From Corn to Hominy

This past week I had an idea.  I ended up with a ton of Indian corn from the Farmer’s Market and I thought I’d make hominy out of it.  Nice, right?  Let’s just say I have a whole new respect for this stuff and will walk you through all of what it takes to make it.

First up, you’re gonna need some corn.  Conveniently it comes on cobs, so you just need to pluck off the kernels into a bowl.  I suggest a knife and gloves as it will eventually start to hurt your fingers a bit.  This process took me about ninety minutes for 6 cobs.

Hominy

Corn on the cob

Hominy

Corn off the cob

Now that you have your big bowl of corn we can move to step two:  Boiling in caustic soda.  Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to go buy lye, but you will need to get yourself some Calcium Hydroxide.  What is that?  Well, most people like to call it “Pickling Lime,” but doesn’t “Add the Calcium Hydroxide to the Hydroxic Acid” sound cooler than “Add the pickling lime to the water?”  I like to think so.  Anywho, moving on.

I needed about a pound of hominy when all was said and done so I went with the following amounts:

  • 8oz Dried Indian Corn
  • 1 Tbs Lime (be careful with this stuff)
  • 2 c Water

Simple enough so far, right?  Next we want to do the following:

  1. Wash the dried corn off in a colander (get rid of all the dust and stuff).
  2. Add water and lime to a pot and bring to a boil (be sure to stir).
  3. Add the corn to the water, stirring occasionally.  If any kernels (or anything else) floats to the top, scoop it out with a slotted spoon.
  4. Let the water come to a boil again.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. When the 15 minutes is up, turn off the heat and allow it to soak for another hour.
  6. After it is done soaking, toss it back into the colander and wash it (really well) to make sure there is no lime left on it.
  7. Rub the corn around to help loosen the hulls (skin).
  8. Clean out the pot, re-add the corn, add 2c clean water, cover and bring to a boil.
  9. Boil for another 30 min to help loosen the hulls a bit more.
  10. When the 30 min are up, kill the heat and allow to soak another 30 minutes.
  11. Now go ahead and toss it back into the colander and rinse under cool water.
  12. Using your hands, try to remove the hulls.  I would suggest getting a bowl and transfering the corn back and forth between the bowl and the colander during the process.

Still with me?  At this point, hopefully, you will have a big bowl of husked corn. We’re still not done, though.  Well, we could be, but if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it right.  In this case, it means removing the germ… the little pointy end of the corn. Rick Bayless had this to say about it:

Is it necessary to remove the pointy end (to dehead) of the corn?

The name pozole comes from the Aztec word for “foam.” And what gives the preparation a foamy appearance was the multitude of kernels that had blossomed like little stubby flowers, having had their pointer germ ends picked off kernel by kernel. Deheading corn kernels is not a procedure I’m inclined to do frequently. Make pozole a few times and, if it becomes one of your specialties, you may want to start plucking to make it even more special – preferably with the help of a few friends.

So, if I was going to make hominy for my pozole by hand, I was darn sure going to remove the germ.  Let’s get back to makin’ some hominy!

  1. Put all the corn in a bowl.
  2. Take each piece (yes, one at a time), and rub it to make sure the hull is gone.
  3. Using your thumbnail (or a paring knife), pinch off the germ and discard.
  4. Set husked and deheaded kernel in a seperate bowl.
  5. Repeat steps 2 – 4 about 1000 times (or until all the corn is done).

Soon (well, it took me 3 hours) you will have something that looks like this:

Hominy

The process is a bit messy...

Hominy

Finally, all the germ is gone!

Congratulations… you’re almost done!  Now…

  1. Take your newly husked and deheaded corn and put it back in the pot and cover with 3 cups of water.
  2. Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
  3. When the 45 min are up, kill the heat and allow to soak another two hours.
  4. Finally toss it back into the colander and rinse under cool water.

Tada!  Hominy.

Hominy

Bam... now we're ready to go and it only took us an entire day!

Now you can take this and put it in your favorite pozole recipe (this is the one I went with: Green Pozole with Chicken @ Epicurious.com).  Pretty cool, huh?  I bet you have a new respect for hominy, because I know I sure do.  Did you know that there is a name for this process?  Nixtamalization.  Without it, people who use corn as their main food source would never survive:

The nixtamalization process was very important in the early Mesoamerican diet, as unprocessed maize is deficient in free niacin. A population depending on untreated maize as a staple food risks malnourishment, and is more likely to develop deficiency diseases such as pellagra.

[…]  In the United States, the nixtamalization process was not adopted completely by European settlers, though maize became a staple among the poor of the southern states. This led to endemic pellagra in poor populations throughout the southern US in the early twentieth century.

FYI – Pellagra is not cool.  It’s amazing to see that by not following the traditions they were taught, the settlers caused themselves a horrible disease.  In fact, it was originally thought that the disease was from “bad” corn and it took the US Public Health Service to discover the actual cause of the problem.

So, I hope this many hour long tour through the making of hominy by hand taught you something and perhaps gave you more respect for this canned product.

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7 Responses to From Corn to Hominy

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  2. DC DC says:

    Very interesting…
    I want to be a culinary anthropologist in my next life, so I get why you went through all this.

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  4. Irv Kanode Irv Kanode says:

    Hi,

    I saw your post after I had made a couple of attempts at making hominy from dent corn. The problem I was having is that I couldn’t see any indication that the skins were loose or no evidence of them in the water. I finally increased my lime to 5 TBL per quart of water (which fumed me out of the house).

    I noticed that with the extra lime, the hulls turned a streaky black and it was now obvious which kernels still had hulls and which ones didn’t. Did you see this with your popcorn or have you heard of it?

    Thanks,
    Irv

  5. John N Cox John N Cox says:

    Great story. It matches up fairly well with how my grandfather described his mother making hominy from corn before the corn was milled. Pellagra is known as the “Four D’s” disease: diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, and death. So when PBS broadcasted an episode of “Secrets of the Dead” that explored the theory that agents of the Spanish Empire were poisoning the colonist at Jamestown with lead and listed those four symptoms as evidence, I thought, “When you hear hoofbeats, thinks horses, not zebras.”. And in the case of the early days of Jamestown I think that pellagra would be the horses and lead poisoning would be zebras.

  6. Marie Marie says:

    Hi Jason

    Thanks for this painstaking tutorial – I found you by googling around for hominy as I’m making some (right now) from heirloom Indian corn to incorporate into a pozole with slow-cooked pig belly.

    But, dude. WHERE did you buy pickling lime (calcium hydroxide)? I have turned myself inside out trying to find some in Brooklyn. I do see it online, but never in a real store with a land address:-) Is it used in bomb making? So I am trying an alternate sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) method…

  7. Marie Marie says:

    I used baking soda, and it turned out just fine!

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