space is limited. It also likes a lot of water, a sticking point in drought-ridden San Diego. On top of that I didn’t want to waste energy on ornamentals, and I considered it ornamental because who on earth grows popcorn? We all know that popcorn comes from the store.

popped glass gem corn

But when a local gardener posted an offer for seeds as a fundraiser for his son’s school I finally caved. It would have been uncharitable not to, right? I planted a sunny block by my north fence that I could see from our dining table. It was a perfect spot that I hoped would serve a dual purpose – corn would be happy there, so happy that it would grow tall enough to block the view of our neighbor’s backside as she climbed in and out of her jacuzzi. I like our neighbor a lot but this was totally worth the effort and the extra water, trust me.

I’d heard a tip about soaking corn seeds in a jar of water for 24 hours before planting and decided to try it. It worked – the little sprouts were up within a week! Two weeks later I discovered the ones I left in the jar were also sprouting so of course I had to plant those somewhere too. I found another sunny space along the street that would potentially block my neighbor to the west. Corn is great!

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Unfortunately for me and other impatient gardeners, popping corns are supposed to dry on the stalk. This means from planting to picking takes four to six months. Waiting to pick my first ears was agony! Finally, when I could no longer resist, I picked the two that looked the most dry. With extremely low expectations I hesitantly pulled back the dried husks and was rewarded with a rainbow of colorful kernels sparkling like gemstones in the sun. They may have been tiny and poorly pollinated but to me they were perfect.

My first picked Glass Gem cobsCuriosity satisfied, I let the rest of the cobs dry on the stalks then picked, shucked and dried them some more. It was really interesting to see how corn from different parts of the yard looked totally different from each other. The cobs from the north fence ranged from red to yellow to deep purple to light pink,

Brightly colored glass gem corn

while those from the west offered a more subdued range of pale blue, white, yellow and lavender.

GGcornwest
Corn from the west side of the house was more blue, silver and yellow

So here I had my first sparkly harvest of Glass Gem Corn and a lovely collection of seeds. My plan was to trade the seeds. It honestly never crossed my mind to pop them until recently when, on a trip to Petaluma I visited Gardener Mecca, a.k.a. Baker Creek’s west coast outlet The Seed Bank. There I bought a bag of beautiful red popping corn from Rancho Gordo, a very cool Napa company specializing in specialty foods.

I had no clue how to make popcorn on the stove but thankfully the magical interwebs led me to BakedBree.com, the stunning food blog of Bree Hester. There I found simple instructions promising “perfect stovetop popcorn.” I followed her method exactly using coconut oil and a 2 quart saucepan. It was so easy! And fun! Five minutes later I had a pile of popcorn in front of me (with none of those nasty microwave popcorn chemicals).

glassgemcornshucked

After many bowls of chewy, flavorful popcorn I was starting to think about ordering some more when *ding* it hit me. “Hey,” I mused to myself, “I have a crapload of organically grown heirloom popcorn!” I have to admit I was hesitant to eat it. Up to this moment I’d been thinking of it as purely ornamental, but when the craving for popcorn hits powerful forces take over.

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Even as I tossed those first kernels in the sizzling oil I had doubts. When the first few kernels reached their cracking point, popped, and flew across the kitchen (I had forgotten to put the lid on the pot) I still had doubts. When, having forgotten the lid for the first two minutes, I burnt the whole first batch I really started to question my decision. But soon thereafter I was again rewarded by this beautiful heirloom as my second batch popped to perfection! It was chewy and nutty, delicious with salt and a generous squeeze of fresh lime.

popped glass gem corn

So in the end I have to say that my Glass Gem corn was a success. With all the bad agricultural news out there – Big Ag, GMO’s, Monsanto, Round-Up Ready crops, dying bees, forced seed library closures – it feels good to do my tiny part to preserve these precious heirlooms and share them with other like-minded folk. Beyond that, I would probably grow it again this spring just for the thrill of peeling back that husk and seeing what I got. If I get a nice bowl of popcorn out of the deal, well, that doesn’t hurt.

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20 Comments Add yours

  1. Pat Sherwood says:

    Growing up, stovetop popcorn was the only alternative. I bet it was pretty pure way back then as well. No additives. I haven’t had popcorn in ages but your idea of a squeeze of lime has me intrigued! Now I guess I’ll get some popcorn.

