Back in January of 2007 I watched a talk between John Coykendall and Glenn Roberts at Blackberry Farm where they discussed the importance of seed saving. I was moved when I heard John say that Glenn had discovered a favorite corn seed that John had convinced himself he would never taste again. For some reason that talk lit a fire in me, it was the wind needed to ignite the embers of southern seed pride that my grandmother had instilled in me as a young child. My grandmother Audrey was a seed saver by nature, and it was a way of life for just about everyone where I grew up in Appalachia. She continued to save the seeds of her favorite foods long after it was a necessity. The flavors of those old timey varietals were etched into her DNA and she continued to grow them because she craved the deliciousness and nostalgia.
After the talk that day I made up my mind that I was going to become a seed saver come hell or high water. I felt a sense of purpose and responsibility towards food that I hadn’t fully encountered as a chef before. That night after dinner I told Glenn how inspired I was and asked him if he would help me find my first seed saving job. A few days later Glenn wrote an email and told me that he had an idea. His friend had a red corn varietal and needed help getting the seed stock to a place where it was more secure but wouldn’t trust the valuable seed to a stranger. The next day I drove out to visit with Ted Chewning and his family to talk about procuring seedstock of his beloved Jimmy Red Corn. I’ll never forget how nervous I was that day, it felt like I was asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Luckily I left with a few ears and the kernels were in the ground the very next morning. I obsessed over taking care of those corn stalks and I had finally felt the pressure and pleasure of being a seed guardian.
Jimmy Red harvest time was a celebration and I couldn’t get the meal into a cornbread batter and skillet fast enough. Tearing into my first piece of cornbread the aroma and flavor took me right back to my grandmother’s table. I’d never tasted such perfect cornbread in my entire life. Ever since that day, I’ve dreamed of getting Jimmy Red cornbread to the masses. The first year, I gave some of this stock to my buddy Greg Johnsman of @geechieboymill to grow. We have always geeked out together over the heritage of southern food. Every year since then, he has grown a plot of Jimmy Red Corn in the hopes that it will eventually make it to the tables of restaurants all over the country. Greg has done an extraordinary job taking care of the corn, and I’m proud to announce that we have partnered to create a cornbread mix so you can experience this amazing cornmeal for yourself. Thank you for supporting heirloom southern food!
From Professor David Shields:
“Jimmy Red Corn is the Lowcountry adaptation of a 12 row Appalachian purple red dent corn that has two autochthonous forms: Kentucky Red Dent and Bloody Butcher. Both of these were Native Developed, settler adopted maize strains. Jimmy Red is an allochthonous form of this ancient corn, epigenetically adapted over 150 plant generations to the soil and climate of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Preserved by seedsman Ted Chewning, the local history indicated that it came from the mountains of GA in the mid-19th century and from the first was employed as a whiskey corn. As a dent corn, it was easily millable, and also served as a wonderful bread and grits corn. Jimmy Red has a good deal of genetic diversity inherent in it, and will sometimes express a single ear on a stalk, instead of two, and it can range in height from six to 13 feet. It’s flavor and oil content differs from its Appalachian relatives. It, like all dent corns, are Native to the North American southeast, a genetic mutation from the maize that passed northward out of Mexico during the Woodland period among the Native Peoples. Landrace corns are deemed public domain or common heritage plants in American law–varieties upon which no proprietary claim can be asserted because they have so long been a cultural legacy. Institutions that conserve germplasm believe it a particular responsibility to propagate and promote these most ancient sorts of plants. Hence Slow Food USA has boarded the plant on its Ark of Taste, Clemson University maintains seed as a public trust, and the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation views it as a legacy resource, preserving it with the other grain landraces of the Southeast–Carolina Gold Rice, Purple Straw Wheat, Barre Barley, Brunswick Black Oats, White May Wheat, Sea Island White Flint Corn, Guinea Corn”
Here is the recipe!
Jimmy Red Cornbread Recipe (makes a 10-inch Round Loaf)
1 package Jimmy Red Cornbread Mix
2 ½ cups Full Fat Buttermilk
2 Each Whole Eggs
½ cup + 4 Tbsp Lard, melted (or vegetable shortening)
A pinch of black pepper
A pinch of coarse salt
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Put a 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven for at least 10 minutes.
Combine the cornbread mix with the black pepper, buttermilk, and eggs. Stir in the melted lard. Move the skillet from the oven to the stove, placing it over high heat. Add half of the remaining lard and swirl to coat the skillet. Pour in the batter, distributing it evenly. It should sizzle.
Transfer back to the oven and bake the cornbread for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Brush the top with the last of the lard and sprinkle with the coarse salt. Serve warm, directly from the skillet.
Ingredients: Jimmy Red Cornmeal, Salt, Baking Powder, Baking Soda