I hope more heirloom/ genetically diverse crops come back into our fields and onto our plates. It is a real pity that commercial considerations have pushed out foodcrop species towards monoculture and low generic diversity.
We now have a chance of turning back this direction and re-kindling lost varieties that deliver more flavor and nutrition.
“So why did farmers stop growing this corn? For everything that New England Eight Row Flint corn has going for it in terms of flavor, its big downside is that it doesn’t produce many cobs. It’s a low-yield corn.
“That’s why farmers moved to higher-yield [varieties],” explains Algiere. “They can get more corn per acre at lower quality.” Farmers produce for bulk because they’re paid by the bushel, not by the color or the flavor.
So varieties such as New England Eight Row Flint corn may produce great taste, but they’re not really commercially viable unless you convince more people to pay for taste over volume.
That’s what chef Barber is doing at Blue Hill. He serves a polenta made from the Eight Row Flint corn grown at Stone Barns.
And when I tasted it, I was surprised. The polenta tasted as if he had added butter. It was creamy and flavorful. Diners who have been turned onto it say the flavor is stunningly complex. “It’s kinda crazy,” he says.
The taste is coming directly from the corn.
Barber says this corn is just one example of what can happen when crops are bred to be flavorful and colorful, not just big.
The chef says he hopes this story becomes more than just a foodie fascination with heirlooms because he thinks there’s more at stake here about the way our food is grown.
“What I’ve come to learn from this experience is that if you are pursuing great flavor,” he says, “you are pursuing great nutrition. It’s one and the same.”