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    1. Anonymous says:

      Beautiful!! Also have been inspired to start raising monarchs – when my landscaping is finished.

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      1. Sheri Fox says:

        That’s wonderful! They can use all the help we can give them, plus it’s really nice to have them flitting through the garden.

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    2. Sheri Fox says:

      It’s a thing I picked up in Mexico. Down there they sell Chili-Lime microwave popcorn and it’s delicious so I thought I’d try fresh lime. It’s really tasty. I also recently learned that popcorn is not GMO so if you can find an organically grown one it’ll be just like the good old days. BTW, your birdie should arrive tomorrow 🙂

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  2. Hilda says:

    I agree with you that the unusual heirloom varieties of corn are really beautiful. I have been growing a popcorn called black dakota – it is small and very dark purple to black. Not easy to grow but worth it. A word of caution for collecting seeds. Corn does not like to be inbred so you will need to use seeds from many, many cobs. What I do is exchange them with other growers, and just take a couple of seeds per cob for myself. If you were to plant the seeds from one cob in the same field, you would have no crop to speak of.

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Interesting! I had no idea. Mine are from 9-10 cobs from the same patch, is that okay or do I need to find someone to trade with?

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      1. Hilda says:

        My son in law grows heirloom varieties of corn, and he was the one who told me that corn requires ‘new blood’. I’m not sure how many cobs you would need for a healthy crop, but I would get as many as possible, because where one kernel breeds with its brother from the same cob, it won’t grow well. I will ask him when I see him next and get back to you.

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  3. Robbie says:

    only way to eat popcorn is on the stove:-) I am still doing it + my children do, too. Yep, another generation of pan poppers-LOL:-)
    Great post + lovely popocorn:-)
    I have ordered beans from Rancho Gordo-YUM…great company + love his story:-)

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      I’m addicted to the stovetop popcorn! And Rancho Gordo, really good stuff huh?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is so much fun, Sheri! I really enjoyed reading your popcorn story… I don’t have a garden, so I have to rely on the farmers and gardeners around me… it must be so rewarding to grow something from a seed, and watch it mature into something that you can definitely eat!! I would have been so excited to see those gorgeous colors as I pulled the husk away!! Awesome post…beautiful corn! ❤

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Thank you Prudy! It’s so fun to be able to share these little garden successes. People don’t believe it but I have always had a black thumb, which is probably why I get so excited when things grow! I think my thumb is finally starting to turn green… we shall see 🙂

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  5. Kathy Sturr says:

    Ooooh, I have been curious about popcorn and totally remember the popcorn photo. I may just have to try growing some now – in fact, the kids at the community garden would really be into it! So interesting how yours varied in color (so beautiful by the way!) from different spots in your garden. I love Rancho Gordo – we order beans all the time. I never knew beans could taste so good. I can only imagine how good your popcorn must taste! Pop, pop away.

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Ya know I need to try those beans. The popcorn is my first purchase but there’s so many goodies on their website I’ve been tempted to try. I would be happy to send you some glass gem seeds for the community garden. If you want, email me your address and I’ll get them out! sheri “at” scraphound.net ~

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Congrats on the beautiful popcorn! I love growing corn but our biggest problem is that the squirrels love that we love to grow corn, too!!! 🙂

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      We got lucky so far, the cats took care of the squirrels. The opossums, raccoons and skunks are a different story though! Little devils. I’m planning to build them their own garden this year, see if I can tempt them away from mine.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hilda says:

    I finally managed to ask my son-in-law about saving seeds. He said for a really good crop you would want between 50 and 100 cobs of corn. He thought for one year you could possibly use what you have with success, but the following year it would be definitely too inbred. Not talking about GM0 of course. He says to have a small plot that is super healthy, buying new seeds every one or two years is advisable and worth the small expense.

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      That’s perfect. I asked my gardening group and they said the same – the first year I should be fine but I need to start mixing in new after that. Thank you so much, a lot of people who read about it had no idea so you just helped a lot of people improve their corn! 🙂

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      1. Hilda says:

        That’s good to know. I didn’t want to presume to know more than others, being a novice myself in growing corn, but then again, it is just a conversation.

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