Earth Notes: Zuni Parched Corn

Dec 19, 2018

For the Zuni of northern New Mexico, a favorite food of winter is parched corn. They say it’s to be made only in the winter months—if prepared during the growing season, it may adversely affect the fresh corn crops in the field.   

Making parched corn
Credit Elroy Natachu, Jr.

Here’s the recipe: Build a fire in a fireplace, and put a cast iron pot inside resting on a stack of rocks, bricks, or a steel grill. Tilt the pot forward to make it easier to stir the corn. Slender willow sticks about a quarter inch in diameter and two to three long are the stirring implements of choice.  

The next ingredient is sand. It’s gathered beside the Zuni River or a nearby wash and sifted until fine and clean. Put at least two cups of sand into the pot, and heat to an even temperature.

Then add the corn. Most any kind can be used, but it must be aged a minimum of two to three years—if younger, the finished product can break your teeth.

Stir constantly while the corn cooks. The heated kernels will explode in volume, while the sand keeps them from popping out of the kettle. When done, sift the parched corn to separate it from the sand. A salt water mixture can be poured over the corn if desired.

The parched product is like popcorn but sweeter and more flavorful. It was food taken on long treks across the Colorado Plateau, both nourishing and warming the traveler with memories of winters at Zuni.