Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Grinding Your Own Cornmeal

The question is: Can you make your own cornmeal easily and cheaply? The simple answer is: Yes, if you have an electric coffee grinder and buy a bag of feed corn. If you're wanting to live off the grid or grind cornmeal during an electrical outage, you need to find a different method - hand-powered grain mill. Otherwise, if you're just looking for corners to cut on your grocery budget, an electric coffee grinder and a bag of feed corn are dandy. Oh, and you have to be willing to invest a little time, a little elbow grease, and not be distressed by the things YOU are going to have to do that are usually done by the people behind the bags of cornmeal in the grocery that you don't see.

On the other hand, you can shop online at many places and buy buckets of ready-to-go corn sold to people who want to either store corn long-term or not fiddle with any cleaning process. It's all up to how cheap you are, how squeamish you are, and what your goals are - long-term storage or let's get this done.

Corn still needing to be ground.
The coffee grinder, finished cornmeal on right,
leftover corn to be finished on left.

You can buy bags of feed corn in many places. We're talking Feed, not seed, corn, and we're talking the corn that people buy to feed animals. Because, you see, feed corn is the same corn that people eat; except in this case it isn't sold to Green Giant, it's sold for animal feed. The difference is in the processing. Corn sold for people food is prepared with a little more care than corn sold for animals. It's the same corn, just not quite as finessed.

Feed corn comes in bags of 50 pounds, and I paid $7.50 for the last bag I bought. You can make a lot of cornbread and polenta from 50 pounds of feed corn. Not so much if you buy cornmeal in the grocery. What are talking? A year's worth? Speculation there, because I don't have a huge family, nor do we eat cornbread or polenta regularly.

What you have to do with feed corn is clean it up for people. So if you think you're willing to do that, what's the next step? Buying the corn.

In Tennessee, you can go to your local co-op. If your state doesn't have co-ops, don't fret. You can find feed and seed stores most anywhere. Even if you live in a city, you can usually find the quadrant, or many quadrants, of the city that also caters to outlying agriculture. If that's difficult for you, you can still usually find a pet store that carries feed corn.

So you've bought your feed corn, had the people in the store put it in the car for you, cuz that suckers heavy. You've got it home, and you've struggled and fought getting it into the house. What's next? You open the top up and start sifting and cleaning. You can do this all at one time or in batches. Whatever you're up to facing.

The first process I do is sit down in a chair with the open bag of corn on one side, a big container on the other side, a trash can in front of me, a colander, and something to use for a scoop - say a bowl. Scoop the corn from the bag into the colander and shake it over the trash can. This gets rid of the majority of dust, dirt, and teeny pieces. Before you dump this into the big container, examine it to make sure you've gotten any stray hay or sticks out. Then dump it into the big container and continue doing this.

If you're going to do everything all at one time, you won't face the dilemma I faced - corn weevils. Because I didn't want to process the whole bag of corn at one time, I discovered a problem with corn weevils. These are little black bugs that you may find crawling out of your corn. You can see what they look like by clicking this google link.

Likely other people have developed more efficient means of dealing with this than I have. What I discovered is that if you don't process the corn immediately you get weevils. If you get weevils, your best bet is to simply set the corn aside, keep an eye on it and knock the weevils off it into the trash. To my complete surprise, I discovered that even freezing doesn't kill the weevils. I put the rest of the corn into the freezing thinking I, Ms. Smarty, would simply kill them. To my total dismay, even after a month in the freezer, the little buggers survived.

So if at this point, you're still game, you wash your corn and spread it out to dry. Put it on a sheet in a room you keep your pets out of, if you have one. Put it on a sheet on the patio in the sun. Do it in batches and spread it out on cookie sheets on pans in the oven. Don't cook it; just let it dry.

Now you can grind your corn into cornmeal. Using a normal coffee grinder, about 3 full grinds is about a cup of cornmeal. It only takes minutes to do this. I discovered, however, that if you try to do a full big bowl of cornmeal, you overheat your coffee grinder, and it dies. Argh! So you grind your corn and pour it into a sifter over a bowl. You sift out the cornmeal and regrind the leftovers until everything is ground.

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