This 101 was contributed by Rachel of Dog Island Farm. You can read her original post on tortilla making, which also covers growing corn, here. Thanks, Rachel! Keep the great advice coming!
We’ve tried growing other varieties of heirloom corn, but we always come back to Bloody Butcher, a deep red variety that has been the most successful for us. We use it for fall decorations, then later strip the kernels from the cobs. When we first grew it, we ended up with a bucket full of dry corn that went in the cabinet and was soon forgotten. Two years later, I decided to do something with it. Below, my adventures in making corn tortillas.
WHAT IS MASA?
Corn tortillas require masa harina flour, which is specially treated corn (nixtamel or hominy) that has been treated with a diluted alkaline solution and ground into a fine flour. There are two ways to make masa. I used pickling lime, also known as calcium hydroxide or “cal." This greatly increases the nutritional density of the corn by freeing up proteins and B vitamins. (Read about the other method of making nixtamel, a process involving wood ash, in Rachel's original post.)
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
2 lbs dry corn (I recommend dent or flour, but field corn is OK)
3 quarts water
1/2 cup pickling lime *
Large nonreactive pot (stainless steel and copper are OK; aluminum is not)
Large mixing bowl
* Pickling lime is caustic and can irritate and/or burn wet hands if skin is exposed for too long. Immediately rinse any skin that comes into contact with pickling lime; wipe up any spills and rinse the area thoroughly. I found out the hard way that pickling lime will etch stainless steel and granite counter tops if not cleaned up right away.
WHAT TO DO
1. Rinse the corn, removing any chaff or debris.
2. Add the water to your nonreactive pot and dissolve the pickling lime. Once dissolved, add corn and bring to a rolling boil. Allow to boil, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool, and put in refrigerator for 8 to 10 hours or overnight. The corn should now be plumped up, and the skins should be falling off. Skim any loose skins off the top of the water.
3. What you've got is now nixtamel. Strain it in your colander and rinse. Roll the kernels in your hands to remove excess loose skins. Our corn came out of the alkaline solution almost black; once the skins were removed, we had a rainbow of colors.
4. Rinse your nixtamel at least two more times. If the corn isn’t rinsed well enough, it will be bitter.
5. Once the corn is no longer wet, you can run it through the mill. (I first tried a hand-crank mill; an hour and half a cup of coarse flour later, I threw in the towel.) I recommend a Victoria grain mill. What a difference! In 30 minutes, I had run eight cups of flour through three times.
6. For every two cups of flour, add about 1 1/3 cup water and 1 tsp salt. Allow this mixture to rest for 20 minutes.
7. Roll into balls about 1 1/2″ in diameter. Slightly flatten and place in the center of the tortilla press between two sheets of wax paper.
8. Cook each tortilla on a hot griddle for about 30 seconds to 1 minute per side. Allow to cool, then freeze until needed.
These tortillas are really tasty and came out this cool blueish-purple color, which makes them especially distinctive. Enjoy!
Revisit the HOMEGROWN blog for more from Rachel on farming, cooking, and raising kids and animals on her urban quarter-acre in the San Francisco Bay Area. Have a tortilla tip to share? A corny question? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling. You might also take a gander at how to cut corn off the cob (cleanly!) and you can always find more things to plant, grow, cook, preserve, make, craft, and press in the HOMEGROWN 101 archive.
PHOTOS BY RACHEL