Meet the market // The fantastic finds of fall: Indian corn you can pop

Among the challenges of marketing a farmers market is reminding people you’re open through October. 

To regulars, this seems a little crazy — fall might be a market’s best season: tomatoes don’t die right after Labor Day, lettuce comes back, peppers get redder (or yellower or oranger) … 

And then there’s the mini-Indian corn.

Although everyone thinks of it as a fall decoration, “Indian corn” was grown for eating. New England native tribes cultivated it for at least four centuries before the first Thanksgiving feast in part because its low water content makes it more resistant to freezing; it famously survived New England’s “winter without a summer” in 1816.

Also called flint corn because it’s so hard, “Indian corn” just so happens to be the same type as what we now know as popcorn. This was a fact deliciously imparted to my daughter from Carmen, a Peruvian native who, along with her husband Peter, sells some of the yummiest sweet corn at the Kingfield and Fulton farmers markets.

Not just any old multi-colored ear will do; Carmen recommends a dwarf variety our family has dubbed mini-Indian corn. Unlike the pencil-eraser-size kernels of sweet corn or decorative Indian corn, mini-kernels aren’t much bigger than BBs, and glisten like the tiniest jewels.

Popping the corn is simple, though there’s some art to it. Scraping off kernels of flint corn is not a pleasant task, so you simply take the entire ear, toss it in a microwave-safe container with the lid, and pop. 

Most of the corn explodes off the stalk, although you’ll find a bit of popped stuff that clings to the kernel — you can work it off or forget about it. A small ear (maybe 6 inches long) can make a tidy snack for one or two people. 

Here’s the art part: every microwave has different power, and it is definitely possible to burn this corn. My advice is to buy several ears (they’re about 50 cents each) and experiment: it won’t take long before you get an ideal time.

You can either constantly watch the first few attempts (use the clearest container you can find) or just guess low and work your time up.

One of the joys of being a market regular is you learn the seasonality of things, with all the excitement of new arrivals. Because it’s so hardy, Indian corn usually lasts though the market’s end, the final weekend of October.

David Brauer is chair of the Kingfield and Fulton farmers markets and a former Southwest Journal editor.